Comrades, colleagues, friends, brother and sisters,
I am reeling from the dreadful outcome of the referendum. I know we are all devastated and extremely fearful of what the future holds both at home and across the EU.
No doubt our thoughts will develop over the next few days and weeks ahead but I simply wanted to reach out to everyone this morning in our Labour family and beyond and say a huge thank you for all the magnificent work that was done by so many people to try and secure a Remain vote here in Middlesbrough and across the UK.
The efforts over the last few weeks and the herculean efforts of polling day were truly wonderful and everyone involved can be rightly proud of their great endeavours.
I would also share with you my very great sadness and anger at the divisions in our nation that this referendum has exposed and exacerbated.
Locally we have had many a wonderful conversations with the electorate, with those who agreed with us and those who took the opposite view. Those conversations were respectful, cordial and uplifting and I am confident that the conversations we will have in the times ahead will take place in the same civilised manner. But sadly we also endured some gross unpleasantness the likes of which I have never experienced before and that it should come to the fore in this campaign or at all, worries me greatly.
I cannot stress too strongly that I do not believe Leave voters to be prejudiced. People voted Leave for a myriad of reasons and it would be wrong to characterise voters in such a way. But it is a cause for concern that the Leave campaign focused so heavily upon people of non-British origin as the root cause of people’s concerns and worries in such unambiguous and hostile terms.
This does not mean that we should shy away from dealing with concerns over immigration. But the Leave campaign has brought to the fore alarming practices in our national political discourse. I’ll say it plainly – an atmosphere has been fomented over many decades of hating foreigners, the strangers and those who are vulnerable or who seek our help. It’s nasty, subversive and ultimately destructive.
To my eternal sadness, our Government has relentlessly pursued policies that deliberately prejudice areas of the country that face the greatest de-industrialisation challenges. Ian Duncan-Smith laid that bare when he resigned from Government. There are consequences of them doing so.
They have relentlessly pursued neo-liberal policies that rob citizens of any sense of any stake in, or relationship with, the services that a decent society needs and simply handed it over to whatever such a corporate entity deems appropriate to deliver. Taxes are not being collected to provide public services but to feather the nests of corporations who are making fortunes out of the continued privatisation of public services.
Their relentless pursuit of individualism has attacked the very fundamentals of community cohesion and instead they have put together fiscal policies that favour the very wealthiest in our society so that they keep more of the wealth that was created by so many other people, and the government do so at the same time as perpetuating the demonization of the weakest and the foreigner. This Leave vote in very large part is a direct consequence of that.
Of course people are angry and want to lash out at what they perceive to be unfair. Very large numbers of people have every justification for being angry, but there are others who have been more fortunate and have the benefit of comparatively reasonable pensions or alternatively have the good fortune to be in work and have been able to provide good homes for themselves and their families but who are nevertheless, totally signed up to the anger and bitterness that has spread through our country.
But there are those who are quite undeniably and understandably furious at the way in which the establishment has done nothing for them. But their anger should be directed at this rotten Tory Government not at the EU.
It is this government that has relentlessly pursued the totally unnecessary austerity programme, in response to a Global crash that they deliberately mis-describe for political advantage, and it is this Tory government that has deliberately inflicted the greatest pain on the areas that need the most support and have deliberately steered funds away from areas of the country most in need and towards Tory supporting local authorities.
The expression of anger of those who suffer under such a regime is understandable but that anger would be better directed at the negligent approach of this Government in terms of pursuing the real villains who think it is quite alright to avoid and evade their taxes which they, in their superior wisdom, deem to be an activity reserved for the “poor fools” who are doomed to be subjected to PAYE. That’s what we should be getting mad about. It is exactly that: they take the rest of society for fools and are quite happy to see the anger that they deserve directed away to others.
Such companies and individuals who make their money directly as a result of all that the UK provides for them, should simply do the decent thing and commit to paying their due taxes and that should be reinforced by a vigorous government who, instead of sacking hundreds of Tax Collectors, should be employing more tax collectors to get the billions of pounds into the Treasury that these companies and individuals avoid and evade so that a decent government can support our communities, our business and our industry.
I would make a plea that no one believe Boris Johnson’s lie that the closure of the SSI plant at Redcar had anything to do with EU. It did not. The Tories could have intervened and they chose not to. Other European countries helped their own industries that they deemed to be strategically critical. Ours decided that non-intervention and letting the market do its worst was the best course and they are forever damned for their negligence.
The mythology perpetuated around the profligacy and inefficiency of the EU and their usurping of UK sovereignty will go down as one of the greatest deceits in political history.
But in terms of the future of our country, Labour has to set out with crystal clear precision a real alternative to the anti-community, individualistic and corrosive society that currently obtains and a society which is so ill at ease with itself and which is always the inevitable outcome of Tory rule.
I fear that our own union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will inevitably be torn apart and of course we are now going to be wrenched from our friends and neighbours on mainland Europe and I deeply, deeply regret it.
48% of our nation simply don’t want any of that to happen and are bereft. The 48% are a significant force and haven’t gone away now simply because the referendum is finished. They are still there and they continue to hold to their deeply held views that we can have a better world that embraces interaction with our neighbours, that works collectively for peace and prosperity where we enjoy not despise, the richness of each other’s cultures.
The future is going to be very tough but, as has been said often this past week, we must now focus on that which brings us together rather than that which drives us apart.