Then why is one major party ignoring that issue?
In a couple of days, that portion of the British electorate who can be bothered (usually around 30%) will go to the polls in one of the most unusual General Elections in recent history.
This election has been called at remarkably short notice. It is being held late in the year -a time usually avoided in the hope that this islands’ notoriously unpredictable weather will not effect turn-out. It has been called by a Prime Minister who has been in office only a few months, who has no majority and has failed to get a single piece of Government legislation passed except the one calling for this election.
The reason it was called is, of course, Brexit. Britains’ departure from the EU, campaigned for over decades, and voted for by 17.4 million people in the referendum of 2016. Years of obfuscation, dither, delay and occasional outright sabotage by everyone involved have led to the resignations of two Conservative Prime Ministers, the loss of the governments’ majority and deadlock in Parliament. Deep fault-lines have been revealed in both major parties and a change has rippled through the electorate.
This election is a final, desperate attempt to secure a clear majority in Parliament and break the deadlock. If that happens, the winner will go down in history as a hero, the loser as a fool. Until historians of a later generation ‘take a fresh look at the evidence’ and reverse the judgement, of course.
So why is the Labour Party campaigning on almost every issue except Brexit?
The Conservatives, under Boris Johnson, have ‘Let’s get Brexit done’ as the main plank of their campaign. The promises of increased public expenditure and tax cuts are all contingent upon the supposed savings leaving the EU will permit. Brexit is the Holy Grail, the sine qua non of their entire plan. Promises to negotiate a ‘fair’ trade deal with the post-Brexit EU are involved. So is a ‘terrific’ trade deal with the US (we sell out National Health service to American pharmaceutical companies, while US producers flood our market with chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef, it seems).
The Liberal Democrats, in alliance with the Green Party and Plaid Cymru, pledge to stop Brexit. No new referendum, no consultation, just cancel Article 50. Once safely nestled in the bosom of the EU, we can concentrate on going carbon-neutral, ban the sale and production of petrol cars and meat and step backward into the brave new eco-friendly, technology-free Dark Ages.
Jeremy Corbyns’ Labour Party stated early in the campaign that they would renegotiate a Brexit deal and then put it to the public in a referendum which would include the option to remain in the EU. That was all. Since then, their campaign has concentrated on equality, social justice, the redistribution of wealth, new and better funding for education and healthcare and methods of closing the loopholes in the law that create tax havens and other means by which billionaires evade and avoid paying their share. Barely a word about Brexit -the issue which, according to many, this election is all about. Why?
Now this is just me, you understand, and the reasons given here might be completely wrong, but here’s what I think.
Brexit is a big, bright, gaudy show. Everybody has an opinion about it, people are passionate about it. It stirs up everything from old-fashioned patriotism to modern liberal internationalism. It has set the Little Englanders against the globalists. It has set the anti-American lobby up against the ‘51st Staters’. It has stirred up the feelings of older generations who look back on history and believe that the Germans cannot be trusted and the French are contemptible. It has enraged younger people who want to act and think in terms of the whole world rather than specific nations. It grabs headlines and commands attention.
But there’s an elephant in the room. An elephant the Conservatives and their corporate cronies and masters don’t want us to see. An elephant the Brexit Show is meant to distract us from.
That elephant is four million British children living in poverty. It is 135 000 of those children who will spend Christmas in temporary accommodation. It is working families paying inflated rents for substandard accommodation, afraid to put the heating on for fear of the bills and getting their meals from the food banks set up by charities. It is thousands of people sleeping on the streets. It is decent, hard-working people hanging on by their fingernails, reduced to bare necessities by a decade of stagnant wages. It is understaffed hospitals, closed A&E departments, frail elderly people forced to fend for themselves on meagre pensions, crumbling schools where teachers provide breakfast for hungry children out of their own, half-empty, pockets.
This is the elephant the Labour Party wants to drag out from behind the Brexit banners and place in the centre of the room. To them, Brexit is one issue among many, and not the most important. They want to get into power to tackle those issues.
I salute them for trying. I wish them well. I will vote for them myself. But people are stupid and selfish and short-sighted. They want simple answers to complex questions and think with their feelings, not their brains. I hope Labour wins, but I doubt they will. Another hung Parliament with the concomitant political paralysis, or a Conservative majority and more austerity. Will children have to start dying of cold and malnutrition before somebody does the right thing?