It's just two years to the day since a good half of the nation woke up to the horrifying fact that we had voted to leave the European Union. I say "a good half" because although 37% of those entitled to vote opted for "Leave" and only 34% voted to "Remain," that left some 28% who didn't bother to vote so were presumably satisfied with the way things were, the 16 and 17 year-olds, thought to be overwhelmingly in favour of remaining,(and most affected by the decision) were not allowed to vote, and neither were the even more immediately affected 3 million citizens of other EU countries resident in this country
Yet, two years later our government is still blethering on, daily more shrilly, that they must implement this minority position as "the will of the people"
And, in spite of the fact that every piece of evidence so far has demonstrated that the promises made by the "Leave" campaign are hollow, that the process is not going to be simple, will make us poorer and the best bargain we can get is the one we already have, public opinion has as yet only marginally shifted..
The mysteries are why, in one of the world's most sophisticated democracies, are the major political parties persisting with a course which they know to be folly, and why has there not been a major shift in public opinion as a result of the overwhelming evidence that this is folly.
To deal with the major parties first, it is clear that they are both putting party beofre country.
The Conservative Party is now dominated by a small gang of extremists led by Michael Gove and Jacob Rees Mogg. They seem determined to turn the country into a low wage, low regulation economy in which their rich hedge-fund friends and backers will be able to flourish at the expense of the rest of us., along with a hankering for the social and political milieu of the 1950s. I do not include Boris Johnson in this group. Remember he allegedly agonised as to which side to back and came down on the "Leave" side only at the very last moment. Clearly, given that the small and elderly grass-roots membership of the Conservative Party are thought to have have this "future to the back" bias, and they elect the Tory leader, his motivation is his own personal advancement.
Sadly Mrs May, who fully appreciates that what is best for the country is to remain in the EU (that is how she campaigned and voted) is too weak and frightened to stand up to these mavericks and has feebly decided that appeasing them is the best way of saving her premiership and the Conservative Party.
The problem of the Labour Party is less easy to understand. It could be argued that, by not taking a firm position, the leadership is playing a "long game" - stand back, watch the government a mess of things (of which there is plenty of evidence so far) and move in for the kill at the opportune moment. Unfortunately, time is running out, and it will take time and firm and unambiguous campaigning to shift public opinion sufficiently to make abandoning Brexit politically acceptable.
Sadly we Liberal Democrats, who have waved and continue to wave the banner for not just remaining in but full and enthusiastic co-operation with the EU, are so tarnished by our inept handling of membership of the 2010 - 2015 Coalition that we have, I believe only temporarily, lost our credibility., and the well-deserving Greens are slow to gain any.
Now to the mystifying problem of why public opinion isn't changing significantly. I should have thought by now that, in the face of all the evidence, there would have been a shift of the size say, two thirds in favour of remaining against one third still for leave which would make a change of mind by our MPs in favour of abandoning Brexit politically acceptable.
I think the reasons are:
- the majority of people are not adsorbing the evidence. I hope this is not a patronising view. Most people have lives to live, jobs to master, mortgages to pay, debts to manage, families to being up, holidays to plan, sports teams to support, and are not as absorbed as we anoraks by the Today Programme, Guardian and Financial Times reports IFS, Treasury and Bank of England pronouncements;
- the media, especially the foreign-owned Sun and Telegraph, with the Express, have an enthusiastic bias against the EU, and as "us" versus "them" approach probably helps to sell papers;
- obeying "the will of the people" is a simple and straightforward, though I believe misguided, message;
- anti-EU sentiment has been honed by forty years of both major parties blaming Europe for any policy that they felt was unpopular or inconvenient;
- there has been failure by the Remainers to recognise and promise to rectify the issues which polling evidence shows motivated many of the Leave voters. These are spelled in a perceptive letter in Saturday's Guardian: from a Susan Hunter ,namely "pensions, taxation, monetary policy, social care, health and welfare, education and training.. .These are the areas that are failing the working class, which by design benefit the already wealthy."
- the lack of a unified Remain movement. with an identifiable and attractive leader.
It hasn't and he hasn't yet,. but there's still time