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GAVIN ESLER: I have never feared for my country’s future… until now

Former BBC news journalist Gavin Esler is standing for Change UK. Photograph: Rod Minchin/PA Wire/PA Wire. - Credit: PA

Broadcaster Gavin Esler explains why he has decided to stand as a Change UK MEP candidate – and how New European readers helped convince him to do so

I am absolutely delighted to be a candidate for Change UK in the European parliamentary elections. And since I’m a candidate in part because of The New European’s readers, I thought I’d explain why I am standing.

Last summer this newspaper published an article by me explaining why I had decided to speak out about the Brexit mess, after keeping my mouth shut since the vote in 2016.

I wrote that I had, at first, ‘respected’ the result but had become vocal on the subject because it had become obvious that we were lied to. And that the people in charge of Brexit, including the various revolving Brexit secretaries and ERG unicorn fantasists, hadn’t a clue how to deliver it. I said that if we tolerated Brexit lies, the liars would continue and we risked entering Trumpland, where lying is normalised.

There was a very strong response from TNE readers who said I had struck a chord. I decided if I could help in any way to bring this Brexit mess to an end, I would. Since then, the mess has only deepened. The Conservatives have continued their 40-year psychodrama and the leader of the Labour Party has simply failed to lead. I wondered if someone could show Jeremy Corbyn what an ‘open goal’ looks like. Sadly it hasn’t happened. So here we are…

I have never in my life been a member of a political party. I am now.

I have never been a candidate for election. I am now.

And I have never been seriously worried about the future of my country. I am now.

It is obvious that our political system is broken. We all know it. It’s a worldwide joke. I have listened to Irish and German comedians tell stories about our incompetence. I have been told that the British had a headache – so why did you shoot yourselves in the foot? I have watched the British prime minister – in the name of ‘taking back control’ – having to beg in Brussels for more time from European leaders.

We know that our country cannot be strong abroad when we are weak at home. Brexit has divided us and weakened us, destroying our international image for competence. I want to help change all that.

I have joined Change UK because it is the Remain alliance – of people who were once members of the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Scottish National Party, and people like me who had no interest ever in joining any party.

We have three clear objectives: Stop Brexit, fix Britain, reform the EU. The first step is a People’s Vote. I want to bring this Brexit nightmare to an end. A confirmatory vote will mean we can move on to the real problems we face.

As I campaign for support in London I have in mind my children and their future. But I also think about one friend in particular. When I spoke at the Change UK launch rally in Bristol this week I did not name this friend because it would embarrass him. But he is self-employed in his 40s and would describe himself as ‘working class’. He certainly works – six, sometimes seven days a week. He pays taxes. He loves this country. He voted Leave in 2016 – because, as he told me, ‘they’ (Labour and Conservatives) – have done nothing much for him and he had stopped voting altogether.

But Brexit meant he did vote. He told me he wanted to send a message to the political class that Britain needed fixing. The trouble is that the Brexit he was sold cannot fix anything because it cannot be delivered. He has turned off from listening to the news, filled with stories of government incompetence.

No version of Brexit will fix what my friend – and most of us in Britain – know is wrong. Why does the British political system not work? Why are the traditional political parties so remote and out of touch?

Why do so many of us work so hard – and yet cannot get ahead? Why are there so many food banks in the fifth-richest country in the world?

My friend is a British patriot. So am I. He is an optimist. And so am I. I was born in a council house in Clydebank, a working class area of Glasgow, and am the first member of my family to go to university.

That’s been a great privilege. I grew up amongst hard-working, honest, decent people, some of whom voted for Brexit.

But when I see on television the pretend ‘men of the people’ – the Farages, Rees-Moggs and the rest of that motley crew – still selling the same old snake oil, I am appalled. They stole our patriotism. I want to take it back. They claim to speak for the British people. They do not. They claim to represent our interests. They do not. But they have been rumbled – hence that talk of ‘taking up a rifle’ and accusations of ‘betrayal’ and other hate speech directed against the increasing number of us who have exposed them for what they are. Millions of British people are fed up, like me, with these ‘posers of the people’.

But in some ways I admire Nigel Farage. I admire that at times he tells the truth when he admits Brexit will make us all poorer, but that it is a price worth paying. If you want to be poorer, please vote for Farage. But if you want the country to be back on track as a competent, tolerant, wealthier place in which we solve the real problems of the NHS, fix our schools and social care, tackle climate change, I hope you will vote for Change UK.

It’s time to end the brain-dead politics of the past. It’s time for a change – and I hope for Change UK.

MORE: Gavin Esler – Former BBC broadcaster on why he’s changed his mind on Brexit

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