The Blog

The Only Clear Post-Brexit Message: Our Leaders Don't Care What We Think

After ignoring the wishes of party members and the general public, Labour and Conservative should expect even greater increases in polarisation of Left and Right -- and shouldn't rely too heavily on the loyalty of supporters at the next general election.

When I was seven years old I accidentally cracked my Mum's vase. I knew that I should tell her immediately but, fearing the repercussions and not wanting to upset her, I instead clumsily glued the cracks and turned them to face the wall. Out of sight, out of mind: or so I thought. It turns out that when you destroy an integral part of a delicate structure, the whole thing will crumble once put under a slight amount of pressure. And, you still get yelled at.

The Conservative Party could learn something from my younger self's mischief. The Brexit vote both highlighted and widened some deep-running cracks through UK society: our differing opinions on nationalism and sovereignty, immigration and democracy, business and economics, boiling over into racism and xenophobia from some, anger, lies and frustration from others.

Of course political turmoil ensued from our unexpected EU decision; of course the Conservative Party wanted to patch it up as quickly as possible to navigate through the tough weeks and years ahead. But after the whirlwind switchover from Cameron to the sensible and straight-talking Theresa May, we only have the semblance of calm.

Remain voters are disappointed with the result of the referendum and the narrow margin by which it was lost; we're also dissatisfied that the Leave camp plucked statistics from thin air to aid their victory then withered away when the country looked to them for an exit strategy. Leave voters, meanwhile, had barely pulled off their party hats when they were suddenly faced with a Remain-voting Prime Minister, reservations over triggering Article 50 and the spectacular domino effect which claimed Boris Johnson, Michael Gove then Andrea Leadsom.

One of the key areas of the EU debate -- perhaps the key area -- was democracy. Northern or southern, Leave or Remain, Conservative or Labour, the one thing we can all pretty much agree on is that the wishes of the people should determine our nation's future. Hence the SNP calling for another Scottish referendum on independence. Hence the Leave camp banging on about unelected bureaucrats. Hence Remainers pointing to the Lords, monarchy and First Past the Post system as failures in our democracy.

But the one, and only, clear message from the government in the wake of Brexit is that they don't really care what the people think if there's no electoral price to pay. The appointment of May, who herself questioned the validity of Gordon Brown's takeover of Prime Minister in 2007, demonstrates this: but it isn't just the Tories who are at fault. Labour is letting us down as well.

Now, more than ever, we need stable opposition to a brand-new and controversial cabinet. The current squabbles within the Labour Party are again more reminiscent of myself at seven years old than a group of adults representing millions more around the UK. Jeremy Corbyn has a clear mandate from British Labour supporters to lead the party, but this is clearly less important to the MPs who turned against him than their own preferences: Angela Eagle even brushed off the backlash against her leadership challenge from her own constituency.

When asked why she was best placed to take over from Corbyn as Labour leader on BBC Newsnight, her rather pathetic answer was that "it's time Labour had a woman leader". I'd almost feel sorry for Eagle, being unable to come up with better credentials than the sex she was born with, but the fact that she appropriated the serious issue of gender representation for her own electoral traction exempts me from any such pity.

Although Corbyn will automatically be included on the leadership ballot, many members of the Labour Party feel cheated of their right to vote, and their money, as new rules mean that only party members who joined over six months ago are eligible -- unless they pay £25. Conservative Party members shouldn't feel too smug about our problems, though: they were also cheated of the opportunity to vote for a new leader after Cameron's resignation.

Given the turmoil within both the Labour and Conservative parties, voters could be forgiven for looking elsewhere to seek post-Brexit guidance. Some might turn to Ukip who were, after all, partially responsible for the EU referendum being called in the first place but, alas, Nigel is nowhere to be seen. Nor is Tim Farron, for that matter, even amidst rumours of a splinter group of MPs forming a new centre-left party. And as for the million of us who voted Green at the last general election, we might have known our voices would be ignored when denied proportional representation, and we're seeing that already through May's decision to abolish the Climate Change and Energy Department.

Democracy is a fragile system: more fragile, more complex and certainly more important than my Mum's vase -- not that she acted like it at the time. It's impossible to please every individual all of the time, or even most of the time, but even just the opportunity to take part in a democratic system is essential to maintaining a peaceful society. After ignoring the wishes of party members and the general public, Labour and Conservative should expect even greater increases in polarisation of Left and Right -- and shouldn't rely too heavily on the loyalty of supporters at the next general election.