There are no two ways about it, the results of the General Election are terrible for us and our campaign. BUT the realities of Brexit have not changed. The impossible timescales, the lies surrounding the benefits, the Irish border, the lies about the financial benefits to the NHS, the risk to business and job security. It is all still there.
What went wrong?
There are many factors at play here, but the elephant in the room is the General Election itself. Johnson’s advisors knew that the direction of travel was a People’s Vote and he was becoming increasingly boxed in. They also knew he could not win a People’s Vote, a binary choice between Remain and Leave. A General Election was the only way out for the Conservatives, and sadly, that’s what they were granted.
The “Get Brexit Done” messaging cut through. The lies were mostly left unchallenged.
Our First Past The Post electoral system allowed Johnson a large majority with 44 percent of the share of the vote (about 30 percent of the electorate). If we had proportional representation he would not have won. Tactical voting was the only way to succeed in the absence of remain alliances. Unfortunately, insufficient numbers of voters believed us.
At this point it seems highly likely we shall leave the EU. The next few days will bring more clarity as we see what happens in Parliament and in the EU. However, it is our firm intention as a committee to remain positive and seek ways forward from the rather low place where we currently are.
Millions marched for a People’s Vote, and millions more were there in spirit. The pro-Europe grassroots movement in the UK is the largest in Europe. Now that we are not driven by the urgency to gain a People’s Vote, or to win an election, the time-frame is different. It’s going to be a war of attrition until the next election in 2024.
In the meantime, we have two big things on our side:
1. Demographics. We all know from opinion polls and have experienced ourselves the very different views of young and old on Europe. It is by no means clear that as people get to a certain stage in midlife they are suddenly going to change their views on Europe and open borders and become Brexiters. Therefore time is on our side. In the long-run we pro-Europeans are going to win.
2. Brexit. One of the things we have all struggled with is the frustration of trying to explain the damaging effects of Brexit to those who want to believe it would be the solution to all their problems and simply refuse to believe any of the warnings. But their dream is about to become a brutal reality and as it does the euphoria is quickly going to evaporate.
The Norfolk for Europe committee will be working on strategy over the next few weeks. This is not a time for knee-jerk reactions. This is a time for us to respond appropriately after careful consideration of a range of options and their implications. We aim to send out a survey very soon so that we can feed the thoughts and experience of our members and supporters into our thinking and planning. We aim to organise a general meeting in Norwich around the end of January/beginning of February to set a path forward. Provisionally, please pencil in Saturday 1 February, TBC – the first day in the history of Brexit Britain.
We can all help ensure Johnson and the Government are held accountable for their promises, that their lies are called out, and their failures are not allowed to go unchallenged. We need to keep a lookout for any chinks in their defences and holes in their proposals and exploit them ruthlessly. Every job cut, every cutback in council spending or spending on the NHS, every inconvenience when travelling to Europe, every bit of costly extra paperwork when trading with Europe, every price rise, every reduction in European standards, every labour shortage. We must point the finger relentlessly at Brexit. As people actually start to experience the downsides, just watch how quickly they’ll stop believing in the Brexit dream. Letters to your MP and to the local press are good ways to do this, and social media if you use it.
At the national level Grassroots for Europe are organising a conference in London on 25 January to which all pro-European campaigners are invited. Do let us know if you plan to attend.
Do we need a new political party? In short, no. It takes years and years to gain any kind of traction. We cannot wait that long. Even political heavyweights who resigned from their parties failed to be re-elected. We need to work with our existing parties.
If you are a member of one of the political parties, please be active and do all you can to ensure they do the right thing, elect appropriate leaders etc.
If you are a Labour Party member, it is imperative that you push for Labour to get behind Proportional Representation and include it in their next election manifesto.
Beacons of hope
In a little over three years, Norfolk for Europe has grown from a small group meeting in a pub to a powerful grassroots campaign force. The countless hours of work and extreme effort cannot and will not go to waste. We and all the grassroots groups around the UK need to be beacons of hope. (See this helpful article from Ian Dunt.)
This is our country too and it is up to us to do all we can to prevent it sliding further into very dark places. Our country belongs at the very heart of the European Union. We will do everything humanly possible to ensure we, and future generations, live in peace and freedom.
And in the meantime, if you live within reach of Norwich, do come and join us at the Euro Café most late Saturday mornings.