Open letter to Caroline Flint and colleagues

March 22, 2019

 

The Labour Party has been a party wedded to fighting for the truth since its birth, even when
both are unpopular. From its foundation it has always been internationalist, even when
patriotic fervour ruled the day. The founders from Kier Hardie to Ramsay MacDonald all
stood up for those values; even if their constituents opposed them. Their task was to argue for
policies which were not always popular ones. Their task was to educate, to raise
consciousness, not merely to reflect prejudices, and the narrow agendas proposed by ruling
elites and their supporting media.
It is clear that some career politicians are more interested in maintaining their majorities,
than adhering to principle; and some will see their personal ambitions advanced by drawing
parliamentary salaries for one party or another, and being re-elected, regardless of values.
Given that ideas of socialism, fundamentally aspire beyond such narrow agendas, any move
to compromise with ideas of intolerance, exclusion, prejudice and narrow national or ethnic
interests (e.g. Little England-ism) simply because such opinions seem to be “ahead in the
polls” is profoundly disquieting.
It is clear that opinions have shifted even in “leave” constituencies towards reconsidering
remaining part of the European Community of Nations and its institutions which for all its
many faults has helped keep the peace for around 50 years. That view is clearly held by many
of those added to the electoral rolls in the past three years. Democracy is about being able to
choose, and later to change your mind, in the light of changing events and circumstances.
The least divisive road is to default to the status quo. To revoke Article 50 now, and open a
wide debate on all options, leaving the possibility of a new full relationship with the EU, or
reforming it from within means that no-one is left out. That includes issues of managed
movement across Europe
In 27 other countries (plus Norway) there are many Socialists who demand reforms within
the EU framework and are obvious allies in co-operating in this movement to fight for
changes.
We are still in the wrong political place to start this process. It is not clear whether those who
have voted with Mrs. May and the ERG do so because of a belief in the left critique of the
late Tony Benn, or pure unabashed nationalism, or a belief in saving their seats: a concoction
of all of these, is perilously close to Fascism (National Socialism) – and I speak as an
academic historian of the20th Century and a pupil of A.J. P. Taylor.
The courage to argue for a broad transnational social movement for social fairness, and
reform, far beyond “the cliffs of Dover”, if communicated for with sincerity and concern can
still be a great vote winner; but that has not been the framework of the “Europe” debate
which has been pursued on the narrowest of issues since even before the first referendum.
My childhood home was completely destroyed by a German bomb: I was evacuated. I played
with Italian prisoners of war, I wore a gas-mask. I saw film of Belsen death camp when I was
7) and opposing the Cold War, I found and joined the Labour Party a decade later. My uncle
was killed as a bomber pilot returning from raids over Germany. My wife’s family sheltered

refugees from the Holocaust. My own family were entertaining German prisoners at
Christmas l946-7: I don’t want to see that threat again of European conflict and insecurity:
even if not European civil war, we face chaos if Europe breaks up. The government’s
reckless proposals to sabotage the European project, a system of co-operation, on the basis of
a flawed and ill considered referendum is profoundly irresponsible as in this view was the
fact that Labour should never have rushed to an uncritical support for invoking Article 50.
Now, in light of events, the party and Parliament should have courage to revoke it. All MPs
should have the guts and vision to reaffirm to their constituents what are the basic choices
now; despite frustrations and confusion. Invoking the “democratic will of 20l6 has a phony
ring now, no longer there is no way of finding out what the will now is: that is the way to
overcome division is to find out what constituents, voter, really prefer: but first get rid of
Article 50, the default to remain for now does not close off options for the future..

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