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'My Name Is John And I Voted To Leave'

27/06/2017 13:43
Peter Nicholls / Reuters

My confession to the local Labour Party did not go down so well. Horrendous farts have had a better reception. My comrades were polite enough and I thank them for their tolerance. Nonetheless, I was a lone voice. Yet I am not alone. According to YouGov, 35% of Labour supporters voted to Leave. My plea to my colleagues was not that they should agree with me, but that if Leavers could be embraced by the Labour Party, then Labour would be an unstoppable force at the next general election.

All too often the lot of a Leaver is to be patronised (an idiot duped by lies) or simply insulted as inspired by racism or xenophobia. It is worth remembering that the choice was between Remain and Leave, not Good versus Evil. It is also conceivable that those who admired Hugh Gaitskell, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Gisela Stuart and their ilk were entitled to criticise the European Union and remain loyal to their Labour values.

Whilst I am a little tired of explaining why I voted to Leave - Remainers are rarely asked - for my children's comfort that there was some rationality at play, it was:

Because I could not see how uncontrollable immigration was a better idea than controllable immigration.

Because, tragically, the progressive trading bloc that I grew up with and admired had become enslaved to Thatcherite dogma (ask Greece) and impervious to public opinion.

Because there is no reason for a super-national institution to dictate which lightbulbs we should use or how clean our beaches should be when our national government is perfectly capable of doing so.

Because, in reality, this brave experiment in sovereignty pooled had all too often felt like sovereignty surrendered.

We should assume that Leave and Remain voters acted with the best of intentions.

The EU Referendum drove a wedge between the two constituencies that have always represented the broad church of the Labour Party - the metropolitan intelligentsia and the working class. The poorest elements of our society voted to Leave (64% of C2 and DE voters according to Lord Ashcroft Polls) whilst 68% of those with degrees voted to Remain (YouGov). Labour's strong showing in June's general election was no doubt helped by a manifesto that appealed to working class voters. It would have been even stronger were Labour able to reassure working class Leave voters that they are respected as is the patriotism that inspired many of them to prioritise sovereignty over economic stability.

Some of us see no conflict between patriotism (I am proud of my country) and socialism (I want to make it better for most people). Nationalism (my country is better than yours) has no place. Patriotism of a flag alone or a simple accident of birth is unpersuasive, but patriotism of a nation for the values you perceive it to represent is another matter entirely.

If our patriotism is based upon our ideals of democracy, the rule of law, tolerance, freedom of speech and individual liberty then there is a reason to be patriotic. Whilst there is much of our past that we should not be proud of, there is plenty that should engender respect. These values are of course common across many nations. Nonetheless, the length of time that these have been mainstays of the British way of life should be a source of immense pride for all in this country.

There was much in the Labour manifesto to re-assure voters that Britain would be safe in Labour's hands - the commitment to renew Trident would have been viewed in this light. There were excellent proposals to improve conditions for the Armed Services and their families. Yet there is work to do. Jeremy Corbyn's and Diane Abbott's quotes from the 1980s about the IRA are unsettling for patriotic potential Labour voters. That is why singing the national anthem and other symbols of respect for the British state matter.

The Labour Party presented a united front during this election and did remarkably well. How much more could be achieved with a patriotism grounded on British values and demonstrable reconciliation across Leave, Remain, Blairite and Corbynista?

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