Although I did get to make my first speech at a Federal party conference this year (you can see it here, amidst the other interventions, at around 1:55 into the broadcast) I’d also put in a speaker’s card for the debate on Europe, for which I wasn’t selected, along with many other people. However, just because I can’t make it to the stage at Conference, I can still share with the literally tens of people who read this blog what I would have said. And here it is:
Conference, I’ve been a member of this party for over twenty years and this is the first time I’ve been moved to speak at a Federal conference. On the same day that the Fabians are telling Labour they need to turn their back on Europe and abandon support for freedom of movement, we as a party are stating clearly that we will not do that.
Conference, in the referendum the Leave side took an argument that should have been ours and twisted it.
They told the people that voting Leave would somehow take back control. And that worked because people feel they’ve lost control. They see governments – national and local – they feel they have no control over, they see massive corporations riding roughshod over people’s wishes, they see a climate spiralling out of control.
So when someone told them they could fix all this and give them back control, of course they listened. When Farage and Johnson and Gove and Stuart and all the others told them they had a remedy to cure all ills, that Brexit was the modern snake oil which could give them back control, they listened.
Conference, they listened because we weren’t talking to them about power and control. We didn’t talk about how being part of the EU made us part of the largest and most powerful economic bloc on the planet, we didn’t talk about how the EU reins in the power of business – like we’ve seen with Apple just recently – and we didn’t convince them that we needed the power of working together to tackle climate change.
As a party we need to lead the fight against Brexit in Parliament and in a future referendum. But we need to do more. Conference, we need to talk about power. We need to show how being in the EU gives us all the power to do more, and the control people are seeking wasn’t being taken away from them by the EU but by our own system here in the UK. We’ve had decade after decade of governments elected by a minority of the people in this country and then ignoring the rest of the voters. We’ve seen power stripped away from local governments, with people feeling they’ve got no say in what happens to their town with everything decided by faceless bureaucrats. But these bureaucrats aren’t in Brussels, they’re in Whitehall and voting to leave the EU will only give them more power, not less.
Conference, I support this motion because, just as I did on June 23rd, I think the best future for this country is a member of the EU. But if and when we get the chance to make that case to the country again, be it in a general election or a referendum we need to talk about power and not only how the EU can give more power to people, but how we also need to change the way the UK works so never again do people feel so powerless that they’ll listen to the snake oil promises of the Leave campaign. Only liberalism can give them back real power and real control, and we have to make that case.