BONNIE GREER says we need to move on from blaming Corbyn for Brexit, and move on to closely scrutinising the Tories.
I hesitated about beginning this article reflecting on what will now happen to the ‘Remain movement’ by mentioning an argument I had on the subject, and the outcome of last month’s election, while in a bar in the south of France. Because that sort of setting and conversation is, of course, peak-Remain elite. It is, so our critics say, a summation of why we lost.
But given that Boris Johnson spent his holiday period on Mustique, I feel I am granted a kind of permission to mention where this discussion took place. Because if his festive message of hope, unity and optimism could be broadcast while he relaxed in the Caribbean, I think I can debate those lost Labour seats and failure of the Remain campaign over a pastis.
As I stood at the bar – the place filling up with Occitan-language devotees, some exhausted from their latest gilet jaune activities that few people pay much attention to any longer – I listened to a truly nice guy explain to me, that in effect, it was OK to lose the election.
He had joined the Labour Party because of Jeremy Corbyn. My new friend had gone door-to-door canvassing for the party but the people he met simply did not want to hear the message he brought them. They only wanted Brexit sorted. They wanted the debate, the shouting, to stop. They had no interest in state ownership of anything. They were tired of it all.
Then my new friend went into blaming the press and their hatred of Labour for the party’s woes. He just did not seem to hear the people, understand what they were saying. I think that they were asking where did Labour stand on the only question out there: Brexit. Because they did not know. He said that many of the people did not like Corbyn personally. They just didn’t.
The fact is that it is simply not interesting anymore to blame Corbyn for what happened. After all, his stance with regards to Europe has always been known.
I suppose if anyone is to blame it is the folks who run the party. Who still do. Their illusion/delusion was that they could make the election be about something other than Brexit. They couldn’t.
One of the consequences of losing an election is, as Americans say, watching the other guy eat your lunch. So get ready for Boris Johnson’s pilfering of as many policies and attitudes and language that he can from Labour in the next five years. This is what takes place when you lose.
But what will happen now, if you still believe in the European project, still believe that the UK belongs not only in the EU but at the heart of it?
First of all, the most important thing to understand in any election is its signature. The signature of December’s election was not the NHS, nor privatisation, nor repealing Article 50, as the Lib Dems wanted. It was this simple message – “Europe/world leave us alone”. Remain had to find its place in there; tell its story from there. But it could not. Did not.
Most people care about their families, their homes, their health and having enough money to live on, to save and maybe to enjoy. They want peace and quiet and to believe that the people they elect might listen to them, hear them, make decisions in concert with them. To get this is to master what is known as retail politics. The kitchen table stuff. The shop floor. How do you make the EU matter there?
First: campaigns have to look and sound like the people whose votes they need. For example, the people who do not get Joe Biden do not get that Joe Biden looks and sounds like the people who will decide the US presidential election this autumn. In fact, he is those people.
Remain – and it still exists – has to look and sound like the people who lent their votes to the Conservatives. Maybe for one time only. Maybe forever.
The UK will be probably be a glorified commentator on the world stage as it spends the decade sorting Brexit out. It has checked out of Hotel Europe. What hotel will it check into? Prime ministers will come and go as Britain sorts out its trade relationship with the EU and the rest of the world. And the generational issue is key: because as you go down the age scale it becomes more Remain.
Remain must be for an international humanism. It must give the UK a picture of its place in a communal world, a world in which nations sit at the table together. A world in which international diplomacy is the norm. Not an aberration. Remain must look diverse and inclusive. In other words, Remain is about remaining in the world. Remain does not see the UK has a host of strategic interests that it lays on the table and calls diplomacy and trade.
Remain continuously lobbies for cooperation; for seeing beyond national borders. For understanding that the young demand the ability to live and work where they choose.
The people I know who work for the EU institutions in Brussels miss British internationalism the most. At its best, Britain set the pace. Britain set the example. I don’t know how we do that again. But that is what we must do.