Steven Spencer

Naked Politics Blogger

This week I found myself in Stanley, in County Durham, walking down the main street at 4pm, past shuttered shops, grim looking abandoned buildings housing an adult education centre and of course, ubiquitous betting shops and bakeries. All around was evidence of past wealth, with grand Victorian buildings, built at a time when Stanley and countless places like it were the wealth of a proud nation. Now, they are in seemingly permanent decline, cut off from prosperity, new jobs, investment and 21st Century industries.

Stanley has also gained a new label, one that is shared by many similar places; it is a Brexit voting ‘leave area’. As I walked alone, I had Radio 4’s World at One news programme on catch up, and this led me to think, “how the hell do we get out of this?”.

The first thing with that question is to work out who ‘we’ are? I think it is not us all that got us into this mess, it is a group of politicians who tried to solve a problem. The Conservative Party was being pressured by UKIP and promised a referendum to avoid right wing Tories leaving the party for UKIP (and voters of course). The referendum made the problem much worse because the public gave the ‘wrong’ answer. Leave was not what David Cameron wanted or what the Tories expected, but leave was the instruction given by the great British public.

This may have removed UKIP as a barrier to Tory unity, but has replaced it with the question of what the public has really instructed politicians to do. Was it leave every agreement with the EU? Was it to leave just the political institutions? What about Erasmus? Or the European Space Agency? The European Arrest Warrant? The list goes on and on. From this there came a new Prime Minister who made speeches that said she had no clue either, especially given that her own party were dividing into several armed camps (as were Labour, but they were also busy deciding if Corbyn really could lead them), with one side wanting a full Brexit with bells on, at all costs and another extreme wanting Brexit in name only.

And, with a few bumps along the way, this is where we stand. The same people have the same objections and have used these to inform their voting in the huge defeat for the government this week. Each are playing a game to try to secure exactly what they want. May’s deal gave most a bit of what they wanted, but compromise is not the order of the day in the Tory Party, winning is. Yes, Labour are also divided, but they had Brexit thrust upon them, at a time they were struggling to move back left after rejecting Blairism by electing Corbyn. The original sin belongs to the Conservatives and there is no sign they can resolve it.

What we also learned this week is the Tories are not going to relinquish power. They fear a general election, so of course they won their vote of no confidence, propped up by a self-interested (and why not?) DUP. The Tories cannot agree a Brexit, but equally don’t want to let Labour in. This leaves us (by which I mean all in the UK) in a bind. Our Parliament is our voice, a means of resolving difficult choices and it is deadlocked with no majority for a general election, but also no current majority for a Brexit direction.

The only thing we do know is that ‘no deal’ is not supported by most of the Commons, so should not come about. What we need is more time and this could happen by extending Article 50, but more time for what? Theresa May’s new strategy is as cynical as Corbyn’s push for a general election. By inviting senior parliamentarians in, but not giving ground that they know Corbyn will demand before talking, they aim to make Corbyn and Labour look like the obstacle to Brexit, whilst talking to senior Labour MPs who are against the Corbyn revolution.

They know that this mixture is toxic in places like Stanley, where Brexit at all costs is the wish of people downtrodden by 40 years of destroying industry and the communities it supported. The vote in 2016 was a chance for people in these areas to demand a change of direction, to get out of a club that seemed to benefit the rich more than the poor and they took it.

This current impasse is not, as many an arrogant political correspondent will state, beyond the wit and brain power of people in leave areas. These people understand all too well that the Tories tried to use them to solve their internal issues, that Labour is still divided and many Blairites still grind their axes against Corbyn; they ‘get it’ and see it for what it is. The solution, if parliament cannot find a way through, will be a second referendum, or so many politicians predict.

To these forgotten places, this will be a betrayal and one they will not forgive; they will be further marginalised and cut out. What happens when you marginalise and cut out working classes in a wealthy society? History teaches us that one group of people will listen. The far right is waiting, willing and able to make their voices heard.

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Last Update: May 24, 2024