In just under two weeks’ time, we will be going to the polls again. At points throughout the last month, we have heard the forthcoming general election referred to as the ‘Brelection’. My forlorn hope is that by the time you’re reading this, that word has died, been cut to small pieces and sent, wrapped in heavy chains, to the bottom of the ocean. Where it belongs.
Not just because it is a horrible monstrosity of a bastard of a word, but because of what it represents.
About a year ago, we had a referendum on whether to leave the EU. You may remember it. Brexit, they called it.
And as the Prime Minister fired the metaphorical electoral starting pistol from the steps of Downing Street last month, she asked all parties to ‘put forward their proposals for Brexit’. She said that parliamentary division was weakening ‘the Government’s negotiating position in Europe’. That game-playing, she said, ‘risks our ability to make a success of Brexit’. And she’s repeated this ad nauseam since.
But we should not fall into the trap of thinking the political classes’ obsession with Brexit is mirrored by the country they represent. That’s us, to you and me.
We had a general election just a couple of years and a lifetime ago. UKIP stood in constituencies across the land, they promised an exit from the EU and won millions of votes, but won just one seat. The reason Brexit is so high on the agenda is not because normal people actually cared about Brexit in itself, but because we were asked to care in an all-or-nothing, one-off vote.
“The bloody nose given to the establishment by the electorate had as much to do with income as with immigration”
And now we are where we are, but it’s time to move on. Which is what most of us want, apparently. YouGov polling has slightly shy of 70 per cent of the public saying that whether or not they voted for Brexit, they want the Government to just get on with leaving.
And while Brexit is polling consistently high in lists of issues facing the UK, so too are health and education. The economy, housing, employment and defence are also all singled out by different members of the public as the pressing issue of the day.
Scratch beneath the surface of Brexit’s ‘take back control’ mantra and often it was people wanting to take back control of public services, jobs, communities, hospitals and schools. As research has shown, the bloody nose given to the establishment by the electorate had as much to do with income as immigration.
At every level of earning there was a direct correlation between household income and the likelihood to vote for leaving the EU – 62 per cent of those with income of less than £20,000 voted to leave, but that percentage fell in steady increments until, by an income of £60,000, it was just 35 per cent.
So what we do not need is a Brexit election. The public deserves real vision, with real policies, for a domestic agenda that confronts the real, daily problems of their lives. More talk of hard, soft, pickled or fried Brexits is not what is needed.
When Theresa May took control of the Conservative Party, she did so unopposed. Through no fault of her own, it meant we never saw the colour of her policies. Now we can vote on them. What is she going to do about the hospitals, schools and jobs that keep the country awake at night and does she deserve a mandate for action?
Jeremy Corbyn spent two years espousing a new kind of politics. Well, now it’s time to put up or shut up – is this the new politics the country wants? Does he have the domestic agenda to make a difference to the lives of those that need it?
When we wake up on June 9, Brexit will still mean Brexit. But we have two more weeks to consider real transformation for the social problems that underpinned much of that EU vote. Let’s hear about, and vote on that.