I would like to take you back to May 2019. I remember it was a rainy month, I was struggling to put my wet leaflets through doors in Ordsall during the local council elections campaign. I told the people I met that I was a member of Volt UK but was standing as an independent. My programme focused on cleaning the many waterways in Ordsall and as well as efforts to strengthen the local community (I was thinking about a new community pub). I campaigned in my neighbourhood and I had many special moments when I knocked on doors and met the people in my community. In between all the stories that I told and listened to, I must tell you about one woman. She lived in one of these little houses of typical crimson Salford bricks with a small, but empty garden. I gave her my usual Volt pitch of working together in Europe and using best-practices to improve our local community. After that, she only said one thing to me: She voted Leave, yet she would vote for me because I was not one of them. This struck me profoundly and I could not say anything else other than that Volt didn’t align for what you voted for back then, but I thanked her and let her go.
A Leave voter choosing me over other candidates from all the established parties of the UK. She voted for a neighbour, who was born in Germany and had lived only a couple of years in the UK, who was campaigning in the name of a pan-European Party and for our Ordsall. She did not really care how I wanted to make life better in our community. She needed to know that I cared for local issues and that I was doing something about it. She did not really seem to care about Europe, and she did not really seem to care about Brexit either. But it revealed where our true priorities must focus on when we try to find balance between prosperity and desire.
Why was she planning to vote for me despite the differences when it came to Europe? It was not important to her as a voter how I do politics. It was important to her that I am doing politics and why. But the way I was doing it brought me to her doorstep. I needed not only her vote, but also her voice as a citizen of the UK to make change happen. People-powered change, regardless of political affiliations, but based on trust and human values.
The 2016 referendum was a disaster. Instead of asking a stupid Yes/No question (no wonder the result was stupid as well), I think the question should have considered the political diversity and opportunities the UK has. The questions never needed to be Yes/No to Europe, the conversation needed to be ‘How’.
Brexit is still unsolved. I think, nevertheless, we can find a solution by asking the right questions: How do the British people see themselves in Europe? What is a British dream for Europe about?
Quo vadis, Britannia?
First, there is frustration with politics and politicians. This was demonstrated during the last general elections. Many could not side with Corbyn’s hard left agenda, while others were dismayed at the failure to create a real remain alliance. Many, as usual, felt that voting was a waste of time. The Brexit referendum offered a change. Unfortunately the voters were not told that very few people would benefit from Brexit and that Britain would be a divided country for years stifling prosperity.
But the UK is our house, we live in it, we work in it and we want it to thrive where, thanks to cooperation and care, we can build certainty and a future.
Politics needs a new product. Politicians need to understand democracy as a marketplace. Let us take an example: Imagine a market selling different types of transportation. You can buy horses, bicycles or cars. All the products come with pros and cons but all the products will help you to move forward. You know a fair and open market should allow you to choose your product and make deals that work best for you. Generally, the best salesmen are the ones that listen and advise you to purchase the product that best suits your needs. Bad salesmen, on the other hand, promise you the best option on the market, not the option that is best priced for your needs. Sounds familiar? Ask yourself: Do I really need a Ferrari when I only drive it to Aldi?
If we continue to follow Johnson, we might get ‘true independence’. Britain will sit on a throne made from the legacy of the once so proud Empire; Britain will wear a crown again. It will have control back again, as they say. That is true. But it’s also true that the throne is a cracked and unstable chair, rather a piece for the museum, standing remarkably close to the gates of a much grander castle called Europe. Previously, the UK had significantly helped build this castle, but no more. In Brexit Britain and under a No Deal, we will wear a paper crown as we wave hello to our old friends from the US, India, or Africa, that will flood to our castle. But the UK will not be their destination. They will be en-route to Europe.
Johnson dictates for a new era where the British people live poorer and with less freedom and less options to choose as they go about their lives. They talk about winning the sovereignty of the UK, but what happened to the sovereignty of the people? We don’t have it. We have no proportional representation, we are lacking effective devolution, and we have tribal party politics, personality cults and a lot of old men shouting at each other in an old building on the island that is London, far away from where politics needs to implement the change. Does not sound like sovereignty to me.
The people of the UK, their families, their businesses, need to preserve their high standards of life and what they have with Europe: open doors and open opportunities right in our continental neighbourhood. So how come we were ok with the fact that the 52% vote was a strong enough mandate to pull 100% of the people away from this neighbourhood? Mathematically seen this is a majority, but Britain is more than numbers and figures. It’s not just Yes or No. Britain is diverse and is proud of that, too. The political establishment lost the people, they are assets on balance sheets, without dignity, without care, without hope.
In the end, we need to draw a new future for the UK and all of its people. Of course, you say, everybody talks about it. The Government is indeed talking about it, but it still can’t open or even find the next door to replace EU membership. You can argue that we have seen change, the Government under the rule of the Conservative Party did a remarkable job breaking their ancient values and introduced the most Socialist manifesto the UK has ever seen. But this only proves that political pragmatism, not political idealism, is leading the way. However, we need a new political product that suits the citizens, not the establishment.
But why is Europe really important for the UK?, you may ask yourself? I think the British people are not wrong with their concerns with: uncontrolled immigration, security threats, the uncontrollable Commission and missing links between fiscal and monetary policies; it gives you a headache rather than a solution you can really rely on. The EU has plans for reform, see Macron & Merkel, but will they be able to adapt to global challenges? The UK is experienced with tactfulness and finesse and knows how to play a significant role on the global stage. To a level with the USA, China, and India, too.
Nevertheless, the strengths of the UK will be amplified with help of close relationships with other countries. With Europe, the UK can set improved standards for defence, foreign affairs, green energy, and trade, all of which must be reformed in the EU. Economic freedom can be developed when the UK works with Europe and especially under the Single Market, Thatcher’s legacy to the EU. Does the UK want to leave it to a Franco-German hegemon, which may miss how to unleash the potential options of a liberal and single market to the benefit of all market players? A competitive market that really benefits everyone from the grain farmers of Bulgaria to the pub landlord of Anglesea. Over regulation and complicated bureaucracy can be shown the door, but only with a pragmatic Britain at the helm. But these British dreams of Europe have been dropped and everything because of one question asked in 2016.
Of course, a future deal with the EU must make sure that the UK can be a global political trend setter. If Europeans want Britain to enter the European castle again and play a part in it, then there has to be special arrangements in regards to currency, social security and taxation that will guarantee the social and moral desires of the British people.
The Brexit debate has brought back the dead: We are reminded with Churchills rhetoric when fighting Nazi Germany, leading the UK to glory and unforgettable victory. The EU is a by-product of this victory. The UK helped to build the EU, but Churchill himself was hesitant to further integrate with Europe that he helped to keep alive. Does that make him a great, modern European? Many would say not. But with all respect, he was certainly a great warrior, and the one Europe needed in its darkest hours. After ‘45, there was no war anymore. Reason took over, however nobody else other than Margaret Thatcher moved ahead with the proposal for the Single Market to further shape the European Project. The seeds for two main aspects of the EU, peace and its economic power, were planted by Brits. So, what happened to reason and courage to fight for a strong and stable European continent when needed most, that characterised Churchills and Thatcher’s politics? When we want to play our significant role again and help others with good old British pragmatism, which is needed in Europe again to overcome our common pressing global challenges, we need to implement reforms that solves the frustration of the people. We must address the lack of participation and fight against populism. But these reforms must happen here first. First, we need to fix the UK, then we can fix Europe. Do you remember the lady in Ordsall that voted for me? She was interested in the why and what, not the how.
It doesn’t matter how you do it
Running away is, in my opinion, not the right decision. If you have a problem, the better answer is: fix it. Thatcher said: “to be free is better than to be unfree – always. Any politician who suggests the opposite should be treated as suspect”. In a way she is addressing the untransparent, unaccountable EU. But what she forgot was the will of the people of Britain. Brexit is pushing Scotland and Wales into a position where political change threatens the United Kingdom as we know it. Northern Ireland is not to be ignored too. England does not even have its own parliamentary representation. It does not have a voice like the other British nations have. If the British people are so proud of their political pragmatism when it comes to foreign affairs, then the pragmatism in its internal affairs must feel like loss of freedom. So much about sovereignty. Brexit is not only happening in the parliament. It’s also happening where the people live, on the local level. We need to enable people power, working locally as neighbours for neighbours, just like I did in Ordsall. As I mentioned before, democracy is a marketplace, a living process, not a single event. A new political product, which includes electoral reform and empowered communities, will put tolerance and pragmatism over tribal loyalty and faith. It works, the woman in Ordsall is a proof.
How do we move on with Europe then? First, do not take anything for granted. Britain has been and will probably always be special in Europe. When Britain in the coming months looks to preserve Europe’s most valuable aspects, they must remember their art in making deals again. We need a deal that gives everybody the chance to reach their full potential and ensure the people’s sovereignty is not blocked by politicians that are more interested in satisfying their own interests. Liberty can be negotiated in many fields and to British interests: currency, defence, labour. Other European countries have deals with the EU on customs, labour laws or immigration, so can we. Whenever we have set our relationship with Europe, then we can start leading it and play a counterweight to Franco-German dominance. When all nations are facing global threats, then the common denominator must be political pragmatism. The UK was the driver for this pragmatism before and we need it back, for all Europeans’ sake.
This brings me back to the British Dream of Europe: Do you remember the song by Madness, “Our House”? A part of the lyrics are following: “I remember way back then when everything was true and when | We would have such a very good time, such a fine time | Such a happy time | And I remember how we’d play, simply waste the day away | Then we’d say nothing would come between us | Two dreamers”.
Where have those dreamers gone? Johnson can’t open the door that provides hope and a prosperous future. He closed all the doors. No more dreams. But the UK dreams to play a global role. Britain is full of nostalgia for the good old days, “when everything was true”. But outside of the EU, the UK is weak and vulnerable. So maybe, we must reflect, be honest to ourselves and admit that the EU is also our legacy and whatever it will be able to achieve, it will be thanks to a lot of input from Britain. We must understand that Europe is not only a German or French house; it is also a British house. Do we really want to move out of this house? Nobody can ignore the full potential of Europe when reformed with pragmatic vigour. From a British point of view, our European House is broken and needs to be fixed. But first, we need to take care of ourselves. So let’s not let anything “come in between us, two dreamers”, lets make things happen.
Create an electoral platform for change. First in the UK, then in Europe
While Starmer works in the parliament, keeping Boris in check, we must seed a new political community to campaign for change together and for progress. If you want to self-realise your political goals, want to join a movement that stands for change and are not happy with the other parties, then let’s join together and create a new political platform. I am sharing my story to give you a vision for Britain’s role in Europe. For your role in “Our House”. However, two dreamers are not enough. I invite you to be the change you wish to see in the UK. Together, we can create something new and special. You can do it, because you are “not one of them”.
Britain saved the European continent in two World Wars. But there is a new war, a new crisis. It’s a crisis of identification and vision. We forgot what it means to be European: We used to be the guardian for peace and economic prosperity in Europe. The populists pull us back into the past. But we have been there before, when we were blind to foresee the future and what is the best for us. But we are lucky. We can learn from the past, we can advance. So I ask you: Do we want to take the same path again?
Who do you want to be in this new, global world: A leader?