We must develop a progressive vision of post-Brexit Britain

The Conservatives cannot be allowed to monopolise the discussion, argues Daniel Zeichner MP


Friday 24 June was a bleak day for many people across the country. Almost everyone can recall when it was that they heard the news.

Some had spent a sleepless night watching the results come in with a mounting sense of disbelief and disillusionment; many awoke, switched on their phones or TV  and were astonished at the news that our country had rejected the most successful peace project of our time.

I am unwavering in my view that leaving the European Union is the wrong decision for both the city of Cambridge and for our country as a whole. I was proud that Cambridge people voted overwhelmingly to remain, and I will be respecting and reflecting that decision when a vote comes before Parliament.

I will also vote against any attempt to take Britain out of the single market, and against any deal which would damage Cambridge and its dynamic economy. It is my job as MP for Cambridge to represent the decision the people of Cambridge made, in every part of our city, to remain. That won’t change.

But we cannot just ignore the fact that over half of the country disagreed—even just up the road in other parts of Cambridgeshire—and voted to leave.

I and close colleagues spent months travelling around the region addressing hustings and meeting local people, and we were left in no doubt that many were going to vote Leave.

We need to formulate a progressive response which explains why there was such hostility to a system that, in the view of people in Cambridge, has helped to create an unparalleled period of peace and prosperity.  At least, for some.

And there is the rub – while some have prospered, others have been left behind. The last few years have been good for places where people move freely from country to country to do good jobs – but very tough for those who have seen their skills undercut by people very happy to do the job for much more than they would have got at home, but much less than local people rightly expected.   

Of course, it is also true that many were misled.

The Tory and UKIP Brexiteers constructed their campaign from lies, and within hours of the result that slapdash construction fell to pieces. In the aftermath of the referendum, Iain Duncan Smith relabeled the Leave campaign’s promises ‘a series of possibilities’.

Daniel Hannan said people expecting immigration to come down will be ‘disappointed’.

And, most infamously, the pledge of £350 million a week for the NHS emblazoned on the side of the Brexit battle bus has been thrown from Vote Leave to leave.eu and dropped like a hot potato.

Remainers were labelled Project Fear, but the aftershocks of the referendum are already severe. The pound plummeted to a 31 year low.

Anecdotally, I hear of companies already losing important investment. And sickeningly, racial abuse has rocketed across all regions of the country.

To many it seems unfathomable we have reached this point, unfathomable that our open, tolerant society has ruptured in this way. But it is no coincidence that we have seen the pattern in the UK replicated in Europe and the United States.

Countries are becoming increasingly polarised, and centrist politics are being rejected. The Front National in France, Jobbik in Hungary, and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, among others, are taking heart from the Brexit vote.

The idea of Donald Trump as president – previously a favourite punchline in cities like Cambridge – is no longer impossible. There is a troubling growth in movements that are anti human rights, liberal democracy and internationalism. Brexit is just another symptom of a more profound problem in the West, and a genuine crisis of confidence.

So it is vital that progressive people in Britain and across Europe develop ideas for the post-Brexit landscape.

It is a particular opportunity for those with progressive politics because the Conservatives have spent their time in Government making the divisions in our country worse, not better – and it is those divisions that are at the root of the problem.

By every assessment, money has been taken from poorer areas of Britain and redistributed to richer areas – not a surprise, because that is what Conservative governments do. At the same time communities have faced rapid change, economically, technically and culturally.

In Cambridge we are surfing that wave but for others it is seen as a crashing blow.

The divide between rich and poor has become so dangerously large that the social divisions pose a real threat to the entire country, not just the poorer areas. Which is why an optimistic, forward-looking prospectus could once again appeal to parts of the country monopolised by the Tories for a couple of decades.

In swathes of the country, there are people who don’t want to see a country disunited, don’t want to see us cut off from our European friends, and appreciate that the wealth a successful globalised economy creates now has to be shared more fairly.

Leave campaigners had no answer for when Britain voted to leave, now we the 48 per cent must urgently formulate answers.

We face unprecedented challenges and huge numbers of questions. Is access to the single market a red line? Or retaining the European Arrest warrant? What about immigration? Food security? How will we fund science in the future?

That is why I have launched a consultation today looking at a number of key areas – the economy, the environment, security, immigration, science and research and our relationship with other progressive groups across Europe.

We need to work out the objectives, values and principles that we want to drive Britain’s post-Brexit vote policies.

We cannot allow the Conservative government to monopolise the post-Brexit vote discussion. We who believed in a social Europe still do, and equally we believe in a ‘social Britain’.

I am optimistic that something positive can come from the wreckage of this result, and that at its heart Britain can still be the inclusive and outward-looking place I have known it to be.

Our task is to seek to understand the causes of challenges being faced by communities across our country, and how we can best find and communicate the solutions to those problems.

I hope these first steps will begin the process of stitching the social fabric of our divided country back together.

Daniel Zeichner is Labour MP for Cambridge. You can leave your views at: http://www.danielzeichner.co.uk/eufuture.

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.

12 Responses to “We must develop a progressive vision of post-Brexit Britain”

  1. NHSGP

    And there is the rub – while some have prospered, others have been left behind.

    People have handed over 10s, 100s of thousands of pounds to you for their old age.

    Where’s the wealth?

    Ah yes, you spent it all on debts.

    That’s the problem.

    That’s why you have wealth inequality.

  2. CR

    Remember that there is an excellent leftwing case for Brexit. Under the neo-liberal capitalist EU club the main beneficiaries are not the working people but the bosses of the multinational corporations that ship in cheap labour from eastern europe and the middle east and by doing so keep the wages of european workers lower than they otherwise would have been. This immigrant workforce will also accept much worse terms & conditions than the european worker.

    Just look at the way the EU has enforced reductions in workers rights in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy. It is now forcint the French Government to cut the rights of French workers resulting in the recent major strikes across France.

    The EU is not the friend of the working class. It is, as Tony Benn always said, a bosses club.

  3. CR

    Can we have an edit button please?

  4. Daniel

    I suspect “Leave” means thrusting back against many years of almost embarrassment to be able to define any such thing as British culture. I’d say the message from brexit is that internationalism can be acceptable and embraced and the advantages enjoyed – up to a point. But beyond a certain point if it becomes 90-10 in favour of internationalism, compared to “british way of life” (with all the different, but fundamentally patriotic and fairly clear meanings of that), then the argument of the liberal left, and their dominance in all debating spheres, will result in a disconnect between electorate and the MPs who represent them; this will eventualy create parties like UKIP, which will pressure changes onto the centrist political system. Hence, neoliberal economics, if it wishes to produce stable societies in general, will need to include some uptick variable in terms of which “ways of life” of native populations does have a value – generally that variable has no value at all in most economic models. And so can force an eventual political collapse. This needs to change if neoliberal economics and global-friendly policies are to have any long term chance to survive in practice.

    Classic case in point would be “planning laws” – those which seek to preserve the local character of buildings. This causes very slow planning processes for new houses needed for high levels of immigration. The result is house price bubble, which makes home ownership unaffordable for young people (already saddled with student loans and dwindling prospects for long term decent pension). The only economic solution is to scrap planning laws – those which protect the “character” of places like cambridge, or elsewhere.

    The long term “neoliberal economics” therefore will, in time, hit the things that most liberals hold dear, having already hit the things that most working class people hold dear.

    it would be possible to reach a compromise between the priorities of multinational companies and international finance, and a sense of keeping national character and way of life. This would need to be reflected in the economic models , but if you ask an economist, they will tell you it has no value at all.

    Hence living in a world which is not the real world, and short of a dictatorship to make it impossible to express dissent, has no long term political viability anyway.

  5. Daniel

    PS And when a character like Trump talks about “tariffs” to help the rust belt, we know in advance of time that there will be a smaller pot of money in total in america and america will be a less competitive place and marginally less attractive for multinationals. But we do also know that a tarriff is an “uptick” in favour of way of life.

    To cede the ground entirely to the economics of competition may work in the short term but in the long term all resources are hoovered up, not by regular people, but by gigantist conglomerates and wealth makers of the character of george soros.

    The real question is whether the pace of this process eradicates ways of life to such a degree that the aftermath of the process is , far from being enriched, much worsened.

    Kind of like the city of chicago .. . but the world as a whole.
    Roll forward 100 years at the current pace of consumption and it seems a highly likely outcome.

    Britain, sadly, is not a big enough entity to stand up to this
    what concerns me is that hardly any intellectual even discusses it, let alone, applies their mind to the problem. So that, ironically enough, the most absurd populists on some level may prove to have been right.

    Ir reflect dereliction on the part of liberal thought to not accept the long term damage of competition driven economics. Perhaps because it is argued that “co-operation” is the way to fix global problems.

    But in terms of resources, co-operation is the most costly attack on those resources there can be. We might have a peaceful world, but we certainly do not have a sustainable one.

    It will become apparent within a century i suppose that in the space of just 150 years we used up all the world had to offer. Precious metals for computer chips. Oil. Supplies of helium. Rainforests. All gone.

    Somewhat foolish, in my view.

  6. Daniel

    Correction, not chicago.


  7. Raddiy

    A progressive vision, as opposed to a vision of post Brexit Britain.

    Do you ever consider the simple concept of what is in the best interests of the British people, without always trying to mitigate it against some pie in the sky progressive( whatever that means) idealism.

    Might I suggest that before you start compartmentalising Brexit,, you look back at your personally distressing evening of the 23/24th June, and take on board the message that was sent to you. From this essay you seem to have learnt nothing at all, you still seem to see everything in the prism of ‘us’ and ‘them’, although God on knows who us and them are.

    The British people are telling you to look after them and their interests before you worry about all the rest of the worlds problems, is that really too hard to understand or rationalise, that it needs to hide behind the sham and fake morality of progressive politics.

    All progressive politics has managed over the last 30 years is to regress a large percentage of the British people socially, culturally and economically. A wise man would keep his silence and reflect in the absence of nothing original say, a fool would continue to blather on as if nothing had happened.

  8. Justin

    @CR. To just dismiss the EU as a bosses club overlooks the fact that the UK plc is also a bosses club.I think it is a sloppy way to argue your case. Another angle to look at is the fact that the EU is a vehicle for uniting the working class across Europe. The best way for that is to argue for a powerful European Parliament, (the European Commission should have no right to a veto). By the way, much of the criticism of the way the EU works overlooks the fact that private members bills in UK parliament rarely (if ever), get past the third reading before getting blocked/vetoed, that is not what I’d call democratic!

  9. Justin

    The Great Brexit revolt, and no clear concrete plan after.
    @Raddiy. Leaving aside your arguement in favour of sectionalism, you may have heard of the film ‘V for Vendetta’, have you ever asked yourself why there is no sequel part two to this film?

  10. Raddiy

    @ jUSTIN

    I made no argument in favour of sectionalism, unless you consider that an elected British government shouldn’t give priority to the population who elected it.

    I’ll leave V for Vendatta out of the debate, I prefer practical real politics, not conspiracy around every corner, however I do remember reading somewhere that there was a sequel due out this year.

  11. Justin

    It is sectionalism to put the British working class ahead of the working class elsewhere, that is basically your position! And this British government was elected on a First Past the Post basis, less democratic than the relatively proportional European Parliament.

    Missing the point by a country mile! See below.
    On V for Vendetta, the point I was making was no about conspiracy theories, it was in fact what you supposedly believe in, practical politics, like the V for Vendetta mob, where’s Plan B, no answer from you, Quelle Surprise. I’ll also add by the way, Brexiteers were making conspiracy theories about the EU and Brussels being a ‘dictatorship’. Blaming Brussels for everything, ‘oh, I cut my finger, it’s Brussels fault!’

  12. Richard Ian Carling

    I have always thought it the duty of Government to protect from excesses. Just as a mechanical governor regulates movement to prevent excess. Because no doctrine is the whole, complete logical answer. The people have answered a democratic question, but referenda are not limited in there excesses. Real damage can be done by confusing the will of the people with the answer to the people’s problems. To appeal to referenda is to shirk the duty to govern responsibly. A people know what is best for each of them, but more rarely can they calculate what is best for all of them. To extrapolate political will from a referendum result is to further surrender responsibility to regulate, govern, lead.

    The state is not a nanny, but a policewoman. Working for peace and fairness, but also for justice. Not just for each of us, but for people as a whole. Now and in the future. Protecting people and resources against excessive, unsustainable, predations is part of that. I have seen both the EU and nation states individually neglect and uphold that duty in different ways on different issues. Liberal light touch or hard progressive rebalancing are just degrees of governing intervention. When excesses are hurting the people is not the time for a light touch, it is a time for a steadying, staying hand. Firm boundaries are required to trammel excess. Blithe Liberalism or Neo-liberalism in the face of distress on such a scale is callously and negligently inappropriate.

    Westminster still sleeps at the wheel with three alarms blazing. This Brexit is the wild flailing of a breaking system that needs substantial correction. The housing market is in excess. The labour market is in excess. Perhaps overarching these, the legal powers of corporate and supra-national bodies are in excess. Our union is under threat because it is not acting as all unions should, in the equal and overall interests of the membership. Strikes are a failure on all parts to effectively negotiate. I believe that Brexit is a strike that hurts this union of democratic kingdoms as much as it does those with which we negotiate.

    I’d like to see a firm, positive plan to address these three issues. I would suggest that Land Value Tax and public housebuilding would go some way to limiting the speculative exploitation of the limited supply of building land and the monopolistic market thereof.

    I believe that Cambridge is a victim of it’s own success and that a special case can be made for easing the green belt due to the perforce localised nature of the enterprises born out of innovation and research. Although more could be done to distribute the opportunity without sacrificing the intensity of interaction.

    I have less experience of the hardships of the wider employment market. So I will leave it to others to speak up for themselves and their solutions. I only ask that they embrace the opportunity of a firmer regulatory framework, not to feather-bed some short-term, perhaps tariff based, opportunity. Tariffs are a stick best left as response to those raised against us. If we all take them up, nobody gains and we all carry a burden. Likewise other artificial advantages are false and their distortions corrupt our productivity. Such as mass exploitation of labour by excess supply or forced unemployment through withholding investment.

    A governed state is to a greater or lesser extent a mixed economy in it’s very nature. We in the UK embrace that truth and respect it in our designs for democratic government. Publicly funded works, health and education are in all our interests, but not to the exclusion of enterprise and productive commercial industry. Neither of these, in their turn, should take pre-eminence. An ungoverned state is unprepared for the coordinated actions of others and does nothing to protect it’s citizenry, it’s very reason for being.

Leave a Reply