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Moving beyond anti-Brexit hysteria

LAURA SMITH outlines what a positive Labour vision of the future outside the EU could look like

SINCE the early hours of December 13, when I had confirmed what I had suspected — that we had lost my seat of Crewe and Nantwich after gaining it in 2017 — I’ve been pretty devastated. 

Devastated for my staff, devastated for my community and devastated because I loved my job and felt like I’d only just started. 

Mainly, though, I felt devastated because I firmly believe it could have been a very different story and the fact is that in a Brexit election we didn’t stand a chance. 

I have dedicated a lot over the last decade to seeing a socialist prime minister in No 10. 

I feel desperately sorry that we weren’t able to achieve that at this point and it feels like we have an awful lot of work to do to reach that goal, but we can do it in the future and the fight starts now. 

One thing we need to recognise is that, come this weekend, we will be leaving the EU. 

This is something that should already have happened and we as the left must start developing what we want to see happen next. 

When I was elected I was brand new to parliamentary politics. I sold myself as a different type of politician — one rooted in my community, someone who didn’t lie for votes. 

I promised my constituents, people in my own friendship groups, my own family that I respected the referendum result and I meant it. 

I truly felt then that we were going to be able to build on our 2017 manifesto and the public were up for it. 

But it became very apparent within a matter of months that our promise to respect the referendum was evaporating. 

Keir Starmer’s ridiculous “six tests” basically told the public that if we left we would stay as closely glued to the EU as possible. 

The position moved ever closer to us being a party of Remain and it was frankly awful to be one of a very small number of people fighting for us to leave the EU and paint a positive vision of what that looked like to the public. 

I hope that Labour doesn’t keep falling into the same trap over Brexit. 

People in communities like mine do not want politicians sitting on the sidelines waiting to say “I told you so.” My message to Labour is simple. 

We must accept that the country voted to leave and start painting a positive vision for life outside of the EU under a Labour government. 

Not to shift this debate forward now would be a catastrophic error. People want to know what we stand for, not just what we are against.

Ultimately those who want to stay in the EU have failed to generate serious popular demand to remain. 

The anti-Brexit hysteria we have witnessed is in my opinion based on a mixture of bad economics, flawed understanding of the European Union and lack of political imagination. 

The vote to leave the EU could have provided the British left — and the European left more generally — an opportunity to show that a radical break with neoliberalism, and with the institutions that support it, is possible.

It is for these reasons that I wrote last year in the Morning Star that it was vital that the Labour Party had a serious offer for those who wished to leave the EU at the next election.

That general election campaign should have focused on building a new Britain — one with full employment, a real living wage and advanced workers’ rights. 

This vision could have had the support of the Labour Party membership and the vast majority of the public too if we had stuck to our original promise. 

But we blew it, and that was because people didn’t trust us. 

I tried throughout my time as an MP to create the space for this debate. In a Westminster Hall debate in Parliament, I set out the reasons why I believe we must leave the EU to realise this vision. But it felt all too often that I was a lone voice. 

So where do we go now? It isn’t going to take long for Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg to reveal that their Brexit doesn’t prioritise the people of Crewe — and rather than standing at the sidelines saying “I told you so,” we must sell the vision that we have regarding the redistribution of wealth, taking on the 1 per cent and empowering the workforce. We need to start doing this now, including through political education and trade unionism.

The political crisis that we face is complicated. Jeremy Corbyn represented anti-Establishment feeling and somehow it all flipped on its head to Johnson becoming the man saying he represented the people against Parliament. 

The fact is that our ruling class, including the Civil Service and Parliament, have driven a huge wedge between ordinary people and politics. 

We must now focus on the renewal of our democracy at every level, with meaningful devolution through radical federalism, making our government both more responsive and more accountable to the people. 

Brexit is happening, and we need to urgently offer a vision as socialists for a political transformation that can redefine the meaning and practices of the nation.

On the left, there should be enough common interest on the issues of class and democracy to co-operate in pursuing the restoration of democratic sovereignty, and immediately articulating a political and economic programme that can fill the spaces it leaves behind.

And what is that? It’s an industrial policy that favours workers and neglected regions. A reform of banking to restore assets to abandoned places. A democracy, locational and vocational, that can resist the domination of the rich and the educationally qualified.

And now more than ever we must reach out to a disaffected electorate and inspire and motivate them to vote for socialism.

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