Before the referendum we said,
"The party policy on democracy in both the UK and the EU has not been fundamentally affected by the referendum and it remains the case that we want to see substantial reform of our democratic processes.”
We also wrote, “Progressives should be clear. If we tear each other apart after Thursday in an avalanche of blame and recrimination then we will not be equipped for the fight to come. If it is 'remain' we must prepare to stand the best candidates we can for the European elections in 2019. If it is 'leave' we must prepare for a possible early general election.”
We think both those statements hold true. The urgent need now is to address the issues for the country arising from the deep social divisions and political earthquakes created by the referendum. This is not an academic debate. In this political turmoil it is crucial that the progressive voice is not drowned out, and there is a serious risk of that.
The gradual dismantling and defunding of the NHS is linked to the UK’s relentless move to the right of the political spectrum over 30 years. We can be sure that the further it moves in that direction, the more our public services are in jeopardy. Today former Conservative Chancellor Nigel Lawson said that they had been given the opportunity to finish Margaret Thatcher's work. Despite there being a progressive argument for both remain and leave, this debate was captured from the start on both sides by the right.
At a meeting to discuss the NHS (reinstatement) Bill at the House of Commons last week, we were given to understand that David Cameron had set a date for an early election: 13 October. The following day the government issued a retraction, but as neither the government nor the opposition have a mandate to oversee the negotiations with the European Union, we think it reasonable to assume that it is still likely.
Yesterday we heard the news that Nigel Farage has resigned as leader of UKIP. Last week, on Wednesday, the Guardian published this article about Aaron Banks, UKIP’s main backer. He says:
“I think we have a good shot at taking over from Labour as the opposition because Labour are imploding and Labour voters for the first time ever have defied their party, voting for leave.”
How realistic UKIP’s ambitions are is an unknown quantity, but what is real is the license that has been given to racist views and actions by the apparent elevation of UKIP by the media to the mainstream of British politics. This pre-dates the referendum and we have raised it as a serious issue since 2013, in relation to their policies over limiting access to the NHS. However, the implosion of both the Labour Party and the Conservatives over their leadership battles has created a political vacuum, and the re-positioning of UKIP – possibly renamed – to take advantage of that must be taken seriously.
We believe there should be an election. However, the febrile atmosphere that is taking over our country will only increase over the summer in the lead-up to the Conservative Party’s election for a new leader and Labour’s internal rift could continue to play out very publicly right up until the conference season in September or October and beyond. With the Left at war with each other, an early election in October could mean the choice between the Right and the Far-Right with the progressive voice too fragmented to merit a vote. A general election in May 2017 would be preferable, but is by no means a comfortable prospect.
We are facing troubled times. We urge our members now to think very seriously about taking a more active stance to support the party - whether with funding drives, membership drives, or supporting candidates at all levels for election. The options facing us are bleak: a potentially extreme right wing government in power until 2020 with no effective opposition, or an early election with a destabilised Labour Party and the far right on the rise.
We are part of the movement for a progressive alternative, and we must work hard to make it a reality.