I’ve plunged straight back into politics – I was selected recently as Labour’s County Council candidate for Eastwood. The BBC say it’s fairly unusual for a former MP to want to stand for the Council, as they see it as a demotion”, but I think it’s simply different – you have a much stronger focus on a much smaller area, and experience in one helps make you effective in the other.
As always, I look forward to fighting a positive campaign, helped by the fact that I like the sitting councillor (Keith Longden), who has served Eastwood for seven years, and have no intention of attacking him personally. Where i think I could contribute more is in raising Eastwood’s profile with the same energy and commitment that I applied in 13 years as an MP. Because it’s in Broxtowe, which is one of the most prosperous parts of Nottinghamshire, it tends to get overlooked by comparison with similar areas in the north of the county, but the needs are similar and the decline in services in the area is a serious issue. I look forward to a constructive campaign, and have also been out helping colleagues – yesterday in Awsworth working for our candidates Lisa Clarke and John McGrath.
Like Anna Soubry and many others, I’ve been concerned by the intensity of the passions still surrounding the Brexit vote, most recently displayed by the Mail targeting the High Court judges as “Enemies of the People” and now highlighting the individual Supreme Court judges. I understand that Mr Farage hopes to organise a mass lobby of the Supreme Court with 100,000 people. Conversely, some of my friends on the Remain side are utterly furious with the outcome and keen to reverse it at the first opportunity. We all need to calm down – this is going to be a long haul and we are all in the same boat.
Some fundamental points:
First, when we have a referendum, we should respect the result, in exactly the same way as we respect a General Election result, even if we don’t like it. We’ve voted to leave, so we must work on that assumption and talk of an instant “Did you really mean that?” referendum is ineffective silliness.
Second, accepting a result doesn’t mean that everyone who disagreed has to shut up. There is nothing undemocratic in regretting a referendum or election result and hoping it will eventually be reconsidered.
Third, it is not reasonable to argue that the negotiations should be conducted on the basis of a secret agenda. Even the keenest of Brexit supporters has an interest in ensuring that it’s negotiated on a basis of getting what they want. Supporters of both Brexit and Remain have different ideas on what we should now prioritise (Free trade? Immigration controls? Workers’ rights?) and if Parliament is not involved in the discussion of our priorities then it really is not being allowed to do its job. That doesn’t mean that we need to know every detail of how we will tackle the negotiations. But we need to know the general plan, and at present the suspicion is that there isn’t actually a coherent plan at all. As one of the EU leaders said recently, “We’d be glad to negotiate with the British Government, but at present they just seem to be negotiating with themselves.”
Fourth, global examples of what happens when one tries to make the courts bend to the Government of the day or to mass demonstrations are all negative, without exception. If we don’t like the state of law – for instance, if we believe that all referendums should be mandatory, or we think that Parliament should not be consulted on negotiations – then we should elect politicians who promise to change it. That’s the democratic way. Pressuring judges to do anything other than interpret the current law on the facts really is undemocratic and extremely dangerous. The Government’s failure to defend the courts immediately is pathetic.
And finally, what happens if the package eventually negotiated is one that most people dislike? Do we press ahead anyway, on the basis of a general mandate from years earlier? Or do we at that stage have an election fought on the issue of whether to press ahead? We should, I think, keep our options open.
The US election
The intensity of the American elections and the rise to near-success of a demagogic populist who is willing to lie, to exalt in the use of power for sexual abuse, to attack the courts and to pander to racist views of entire ethnic populations should be a warning to us all. Mr Trump is close to success – even though I think he will fail at the final hurdle – because too many people feel they have been neglected and taken for granted.
I think there is a parallel to Brexit here, and we need to pay attention to people who feel left out much more actively than we’ve done in recent years. That doesn’t mean Trump-like pandering to prejudice. It means accepting that there are many people for whom our society doesn’t give a decent chance, and working to do something about it. It’s one reason I joined the Labour party, and also a reason why I remain active: we neglect our society at our own peril.
PS Toton and Chilwell readers have a new website to follow and discuss local issues! See Chetwynd: The Toton Chilwell Neighbourhood Forum.