The European elections today have become a proxy second referendum for many. This has allowed small parties, who are either for cancelling Brexit or for a disastrous no deal Brexit, to make waves in this short campaign.
But any success they have will be pyrrhic. It won’t offer solutions to the wide divisions in our country, which Brexit has clearly deepened. If the Liberal Democrats have their way, they would go back to their cosy world, pre-referendum, when they were sitting comfortably in their ministerial offices, and – in the infamous words of former Nick Clegg adviser Polly Mackenzie – agreeing to drastic benefit penalties on the most vulnerable “in return for a plastic bag tax”.
What a disgrace. These austerity flag-wavers may be able get an easy hit by offering simplistic solutions to Brexit, but we must never allow these Royal Mail and NHS privatisers within an inch of a red box. Even now, within weeks of the local elections, Lib Dems around the country have reverted to type, working where they can to form coalitions and deals to put Tory councils into power.
Most importantly of all, voting Lib Dem to punish Labour because we are trying to seek a practical solution to Brexit will not change the Brexit dial at all. In fact, it is far more likely to embolden the hard right and Nigel Farage. By defining these elections as a proxy referendum, a strong result for Farage’s party will allow him and Theresa May’s likely successor to claim a mandate for the hardest no deal Brexit available.
Labour has run a positive campaign in difficult circumstances. As all of our campaigners and candidates will tell you, Labour’s compromise message isn’t the one-liner that is easy on the doorsteps. But Labour is not and never will be a one-liner sort of a party. You can get that from the Liberal Democrats and Farage.
We are a party of national government, which represents all communities, North and South, Leave and Remain. If you live in Scunthorpe, who is it that is fighting for the steel workers, to protect an industry, jobs and a community that has been shattered by years of deindustrialisation?
Labour and the trade unions are there, looking for solutions including bringing into public ownership to protect this vital industry. The Lib Dems, Change UK and Farage, on the crisis in the steel industry? Not a word. They don’t care about working-class communities. Our party, and our members have been out campaigning in a hard election, because we care about the steel workers. They are who we’re here to represent.
Labour knows that a Brexit solution needs to make sure that communities that have been hit by Tory and Lib Dem austerity are protected, so Labour can start to rebuild the country through investment and an active industrial strategy. That is what our alternative plan has been fighting for. It is hard and it is complex, but these are the issues we have campaigned on in this election.
Over the past 20 years, we have underperformed in European elections, which have rarely held much sway over Westminster elections. Otherwise we’d have been looking at Prime Ministers Hague and Farage, thankfully neither coming to pass. But we have been fighting for every vote, in the certain knowledge that Labour MEPs will fight the hardest to solve the problems of our age, which are cross-continent, from climate change and tax evasion to the refugee crisis.
Does anyone seriously trust the Lib Dems or Farage to fight for Labour principles of international co-operation and solidarity on these issues? I pay tribute to the energy and principle put into this campaign by our candidates, in an election that was always going to be tough.
Our party, like the country, has differences on Brexit. Some passionately want another referendum, others don’t. There are differences over tactics. Yet when I hear every one of our candidates in this election, on TV, on the stump, I hear the Labour family fighting as ever for social justice, for equality and a better world of international co-operation.
Whatever results we get on Sunday, we will fight to put Labour values and policies into practice. As we turn to the next battle, probably against the chancer Boris Johnson, we will fight to put a Labour government back into power and deliver what we all want – a Britain for the many, not the few.