Harold Wilson said, a week is a long time in politics. The last 2 years in politics feels like a lifetime to us. Two years ago we were both working full time as Labour candidates in key marginal seats – 10 weeks out from, as the polls suggested, would be the return of a Labour Government, with us both serving communities we love as their Members of Parliament.
A lot has changed.
Who could really have predicted that Trump would be in the White House, Brexit would be under construction and Theresa May would be Prime Minister, with the Tories surging ahead in the polls?
With what now looks likely to be a ‘hard Brexit’ and a €60billion exit fee looming, the country has to hear Labour’s answers to the next challenges we face and construct a vision as to how Labour addresses them, to win power again. The forces of cynical, centre-right, nationalism and populism is polluting our politics and as a party we have to shift through the gears of Opposition to proposition.
Many have already declared that centre left politics is in terminal decline. We are not so sure.
Within 12 months there is the possibility that Martin Schulz, Emmanuel Macron and Matteo Renzi will deliver centre left governments in 3 of our key European allies. Here in the UK we must learn from their efforts and our own party’s far reaching history to craft an election winning narrative based around renewal, offering answers where others offer reactionary anger. ‘Let’s be better’ Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expects of his country and administration. Yes, let’s! Light a candle in the dark and hearten spirits, yes. And then get on with the hard work of no easy answers.
Whilst holding the government’s feet to the fire, we must look further up the road, beyond the Articles of Brexit. The terms of our exit must be scrutinised but now is the time for Labour to leap ahead in our thinking.
We must focus now on the post Brexit, Great Repeal Bill – this is what will determine so much of what impacts our everyday lives, our rights and responsibilities. Labour must portray a vision for peace and prosperity as an alternative to the Tories reductive instincts. And reconnect with the best of our traditions. Working with Trade Unions, Local Government, Education and Business let’s craft a new settlement that is a pro worker, good jobs and homes vision of the future.
Let’s be explicit and spell out the specific employment rights we must retain – a marker in the sand – and be vigilant against any Tory argument that diluting our rights, even temporarily, somehow improves our trade deal prospects.
Employee protections are not for trading, but they are clearly not guaranteed by the government who’s new Trade Union laws come in to force today. These new rules tip the scales of justice against ordinary working people. It is a another warning to our wider Labour movement as we face the Tories’ hard Brexit.
We must support our unions and their role in securing a good deal for jobs and workers in a post-Brexit Britain. And make sure hard fought, hard won workers’ rights aren’t swept away with a hard Brexit.
It’s time now to tackle the tough issues head on, in a post-Brexit world: the changing state of work, the future of welfare, immigration, addressing the cost of social care, policing and defence and tackling the growing skills gap. If we don’t have credible answers to these challenges we won’t feature at all.
As in life, you play the hand you are dealt in politics. A refusal to do so loses you the right to be heard. Are we all Brexiteers now? No, but we are all headed for Brexit. And we can shape that future, hone it with our values, affect it with a Labour design and play the hand we are dealt. If we do not, we’ll be out of the game.