By Brendan Chilton
The slogan of the official ‘Vote Leave’ campaign was ‘take back control.’ It was one of the most effective and simple campaign messages of recent times. It was a phrase that resonated with people and one they could understand. It was also highly subjective and enabled individual voters to construe their own interpretation of the message and what it would mean for them, their family, community and country. It was such an effective message that Labour should examine it closely and bring its meaning into campaign strategy and practice.
As a Brexiteer I supported the mantra of ‘taking back control.’ As a democrat I strongly believe British governments elected by the British people should determine legislation, not unelected Commissioners in Brussels. As a democratic socialist I feel that British taxpayers money should be spent on British public services, including the NHS, as well as other important national priorities such as housing, education and transport. As an internationalist I believe the next Labour government should be able to determine Trade policy that places countries in the developing world on an equal footing with European nations. But to do all these things we have to take back control, we have to leave the European Union its Single Market and Customs Union.
Many Brexiteers on the left and right, and those of no political persuasion had different reasons for wanting to leave the European Union. The common denominator that united all Brexiteers was the powerful and absolute belief in the United Kingdom should be a democracy. We wanted to be in a position where we could hire and fire our politicians. We wanted our politicians to be the ones to initiate legislation based on the needs of the United Kingdom. We didn’t like the bureaucracy and remote nature of Brussels. But even after we leave the European Union, will the British people, whether they voted leave or remain really have taken back control?
We live in an age where trust in politics is at an all time low. The vote to leave, certainly in the midlands and the north was just as much a vote against Westminster as it was Brussels. Brexit demonstrated the huge gulf between our political class and the people, and it should be the mission of the next Labour government and indeed all politicians to bridge that gap, restore trust and ensure the British people really have taken back control. We need to reduce the size and complexity of our government, and give control back to the people if we are to fulfill the promise of Brexit, which so many Labour voters supported.
Did we take back control from a bunch of unelected Commissioners just to hand it to a bunch of unelected Peers? Did we take back control from the bureaucracy in Brussels to hoard all those competences restored to Britain at Whitehall in Westminster? To many people their local Town Hall is just as remote as the European Parliament. Can anyone even name his or her local Councilor? Do we really need tens of thousands of them administering the country? Is our democracy and voting system really the best model we have? Labour should use Brexit as an opportunity to really take back control and make radical sweeping changes to the way the United Kingdom is governed instead of fearing the change it brings.
At present, the debate in this country on Brexit is still focused on the arguments of the past. Both within the Labour and Conservative Parties, divisions exist over membership of the Customs Union and Single Market, ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit. Little thought or energy is being pushed into developing policy for post-Brexit Britain. Labour should grasp the nettle and begin work on ensuring we really do take back control from local and national vested interests, and the institutions of power and give that power to those who can wield it best, the British people.
Our focus should not simply be on the institutions of the state, but also the institutions and functions of the economy. Have we really taken back control when a company can in a single moment lay off thousands of workers? Have we really taken control when exploitative employers utilize methods of employment emanating from EU directives and other practices that reduce people to mere commodities of the market? Have young people really taken control when they cannot afford to buy a house, pay off student debt and afford to live? Have pensioners really taken control when they have to choose between heating and eating and when our NHS faces an annual crisis?
Nobody ever said that leaving the European Union would be the answer to all the problems of the nation and that we would emerge into a land flowing with milk and honey. But Brexit does make us responsible as a nation for our own destiny and furthermore compels our politicians to be more responsible for the welfare and strength of the country.
Labour has always wanted to take control from those who hold wealth, power and opportunity and give it to the many. Brexit is in keeping with those Labour values and the next Labour government should take control of our constitution, our democracy and our economy and place them at the disposal and will of the people.
Labour Leave shares a number of viewpoints from external commentators, both Leave and Remain, without necessarily endorsing any of the viewpoints therein.
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