Today’s election and its preceding campaign may have been seen as a welcome break from the ongoing ordeal of Brexit and the incessant coverage of it. It’s understandable; I’ve long since grown tired of Brexit myself, despite my reasons for voting for it stay as important to me as they always have done. But surely there are few among us who can have maintained an interest in all of the details of its developments unless we’ve been paid to.
However, this election campaign has felt like an attempt by some parties and voters to paint it as somehow separate from Brexit, as if we can sweep under the rug the most important political event of a generation, as if we can push aside the largest voter turnout since 1992.
While of course we have issues other than Brexit, its implementation still ought to have been front and centre of each party’s campaign. Its exhausting coverage doesn’t lessen its importance. Only two parties, the Conservatives and — obviously — Brexit Party, have included a policy of honouring the referendum result high in their list of priorities. Credit where it’s due to them, but there is no way I could vote for either. I wouldn’t vote Conservative if someone paid me to, and Brexit Party is nothing more than UKIP 2.0, which is even less appealing than the Tories.
The Liberal Democrats, with their bafflingly brazen policy of promising to completely abandon Brexit and outright ignore the referendum result, are barely worth talking about here and are a political disgrace (“liberal” and “democrats” only in name). But Labour are more complicated.
Had Labour stuck to their 2017 pledge to honour the referendum result, I would have voted for them without a shadow of a doubt. Their pledges to protect the NHS, reinvest in our society and reverse so much of the damage that the Tories have caused since 2010 resonate with me far stronger than those of any other party. But since both Corbyn and McDonnell — former Eurosceptics who have performed the most shameless u-turn on the issue that one could possibly dream of — have backtracked and pledged to give Remain another chance, one wonders how on earth they imagine they could implement such policies of re-nationalisation without coming up against serious opposition from the EU, an EU which they don’t seem particularly keen or able to stand up to.
To the more cynical Remain voters, I might just sound like a bleating Leave voter only thinking of one issue. But one of my greatest fears for this country is the potential consequence of Brexit ultimately being abandoned.
Brexit Party were an inevitably. Not too long after the referendum result was cast, people were beginning to sense that the political elite were attempting to frustrate and prevent Brexit, and someone was bound to come along and speak to those concerns (I predicted at the time that we’d either see a rejuvenated UKIP or the rise of a new right-wing party; the latter was what just about happened).
If Brexit is either completely abandoned or endlessly extended, those concerns which led to the rise of Brexit Party will be given a fresh set of legs, and only right-wing parties for now will speak to them. Who knows what kind of party could come along and appeal to a mass disillusionment in our democratic process, because the left in this country holds no sway on the issue of honouring the vote. Labour has capitulated to the policy of a second referendum after years of dithering indecisiveness, and the left-wing parties that actually did support Brexit tend to be small socialist parties who have already thrown all of their weight behind Jeremy Corbyn, as if he alone is the sole and single hope of the left ever making any gains in this country, and as if now is the time to compromise, on Brexit of all things.
If you hand the entire issue of Brexit over to the right, they will win, some how or other. Had left-wing Remainers been more accommodating of left-wing Leavers over the last three-and-a-half years (which would have allowed Jeremy Corbyn to run on a much more Eurosceptic platform, play to his strengths and possibly reconnect with disillusioned Labour voters), we may not run the risk of ceding further ground to the right, either in the short or the long run. But I sense it’s too late. Too much time has passed, despite the best efforts of the admirable but cash-strapped, late-to-the-party and infrequently-updated campaign group Leave Fight Transform.
Let’s be frank. Every single political party in this country ought to be promising to honour the referendum result in their manifestos, regardless of where they lie on the political spectrum, and regardless of what they campaigned for. If they wish to sit in this parliament, they should be respecting what the majority of voters said in 2016. If Remain had won the referendum by the same margin, our parliamentarians would have been expected to honour the result rather than agitate against it, and rightly so. But they aren’t respecting the vote, and haven’t respected it ever since it was cast. If they expect people to forgive them for abandoning Brexit one way or another, they won’t, and they will pay a heavy price.
As such, it was with a lack of enthusiasm that I spoiled my ballot earlier. Labour would have got my vote had they not gone back on their word in 2017 and capitulated to a second referendum. It is too much of a betrayal on top of years of fumbling around over the issue. They and some of their voters can try to say that it isn’t all about Brexit, as if I would disagree. But Brexit is still the key issue, and one only has to wonder how achievable Labour’s policies can be under the thumb of the EU.
To my spoil my ballot is not a decision I relish making. I agree largely with Ian Hislop’s comments that you should at least vote for the party you disagree with least. But whether it’s my own stubbornness or the dire state of British politics that is to blame, I simply can’t find anybody I’m willing vote for at this election. And I maintain that spoiling your ballot is better than not turning up. The former gets counted and says “you don’t represent me”. The latter doesn’t get counted and says “I don’t care”. And despite everything, I still care. I’m just tired.
© Sam Hunt, 2019