– a personal view (by Phillip Goodall)
David Lammy MP recently made a hard hitting speech in the House of Commons about our favourite topic, “Brexit”. You can read the speech here….
David Lammy is saying that MPs are representatives, not delegates, and they should say and do what they judge to be right, and not necessarily what their constituents say they should do. Just as the Government, under Parliament, must do what is right for the Country as a whole, and not just what any group, any movement, or any majority, however large, say they should do. (This is fundamentally what is meant by their oath of allegiance to the Monarch.)
Parliament needs to know that people are broadly on its side before implementing major or radical changes. (The Poll Tax was a disturbing example of Parliament acting in defiance of unmistakable public feeling) Whatever public feeling may be on any issue, Government and Parliament will need to consider, plan, prepare and manage whatever action they are going to take.
With Brexit, this hasn’t happened. First, the referendum was close to 50/50, leaving aside abstentions: nowhere near the broad general assent that radical change requires, and not even remotely to be described as ‘the will of the people!’.
Second, we’re told that Parliament promised to abide by the result; but Parliament can never have the right to promise to act against its own collective judgement of where its responsibility to the Nation (the whole Nation, the Monarch) lies. (It was clearly understood, that referendums are not binding on Parliament.)
Third, when Theresa May said, ‘Brexit means Brexit’, she effectively relinquished her own and her Government’s ability/freedom to judge and choose the best way/s forward. (In fact, she abdicated from their responsibility for doing so, and effectively delegated it to the ‘Leave’ voters in the referendum.)
Fourth: Parliament itself has submitted, pathetically, to its own emasculation! Parliament doesn’t need the judiciary to tell it it has the final authority; which it is now, belatedly, and with the help of John Bercow, at least threatening to demonstrate.
And fifth – tragically – the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has failed – utterly, pathetically, bizarrely – to lift a finger to defend the sovereignty of Parliament against excessive governing-party control, which it is the paid obligation, of Her Majesty’s Opposition, to do.
The issue isn’t that Brexit is happening, but that it’s happening irrationally, outside the control of democratic processes and institutions, in crude violation of what democracy actually is, and of the democratic rights of the entire population. This includes, ironically,– the leave-voters themselves.
The practicalities of all this are now, as they were in June ‘16, to knuckle down to addressing the specific problems that lay beneath the shock referendum result. The reason it was a shock, was that those real-world problems hadn’t been recognised – in fact, had been wilfully ignored – in Westminster. Which means that no Government effort has been made to address them, sufficient to justify just heaping the blame on Brussels. That a Conservative Government hasn’t done the things it was perfectly able to do, under European rules, is one of David Lammy’s key points.
But Brussels does stand accused that ordinary people do have problems with it. Not only in the UK but all across Europe. If there’s one clear positive from the referendum it is that it is a clear demonstration that some radical change in the EU is urgently needed.
Let the Labour Party say, in the context of an election or a second vote: we will address the problems, anxieties, feelings of injustice and of being ignored that have clearly driven the leave vote. We’ll attack these issues from within the EU (they are present, and growing, all over Europe), with the leverage constituted by the referendum and its effects. If, then, the EU won’t change; if we find ourselves blocked from doing what is internally necessary, by immovable EU constraints; then we will break those constraints.
If/when that becomes incompatible with full membership, a situation like the one Theresa May has spent two years trying quite pointlessly to cobble up, could well arise. Not technically an EU member, but with all kinds of bilaterally advantageous areas of cooperation and collaboration, remaining in place. No sudden upheaval, no leap into the unknown, but a managed process of evolution, in which our socialist purposes – better, fairer, less crudely money-driven, on which all of us in Labour agree – will play fullest possible part.
Of course, nothing ever happens the way this kind of ideal scenario dreams up. Even to my own ears, it sounds almost absurdly rose-tinted and simplistic. But. Compare it with the positively surreal levels of guesswork, and wild promises, and wishful thinking, and all-round incoherence that’s going on now. Compare it with, ‘Oh, it’ll all be alright’ (Boris Johnson), or ‘It won’t necessarily be the end of the world’ (Rees-Mogg); or even with,’Oh, yes, but it’s the best/only deal we can get’ (Theresa May).
For us (fundamentally unlike the Tories!) the real-world practical struggle should still be guided by idealistic hopes.