Radical politicians must respond to Britain’s cry of pain

The Brexiters are exploiting people's anger but offering no solutions

 

The faux rebellion narrative of the Brexiteers has succeeded.

They have managed to persuade a majority of the British people to support them against their own interests and the advice of every breathing expert.

Tory Brexiteers managed to exploit the hostility felt towards politicians – something they themselves have engendered – and presented voting Leave as an act of rebellion.

During the campaign I was reminded of Yeats’s poem The Second Coming when he says that ‘the best lack all conviction, while the worst; Are full of passionate intensity’.

Although the content of the arguments of those arguing for a withdrawal from our own continent was nonsense and their statistics largely bogus, their passion for their cause was compelling.

They energised people’s disgruntlement with globalisation and exhaustion with austerity and channeled it into a destructive but powerful movement for change.

As radical politicians our role now is to respond to the cry of pain that drove our country to make what I consider a disastrous decision and use its energy to revitalise both our democracy and the progressive politics that we believe in.

The first vital step is to change our electoral system so that all votes count.

First past the post forces us into a choice between two parties who compete to occupy the narrow centre ground and collude with each other to share power and prevent others from entering the political arena.

It is a political cartel designed to prevent radical change — voters have seen through it and are rejecting it.

First past the post also means that most votes don’t count.

There are only around 194 marginal seats that change hands during general elections, and nearly all the attention is on these marginals and the swing voters in them. For those in the remaining 456 constituencies with safe seats, their vote really has no bearing on the result.

In a referendum, by contrast, every vote is equal.

I think it may have been the novelty of their vote counting that confused the ‘Regrexiteers’; they regarded their little cross as a gesture and then were horrified when they discovered that they had changed history.

The Leave campaign were dishonest and irresponsible. Nothing could have made this clearer than the horror in their faces when they realised they had won. Now they would be expected to live up to the dishonest promises they had made.

And when the prime minister resigned the horror expanded: now they would actually have to take responsibility.

I hold no candle for Cameron but I do admire anybody who is prepared to take the weight of the country onto their shoulders and I know the difference between a charlatan and a politician. Most of those on the Leave side were the former.

So, there are a couple of things we must do.

First, we must not allow the far right to use the vote in the referendum as a domestic mandate. People on the right and the left voted for Brexit and it implies nothing in terms of domestic politics.

Secondly, we must hold the Brexit majority to their statements about sovereignty and democracy. In the context of multi-party politics it is no longer democratically acceptable to have a choice between two parties who will exercise sole power.

This is like having a choice between two mobile phone companies who collude to limit your choices and have no incentive to offer a better service.

First past the post is holding our country back and if we the people really want to take control we must demand a fair electoral system.

The most famous phrase from Yeats’s poem is also particularly relevant to our continent at this time:

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.

While I eschew the politics of fear, we do need to recognise that this is a critical time for our continent.

We cannot use the Channel as a barrier against the rise of fascism in continental Europe any more than we can imagine that the City of London provides a buffer against crisis in the Eurozone.

We are making preparations to leave the EU and our political influence inside its institutions is already diminished to almost nothing.

But in parallel with revitalising our democracy at home we must continue to work with progressive forces across our continent to maintain stability, democracy and peace across Europe.

Molly Scott Cato is Green MEP for the South West of England and a former Professor of Strategy and Sustainability at the University of Roehampton. Follow her on Twitter @MollyMEP

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.