Saturday, 29 July 2017

Sadiq Khan: what a real leader looks like

There’s “absolutely no way you can disrespect the way the people voted,” claims Shadow Education Secretary and leading Labour Party member Angela Rayner.

This is a curious statement, and by no means the only one of its kind floating around these days, because it’s both true and untrue. Certainly, you have to respect the outcome of a vote in the sense that it sets the framework of politics. But there would be no Opposition if we simply respected, fully, the result of a vote: we’d have to say, “the people have voted for the other side so we should back their policies”.

In reality, we say “this is the way people voted but we’re going to keep up the pressure all the same. We believe people can change their minds and we want to win at the next election as we lost at this one”.

The Guardian article from which I took the Rayner quote was concerned with the statements of the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, that it would still be possible for Britain to remain in the European Union. This is coming to be known as an exit from Brexit. It would take another vote, he acknowledges, which is precisely what I would expect an Opposition to demand: beaten in one vote, it works for victory in the next.

Sadiq Khan, outside Westminster.
Is that where his future lies?
There’s a refreshing quality to Khan’s statement. The Labour Party position on Brexit is far from satisfactory. Or even clear. The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, recently announced that Britain would have to leave the European Single Market because continued membership of it would be “dependent on membership of the EU”.

This is another of those curious statements, that’s both true and untrue. A small number of nations are members of the Single Market without being members of the EU. Norway is a notable example. But Corbyn is right in a wider sense: to retain its membership of the Single Market, Norway has in effect to behave like a member of the EU, accepting all its regulations and even paying contributions to its budget, but without having any say in setting them. One can imagine that opting for such an outcome for Britain might honour the strict letter of the Brexit vote, but entirely deny and undermine its spirit.

The problem is that it’s hard to be confident that Corbyn is taking this position merely to “respect the vote”. Given his past pronouncements, one has to suspect that he’s hiding behind the will of the people in order not to reveal that secretly he’s in sympathy with the Brexit camp – even though that’s contrary to the official position of the Labour Party he leads.

This would certainly be disingenuous at best. But far more serious, it means that on this crucial question for Britain, the government faces no Opposition. The biggest Party opposing the Tories will ultimately back the government – as has repeatedly happened on Brexit votes. Labour MPs put forward amendments, lose them and then line up under Leadership pressure to pass, docile and toothless, through the government lobbies on the substantial question.

As I said before, taken to extremes, “respecting the vote” means backing the government. On the EU, it feels as though that’s exactly what Labour is doing.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear Sadiq Khan speak out. At last, a leading member of the Party has spoken unequivocally in favour of Party policy. What a contrast with an official leadership which seems paralysed by its own ambivalence over it. Above all, Khan is speaking as a true Opposition leader: accepting that the people have delivered a verdict and that we are therefore heading in a direction we view as mistaken, but refusing to give up the right to work for a change in that decision even at the eleventh hour.

In other words, as an Opposition should, he holds out the hope of reversing a decision that went against us. That’s an approach I’d like to see the whole of the leadership embrace. My fear is that the present leadership may be unable to make such a change, and instead what we need is a change in leadership.

The Mayor of London, I feel, has given us a taste of what that might be.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why not simply say, I don't agree with the majority view and will not acsept democracy?

Davide said...

Many good points here David, as usual. Funny how our anonymous commenter failed to understand the point. If we should accept the majority view, why hold new elections at all, hold one and keep that party forever more.

It is a shame there is no real opposition that will keep the conservatives on their toes during the brexit negotiations. This will allow them to create a brexit that the majority of the people pay for (both with exit fee and resulting increase in the cost of living) while leaving the top 1% they actually serve to get away with paying less tax in the new low tax Britain.

Anonymous said...

Oh how lovely a true supporter of the extraordinary left wing conspiracy theory, the glass is always half empty never ever a positive thought and a bisar hate of anyone who achieves.

Awoogamuffin said...

The problem is that there is no majority for Brexit, at least no majority for any actual manifestation of Brexit. We could go for the Norway model, but that would mean freedom of movement, which is precisely what a huge portion of Brexiteers want out of – though there may be some intelligent reasons for wanting Brexit (none of which I actually agree with), let's face it, most Brexiteer's don't espouse them.

Hard Brexit is just incredibly stupid, and everyone involves knows it, but the racists refuse anything else. Of course Brexit should be opposed, and the defensiveness of the likes of Anonymous shows that they know they've screwed up. Suggesting that a vote means that everybody has to shut up and toe the line suggests to me that they don't believe in the strength of their arguments.

Anonymous said...

Bizarre, total and absolute misunderstanding of why voters levers voted that way,. As a nation w voted to join the EU a totaly different union which was solely about business and almost nothing to do with what it has metamorphosed into which no one in the U.K. voted for it's almost as if Hitler had won and Europe became a dictatorship.

waggledook said...

Anonymous could be a troll, right? Please let them be a troll.

Either way, they clearly love your blog.


Wonk Wonky said...

Troll, Troll?

Anonymous said...

Fascinating isn't it say a few controversial words and you get an audiance exactly what dear David once admitted about his stimulation in writing his blog, so I am sure he greTly welcomes some controversial stimulation it's a great thing that thee are some alternative views.

David Beeson said...

Sadly, I think those who voted for Brexit are going to get something very different from what they voted for: a huge loss in employment rights and control over our destiny exercised far more fully, and far more balefully, by the United States. There is an idealistic view of Brexit that it will give Britain back control and allow it to prosper; in reality it will leave it far poorer and far more dependent.

As that's becoming clearer, I think the argument for a second referendum becomes increasingly strong. Essentially, we want to say to people, did you really mean all this when you voted yes? If they vote yes again, then fair enough - they really are intent on shooting themselves in the foot. But most people, when they see that's what they're doing, would probably put down the gun.