We need to listen to our voters on Brexit
Sheila Gilmore says Brexit is a real issue on the doorsteps for Labour, and our voters need us to stop fudging the issue and start speaking up more clearly against the harm it will bring.
Out knocking on doors every week in the last few months, I am finding that Brexit is being brought up spontaneously more often than I expected. And for every one person who is happy with Brexit happening, I would say there are three who are very concerned about the effect of it on our economy.
Certainly Edinburgh was a very Remain voting city, but it is the depth of feeling which is the surprise. And knocking on doors as the Labour Party we are meeting some very real disappointment about Labour’s position. Many want Labour to be speaking up clearly in favour of staying in the customs union and the single market, and in favour of the People’s Vote with an option to vote ‘remain’ against a poor deal.
We are meeting people who are regular Labour voters who are seriously considering whether they will continue to vote Labour if we go on as we are.
Of course this isn’t everyone. Even in Edinburgh there were districts where the 2016 vote was 50:50, or even where Leave appeared to be just ahead. In Edinburgh Southern we have information from the referendum count which shows this. These, incidentally, were also areas with some of the highest SNP votes in 2015 and 2016. Brexit cuts across traditional party divides, but at the moment it is not clear that we are pleasing anyone.
All studies of the 2017 general election say that Labour in many areas benefited from being seen as the party of Remain, just after Article 50 had been triggered and after Theresa May had made it clear that her government would be seeking a ‘hard’ Brexit. But eighteen months on, people are expecting us to speak up more clearly. Conference showed that members want the leadership to take a much stronger position, to support single market membership, and to have a People’s Vote as an option, with the party campaigning in any such vote to remain in the EU.
Two and a half years on from the referendum the implications of Brexit are very much clearer than they appeared at the time.
Even if a general election is triggered soon, we cannot go into that election campaign still fudging our position. Labour needs to start leading now, and that includes working to convince those who may have voted Leave why we sincerely believe it will be harmful.