Brexit Means Brexit; Local Means Local

Matt Snape argues that should we have to contest the European Parliament elections, that is the proper outlet for voters to express their frustration at the Westminster elite. Good local councillors should not be punished for the incompetence of bad MPs.

by Matt Snape on 18 April 2019 08:13

‘Deeds, not words’, is the famous phrase uttered by former suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, and her mantra is more relevant now than it has ever been before. Unfortunately, England and Wales’s local elections this year will be a referendum on the Government’s abysmal Brexit performance and Labour’s failure to respect the 2016 result. For most councillors, many of whom will no doubt be rewarded for their deeds and efforts, they may find themselves judged by Theresa May’s or Jeremy Corbyn’s actions, not their own.

However, that should not be the case. Many of us, including myself, are guilty of delighting of seeing their opponents defeated in local elections. But as an elected councillor myself, I have met a couple of voters who said they will not vote at all because of the Government’s failure to deliver Brexit. This is disheartening for me as I am a ‘hard’ Brexiteer myself and I am disillusioned with the Tories’ failure here. I have found that the best tactic is to remind people these are local elections and that I should be judged on my record as a councillor, not by my party leader’s time in office.

Turnout for local elections is expected to be below twenty-five per cent, but it could be much lower because of the Government’s dithering over Brexit. Postal votes have already been distributed to millions of voters across England and Wales, and many of them have shared photos on social media where they have written comments on their ballots like ‘hard Brexit please.’ Even though someone said to me on Facebook that I am a good councillor, they then added that I come from a party that holds ‘democracy in contempt’ and won’t vote for me. And with Labour MPs like Yvette Cooper not helping by blocking plans for a no deal Brexit, both the main parties have been portrayed as frustrating the will of the people when they know their activists are working hard to get re-elected. It is either selfish or stupid for MPs who claim to respect the result to be behaving in this way when they know important local elections are coming, or both. Either way, they have never been viewed as so out-of-touch since the 1830s, as The Daily Telegraph argued.

For the record, I think Theresa May is the worst Prime Minister since Lord North. When she became Home Secretary in 2010, I thought she was out of her depth back then. She experienced some success by legislating for elected police and crime commissioners. But she has cut police numbers to the core and failed to cut immigration to the tens of thousands, knowing she could never achieve this whilst we remained an EU member. I understand cuts must be made in a time of austerity, but a Conservative government should never sacrifice police numbers for the sake of balancing the budget when the Tories claim to be a party of law and order. It is for these reasons I was not going to vote for her as leader of my party if it came to a vote in 2016.

But as Prime Minister, she makes her time as Home Secretary look like a golden age for her career. She came into office with the mantra ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and many felt sorry for her given Cameron made no contingency plans in the event of a Leave victory. Her 2017 Lancaster House speech contained promises to withdraw Britain from the European Court of Justice, end the free movement of people and to pursue free trade deals across the globe. I supported her decision to call a general election because whilst May’s agenda was different to Cameron’s and though I disagreed with her ‘conservative’ beliefs, she needed a mandate to pursue them.

But the way she behaved throughout the 2017 election was appalling. She cowered out of a debate with Corbyn and left Rudd to debate him on her behalf. Her manifesto was poorly marketed and her ‘strong and stable’ slogan was shattered by her decision to cower out of a leadership debate. With Corbyn promising young people the earth, it is no wonder the Tories lost their majority. Following on from an appalling election result, she then pursued the Brexit negotiations without preparing for no deal, which allowed the EU to trap her into submitting to their wishes for the Irish border and the divorce bill to be settled. However, there was no legal or international requirement for her to implement a hard border or pay a divorce bill.

Whilst her Withdrawal Agreement is designed to end the free movement of people, it showed how little she understood why people voted for Brexit. The Withdrawal Agreement proposed a backstop for Northern Ireland to remain in the Single Market and would allow for the European Court of Justice to maintain jurisdiction over certain matters. Britain would have to remain in a customs union, which would prohibit the UK’s ability to pursue free trade deals. It is worse than remaining in the EU because this country would have to accept EU rules with no say. It contradicted everything May promised in 2017.

Furthermore, because she has lost her nerve to pursue a no deal Brexit, she has had Britain’s exit date delayed beyond a timeframe she wanted and she has cancelled further plans for no deal, thereby wasting public money. In my lifetime, I have never seen a prime minister contradict themselves so much and she has made herself look duplicitous and deceitful.

I understand how voters feel, but I am a Conservative and remain so because I believe in free markets, low taxes and a small state. Even if politicians betray the will of the people, it is clear the EU won’t last forever. It is already crumbling because of the eurozone and the prospect of Italy quitting the euro. There is a brighter future for the country and the party, and the membership can use their vote for the next leader of the party to remove May and end this miserable time for the party.

But I urge voters to judge local politicians by their deeds, and not Brexit. Local democracy has nothing to do with Brexit, and councillors are still there to ensure your bins are collected on time and to decide how much council tax you pay. If you don’t vote, you can’t complain if your local council increases your taxes. If you want to send a message to Brussels, do it in the European elections we should not be voting in. This will really make the EU listen.

Matt Snape is a freelance journalist whose stories have been featured in numerous national, local and specialist publications

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