I first became aware of politics as a 15-year-old in 1959. I remember well that famous Macmillan poster which went something like: “Life is better under the Conservatives. Don’t let Labour ruin it” And they didn’t. Nearly 80% of the electorate cast their vote then and the party of ‘Super Mac’, which had been in power since 1951, got just less than 50% of the votes.
Scroll forward to last year’s General Election and a very different picture emerges. Just over two thirds of the electorate bothered to vote and just over one third of them gave the same Conservative Party a working majority at Westminster. That works out at around 25% of those entitled to vote.
That ‘mandate’ forced David Cameron to stick to his manifesto promise to hold a referendum on our future membership of the European Union and we are now emerging from the events of June 23 with a government and official opposition who are spending most of their waking hours trying to decide who should be leading them instead of running the country or providing official opposition. Actually we all know that the people running the country at both national and local level are those ‘unelected’ bureaucrats many of us love to hate and not the politicians, whom many of us despise anyway. Thank goodness for that.
Moving on to the current Tory leadership contest, which will, of course, provide our nation with its new leader, we should not forget that only the 120,000 or so paid up members of the Conservative Party will have a say. Is that the kind of ‘control’ or democracy that people wanted who supported Brexit less than two weeks ago?
I suppose that the main casualty of Brexit looks like being austerity. Let’s hope that this means that local government will now be spared even further cuts. We can but hope. My main worry is that, with both major parties appearing rudderless while they indulge in internecine warfare and a civil service that will be spending most of its time trying to unravel our links with Europe, our ship of state is drifting off into the North Atlantic without a paddle, let alone an engine. Thank goodness we are, as in 1939, currently in a ‘phoney’ war; but how long will it take before our ‘Dunkirk’ moment occurs?
In any case, Article 50 of the treaty on European Union has yet to be triggered so, until that happens, nothing will happen. We shall still be paying that mythical £350 million a week to those ‘unelected’ bureaucrats in Brussels and we shall still to ‘welcoming’ our fellow European citizens to our shores without limitations.
I cannot remember a more difficult or dangerous time for my country in my lifetime. At least, during the Cold War, we knew theoretically who the ‘enemy’ was. The early warnings about a possible life after Brexit are already there. We were told during the referendum campaign that we were “the world’s fifth largest economy”. Well, I gather that, in the past week, we have already slipped to sixth position behind France, because our ‘wealth’ has for many decades been based on ‘financial services’, not on making and exporting things. While the flames might only at present be lapping at the City walls, with the danger of Rome possibly going up in flames all the Neros in the Tory and Labour parties appear to want to do at the moment is to play their fiddles!
However, we are assuming that things won’t change in the EU. What if a few more countries followed our example and voted to leave? That might be the strongest of all messages to those who still see Europe’s future in ever closer political union. Most of us voted for a ‘Common Market’ back in 1975. What if this option returned to the menu? If only we could sort out the question of the free movement of labour as well. Then we might still have a future inside whatever European entity emerges.
If not, then we have got to provide hope for those of our citizens whose life chances have been bypassed by globalisation, who clearly used the referendum to deliver their verdict on the world we live in. That means more emphasis on vocational education to provide us with the skilled people we need so that there is no need to trawl the world, let alone Europe, for the tradespeople and professionals that we apparently need.
The majority voted for control. With control comes responsibility. As the old song goes; “Before you accuse me, take a look at yourself”.
— John Marriott is a Lib Dem county councillor for Hykeham. A former Head of Languages at the North Kesteven School, he has represented Hykeham Forum Division on the Lincolnshire County Council since 2001.