This last week has been a dispiriting one for those of us of a progressive, international disposition. On Sunday (15thApril) Sir Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame launched the long-awaited ‘People’s Vote’ campaign for a fresh referendum. The timing could not have been worse; it could hardly have made less impact. Understandably it was entirely overshadowed by the attacks on Syrian installations that manufactured, stored or supported the use of chemical weapons. This catastrophe puts all our economic concerns into context.
Later in the week it was revealed that the Home Office had behaved disgracefully in its treatment of long-standing British citizens who settled in the UK from Commonwealth countries before 1971 – with the highest profile victims being the Windrush generation, so-called after the ship that arrived in 1948.
The Government’s performance has rightly been criticised: on Syria for not recalling Parliament; on the treatment of immigrants for its slow response and late apology. We need an effective opposition and moreover one with the courage to put an unequivocally international perspective. Sadly Jeremy Corbyn has retreated into his comfort zone of pious platitudes on international conflict. Worse still he seems incapable or unwilling of dealing with continued evidence of antisemitism in the Party he leads. A House of Commons debate was held on the subject on Tuesday. Veteran Labour MP Margaret Hodge, once my Councillor In North Islington when Jeremy Corbyn was my MP, was moved to say, “I never ever thought I would experience significant antisemitism as a member of the Labour party…I have, and it has left me feeling an outsider in the party of which I’ve been a member for over 50 years… I have never felt as nervous and frightened as I feel today about being a Jew. It feels that my party has given permission for antisemitism to go unchallenged. Antisemitism is making me an outsider in my Labour Party.” (and this is 21stCentury Britain).
If ever there were circumstances that underlined the need for Britain acting as a progressive voice as part of the international community they have been abundantly evident over the last seven days. So, in a gloomy blog, let me offer two threads of comfort. First, French President Emmanuel Macron delivered an inspiring speech to the European Parliament showing the leadership so sadly lacking this side of the channel. He warned that “there seems to be a European civil war between liberal democracy and rising authoritarianism…where nationalism and egotism takes precedence over what brings us together”; he urged the EU to renew its commitment to democracy. Secondly the House of Lords inflicted a major defeat on the Government by requiring ministers to report on steps to negotiate a continued EU-UK customs union. This may be no more that the latest stage in a long battle but, at last, we can chalk up a win. The campaign for a Peoples’ Vote may have been derailed, but there are some glimmers of light to beckon us forward.
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