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29 August 2018updated 03 Sep 2021 11:47am

Letter of the week: The Brexit First position

A selection of the best letters received from our readers this week. Email letters@newstatesman.co.uk to have your thoughts voiced in the New Statesman magazine.

By New Statesman

“Leaving Labour” by Stephen Bush (Cover Story, 24 August) was almost a question without an answer. Leaving for what? If the answer is realignment of British politics then a prerequisite for this is that the Tories split. I do not presently see signs of this.

In 2017 I campaigned in 14 constituencies, the common feature of which was that all already had a Labour MP. And in all except three, I had to use the mantra that voting for the candidate on the ballot paper would not lead to “other consequences”. My views on those possible consequences are on the record in Hansard from December 2015, so at the next election I cannot use the same mantra of “just please vote to re-elect the candidate”. How can I therefore go on the doorstep?

“Brexit First” is a serious position that I hold, and we will in a few months know the outcome of that. So I encourage all to remain at post until then. After that the situation may be fertile for realignment. On the other hand, for “Conscientious Objectors” the line has already been crossed.

Jeff Rooker, former Labour MP for Birmingham Perry Barr
House of Lords
London SW1

Labour divided

The debate on who should lead the Labour Party has generated a fair amount of heat without much light, and frankly no matter how well connected and clear-thinking Stephen Bush undoubtedly is, that situation hasn’t changed much as a result of his take (Cover Story, 24 August).

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Although I have twice voted for Jeremy Corbyn I’m open to persuasion, if only someone – not a “neverwozzer”, as Trevor Pateman labels so many past leaders of all three main parties (Correspondence, 24 August) – comes forward with a coherent proposition on how to convert Labour’s superior policy offer into greater heft in parliament and the country at large.

The mistake that so many malcontents and plotters make is to believe that the party belongs to them because they have been elected to parliament. It doesn’t. And no amount of contempt and disdain for ordinary members whom they consider to be naive, wrong-headed, sinister or just plain daft will bring about the changes they want. They need to get on with campaigning against the Tories and for the election of a Labour government.

Les Bright
Exeter

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The two obvious questions to be asked about a proposed new political party are: what would it stand for and who would vote for it? Midway through Stephen Bush’s piece the first question is raised, but not really answered. The party would presumably be anti-Brexit, but it is hard to see how its formation could change the Brexit outcome. It is striking that there has been little interest in joining a new party among supposedly Remainer Tory MPs, even as their government pursues Brexit.More generally, Corbyn’s Labour critics remain wedded to the “third way” politics that became the orthodoxy for centre-left parties. Since the financial crisis, support for such parties has collapsed across Europe as they pursued austerity policies, in some cases threatening their continued existence. The example of the Liberal Democrats is also instructive here.

Jonathan Perraton
Sheffield

Whether the anti-Corbyn MPs stay or leave, I think a good starting point for them would be a little humility. They must, by now, realise that there is very little appetite among Labour Party members or the wider voting public for their rich-friendly, milquetoast version of social democracy. Indeed, I would question whether these people really are social democrats. I suspect they are really liberals and should join the Lib Dems. But my guess is that the hubris that prevents them from seeing their own unpopularity means they also cannot contemplate anything other than a new party that they can control, even if it will be doomed from the start.

Bill Kerry
West Wickham, Kent

Labour faces meltdown and self-destruction because the Blair-Brown duo failed English democracy in reneging on their 1997 manifesto undertakings on voting reforms. Roy Jenkins’s skilfully crafted alternative voting scheme with candidates chosen in order of preference should have made results more proportional, leaving “first-past-the-post” finished and forgotten.

Tony Blair bottled it. So English “democracy” remains profoundly unequal and fundamentally unfair. Low voting participation highlights the scale of apathy and alienation, while “austerity” policies from a weak Conservative government ensure that poverty and inequality grow while private wealth booms.

In parallel, elitist and privileged, male-dominated, self-serving middle-class MPs live generous parliamentary lives sniping at leaders they despise, leaving voters – those long-suffering people who choose governments – disenchanted and under-represented.

English voting reform is essential, not another break-up of the 1981 “Gang of Four” style. Another of Blair’s betrayals is the root cause of Corbyn crisis now.

Keith Jago
Brighton

Paul Mason says, probably correctly, that the “vast majority of Labour MPs” mainly just want to “be armed with policies they can sell on the doorstep” (Another Voice, 24 August). This begs a question relating to the actual policies “Corbyn’s most trenchant critics” would be advocating when promoting their new centrist party (Cover Story, 24 August). Presumably they would have rejected Corbyn’s plans to nationalise railways and energy, increase taxes for the rich, and to end austerity, ideas which have proved to be popular, and revert to the Tory-lite promises which cost Labour so dearly in the elections of 2010 and 2015?

 Whatever their choice, the “Fair Oak Farm participants” will only succeed in putting a smile on Tory faces. What would be written on the side of Chuka Umunna’s electoral bus? “Vote for me, and guarantee another ten years of Tory rule?”

Bernie Evans
Liverpool

Paul Mason really does need to get out of his London and social media bubble. A second referendum would “reconnect Labour with some centrist Remain voters”. Er… Paul, how about the Labour voters in the heartlands who voted to leave? You are taking them for granted. Far from “reuniting a divided country” a second referendum would widen the split with Labour’s core non-metropolitan vote.

Most of the UK is beyond Barnet, Uxbridge, Croydon and Romford. Paul Mason is Labour’s most eloquent spokesman but he needs to get out of the metaphorical
smoke-filled rooms of left-wing London politics and out into the real country.

Andrew Napier
Southampton

Remote control

After reading Mark Bale’s letter (Correspondence, 24 August) the penny just dropped. As an alternative to the negative “Brexit” I don’t remember being offered a positive, renegotiated “fEUture”. Sadly what’s happening now is compromise from a position
of weakness.

Sally Litherland
Salisbury

Mark Bale wants parliament to be able to exercise “direct” rather than “remote” control over issues, though saying “no” to the euro for instance seems fairly direct to me. In practice what he desires is surely unrealistic in a global economy where engagement with numerous international organisations is necessary; and that requires some sharing of sovereignty to work successfully. Moreover, it now seems that leaving the EU will actually have the opposite effect to what Mark Bale wants. Instead of taking direct control, the UK might be accepting subservient status.

In order to retain access to certain EU markets, which at least some members of the government seem to believe is necessary (business certainly does), the UK will have to shadow EU regulations.

Paul Heron
Via email

Madness of crowds

Lord Shinkwin (Correspondence, 24 August) wrongly calls the 2016 referendum “the people’s meaningful vote”. Apart from failing to achieve an absolute majority it could never have been meaningful. Firstly it failed the “wisdom/madness of crowds” test. To access popular wisdom you need a clear, well understood proposition, largely uncontested facts, and to avoid herd behaviour unduly influencing individual decisions. The “number of sweets in the jar” game, where the average of all guesses is invariably correct, is the paradigm case. Madness ensues when the opposite prevails.

Secondly a referendum should be called only to endorse or reject a clearly articulated plan for change by a government with the will and capacity to implement it. Recent Irish votes, and the 1975 “join” decision, met this test. David Cameron’s plea to endorse the status quo disavowing exit plans, clearly did not. Success for Remain would have settled nothing, while the actual outcome has merely caused chaos.

If we had had sensible constitutional rules governing referenda, the debacle of 2016 would have been avoided. The country desperately needs to be dug out of a hole; but, as things stand, we must rely on parliamentarians. However, unless they learn the technical lessons, even a so called “people’s vote” could be equally flawed.

Alan Parker
Croydon

Uncommon good

“The establishment,” says Adrian Pabst in “The politics of the void” (24 August) “has no convincing story to tell about who peoples and nations are”. This observation prompts one to ask when, if ever, the establishment (whether elitist or populist) has had such a story to tell. Obvious exceptions, such as Aneurin Bevan’s, come to mind; and the bravest voice of all in the political world, Corbyn’s, evokes an era of the common good such as Western societies have never seen.

Unlike Thatcher’s ignorant evocation of St Francis, “Where there is discord, let there be harmony…” Corbyn’s dream of a future harmonious world, founded in a belief in equality, is genuine.

Since its inception, representative democracy has been about power. Its claim on our acquiescence has always been that radical redistribution is self-defeating, the Tories being the natural party of power. The establishment thus perpetuates our tacit acceptance of a class-ridden, “Them and Us” philosophy of society.

The common good has never been on the agenda. And the history books instruct that divine rule of kings has “progressed” to something called “universal suffrage”. Representative democracy it seems can never yield the common good. As Adrian Pabst says: “Democracy needs a transcendent conversation about the meaning of nation, culture, ways of living together and our shared human nature.” One can only add that our human nature is international.

David Clarke
Witney, Oxfordshire

Plastic principles

Each week the New Statesman advises that the paper on which it is printed comes from sustainable forests yet each week my copy arrives in a non-recyclable plastic bag. Could I suggest that you stop this pollution and mount a campaign to persuade
others likewise?

John Cash
Edinburgh

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