We were told it would never happen. We were told the public was too sensible for this. We were told no-one ever lost an election running on the platform of a stronger economy. We were told wrong. This is not the Britain we thought it was.
Brexit, and the fall of a moderate pro-European Prime Minister, is the result of this massive assumption. To the outward observer, this looks very much like a right wing palace coup. The higher offices of government will soon be held by Boris Johnson (a man who would support King Herod if it would get him one inch closer to Downing Street), Michael Gove, Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith. Nigel Farage has been on TV, looking like the cat that got the cream. You could be forgiven for thinking that the country lurched to the right on Thursday.
You would be wrong. Not everyone who voted for Brexit voted for the above – although it was very likely to happen. The EU referendum campaign showed how divided Britain is, but this is not a country divided by left and right. The division in this election was between those doing well and those losing out from globalisation. Those who voted for Brexit were drawn from the ranks of Labour, Tory, UKIP and non-voters. This election redrew the political map. This is the only election that I have found myself arguing alongside Tories and against members of my own party. Brexit was not caused by a surge in support for the right.
Many people who voted for Brexit wanted to shake up the political system that is working against them. They had voted Labour or Tory and nothing changed in their lives, their communities, or their towns. So they voted against the thing that the leaders of all the main parties were telling them support. Brexit may have been a moment of anti-establishment hatred, crystallised into action, but it is a false one. This result will not hurt the establishment. The recession and right wing Tory government that is likely to follow will hurt the poorest most. We have kicked out an Etonian Oxford graduate from Number 10 to be replaced by an Etonian Oxford graduate.
The anger at the political and economic establishment that led to Brexit should be fueling the left, however the left has failed to win support from those who lose out from globalisation. The Labour Party is currently sleep walking into a major election defeat – one that moved much closer now that the Prime Minister has resigned.
There is no plan to take back the country, from either the Jeremy Corbyn leadership or his critics. There is no plan to appeal to anyone outside the narrow band of middle class, metropolitan liberals who already support the Labour Party. Their lacklustre EU referendum campaign shows this. Labour should have found a way to reach out to disaffected Brexit supporters, but Labour could not get its message out to those who are losing out from globalisation.
This problem is not unique to Labour. Cameron was a much better communicator than anyone on the Labour front bench. He had a much more disciplined communication team and a much better grasp of strategy, but still failed to effectively communicate the benefits of staying in the EU to those who were opposed to it. Even the heavy-handed doom mongering of leaving did not work.
Politicians of all stripes have lost the ability to talk or listen to large sections of society. Before her death, Jo Cox told the Guardian that she was concerned that voting for Brexit had given large groups of Labour supporters the confidence to switch to voting for UKIP in future elections. The consequences for Labour from this inability to talk to their natural supporters could be dire.
Labour need to change its approach to stand a chance of winning an election in the future. This does not mean that Labour should shift to the right. The assumption that Brexit is an indication that the country is drifting further to political right is a false one. The new senior members of government will be more right wing, but the country is not rushing to embrace the Tory right. Labour have an opportunity to present a passionate, policy driven and genuine opposition to the government.
Scotland is making moves towards independence again (which is bad news if Labour want to be back in government). There are renewed calls for a united Ireland and a letter of no confidence against Corbyn has been submitted by MPs. Brexit has shaken up the political establishment and the political landscape could be very different by the end of year. Everything is up in the air right now.
Labour (and the left in general) need to think about how we are going to change our approach after this vote. Corbyn’s authentic nature and outsider status has endeared him to some voters alienated by Blair’s smooth, heavily media trained politicians, but the increasing transformation of Labour into a party of middle class, metropolitan liberals has alienated others. The lack of a clear strategy to win back popular support (again this criticism applies to all factions of the party) is troubling.
The left could not convince people of the merits of staying in the EU. Now the poorest members of society will suffer the most under a new recession, Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the new austerity plus that is likely to follow.
We are not living in the Britain that UKIP and the Tory right want us to live in, but it is quickly becoming it. The lesson the left need to learn today is that we need to get better at listening to and talking to the people who are losing out from globalisation, the people who are outside our usual communication comfort zone. If we the left can unite divided Britain, then we can achieve real progress. If we continue the way we are - then the future is bleak indeed.