Prior to entering parliament I spent many years involved in grassroots campaigning on issues of poverty and inequality both here in Britain and internationally, and on issues like climate change, fair trade and human rights.
When faced with such huge challenges, even when you are working for and with the resources behind you of a large NGO or political party, the task ahead can sometimes seem overwhelming.
But we achieve more together than we do alone.
That was one of the remarkable aspects of the Make Poverty History coalition which I was closely involved in – and which brought together an array of different organisations from grassroots, to faith groups to well-known charities to fight for action at the Gleneagles G8 summit in 2005, with 250,000 people filling the streets of Edinburgh, and thousands more attending Live8 concerts. We achieved huge successes by working together at the grassroots. People power matters.
It has frequently been pointed out to me that the pro-European cause needed urgently to be more coordinated and co-operative, not least when faced with the array of elite and often shadowy interests which have driven the particular reckless Hard Brexit course we now appear to be on, when the truth is that so many other options remain, and the British public are entitled to change their mind on some or all of the direction we are headed in.
Of course this is a live and dynamic debate, even amongst pro-Europeans, and not everyone has the same view on where we go next on this unprecedented journey. But there is far more that unites us than divides us in exposing the truth, and fighting for a better way forward for Britain which puts jobs, public services and issues like human and environmental rights first. And as a Labour MP I am also convinced that if we want to reverse austerity we cannot trash our trade and economy by crashing out of the EU.
I am delighted that coo-peration is now happening in a very powerful way between pro-European forces – with grassroots civil society organisations representing over 500,000 people and MPs coming together with the aim of retaining the closest possible relationship with the EU.
Each of these groups brings something valuable and unique to this informal coalition. I know that the whole team at Open Britain are excited to be working hand-in-hand with our friends in the European Movement, Britain for Europe, InFacts, Scientists for EU, Healthier IN the EU, Best for Britain, The New European and all the other groups doing such important work.
It couldn’t come at a more crucial time.
Pivotal to the success of this movement will be the Open Britain campaign, to which I and many colleagues from various Westminster political parties are affiliated.
With a very small budget, an incredible and dedicated small team of grassroots campaigners – Open Britain have built a major national campaign on a shoestring that is growing in strength every day, even whilst coping with close personal tragedy in their team.
With over 570,000 supporters, on whose generosity it largely relies for crowd-sourced funding, and a huge social media presence reaching out to every corner of Britain – this is a powerful force to be reckoned with. Real working people and families from every corner of Britain genuinely worried about their futures, and the future of their country – not metropolitan elites or “Remoaners”.
Open Britain is also out on the streets engaging positively and directly with people whether they voted Remain or Leave. I, like many other Open Britain supporters, entirely understand and respect why many people voted Leave in good faith, so it is down to movements like ours working alongside our own political parties, to listen to those concerns, expose the truth about the government’s failures on Brexit, and illustrate the huge risks of the particularly reckless approach they are taking.
We have people running well organised teams in 50 different areas of the country, and over 30,000 volunteers. From Aberdeen to St Ives, from Cardiff to Norwich, they hold regular action days in towns and cities the length and breadth of the country.
I am a proud Labour Party, Co-operative and trade union members are at the heart of much of this work in my own community. Grassroots campaigning and building a movement is in our DNA. But I am also very happy to work alongside my Plaid Cymru, Green, Lib Dem, and yes even pro-European Conservative colleagues, activists and voters who share our vision. There is too much at stake here to not work together.
Ahead of the key vote in December where the government was defeated in their attempts to deny parliament a meaningful vote on the withdrawal deal, Open Britain drew on this support base to get people in every constituency to speak to their MPs. It would be no exaggeration to say that this vital vote, would not have been won were it not for the efforts of Open Britain, other pro-European groups, and the growing cross-party collaboration in parliament, working together in the national interest.
Brexit is a slow-motion disaster that is sapping the energy out of government and threatening to do irreparable damage to our economy and Britain’s place in the world. Instead of focussing on the challenges facing the NHS, housing and homelessness, the future of our children and young people, and tackling catastrophic climate change – government is instead tied up in a chaotic mess, led by an incoherent and helpless prime minister adrift, being called siren-like onto the rocks by the hard-right Brexit extremists in her own party.
With the government in chaos – Open Britain provides invaluable support to around 100 MPs like myself in our work holding ministers to account, alongside our own parties. As well as coordinating the all-party parliamentary group on EU relations, Open Britain’s briefings on key Brexit-related topics, and its tireless efforts to scrutinise the government and support MPs in opposition parties in establishing their positions on crucial but often complex issues has made the campaign a key player in the Brexit debate in parliament.
Working together, we can only be stronger and more effective. We may be short on time, but there is everything to play for.
As Winston Churchill once said – what may seem as “…lost causes, are the only causes worth fighting for.” Huge historical choices are before us. Let’s make sure we don’t look back in regret.
Stephen Doughty is MP for Cardiff South and Penarth and a leading supporter of Open Britain and Wales for Europe