Former Conservative Party leader Ian Duncan Smith has launched another nasty attack on ‘the Remainers’ – anyone who dared to hold a different view to him on the EU referendum (Conservative Home website, http://www.conservativehome.com/thecolumnists/2016/11/iain-duncan-smith-continuity-remain-are-fighting-a-desperate-rearguard-action-to-undermine-the-leave-vote.html).
There seem to be only two options in the mind of Mr Smith – someone either wants Brexit on whatever terms the government chooses and can get and should therefore just shut up and have no say on the matter; or someone wants to reverse the Brexit vote. There is no space for those who, in his trademark sneering terms, ‘accept’ the result but still believe in Parliament and the courts having a vital role to play in coming up with something that will value the needs of the Remain voters while delivering on the result for Leave voters. “I seemed to have conveniently forgotten that the then-Prime Minister, Tony Blair, stated unequivocally just eleven days before the General Election that, ‘What the British public will be voting for is a Labour Government or a Conservative Government’.”
After the 2001 General Election, which delivered a (huge) Labour victory, my recollection is that far from ‘accepting the verdict of the British people’, Mr Smith actually argued and even voted against many of the proposals put forward by the Blair government. I wonder how he would now describe such behaviour – was he an ‘enemy of the people’? Was he subtly trying to reverse the result of the election? Or trying to dilute the Labour programme in some way – perhaps ‘soft’ Blairism – when the British people had decisively (much more decisively than in the referendum incidentally, not that that matters) voted for profligate public finances, gradual undermining of our traditions, special treatment for big Labour donors who fund racing cars and so on?
Or would Mr Smith argue, as I would, that it is the role of opposition not to seek to overturn the democratic vote but to represent the views of their constituents and seek to persuade the government of the day to change course to take other views into account? History shows that when we have had widespread consensus on any issue, to the extent that opposition is marginalised or ignored, things don’t always go well.
I completely expect a majority in the House of Commons (and the Lords, I hope) to trigger Article 50 when the time comes. I guess one type of democrat, those who support direct popular votes, would say that 341 MPs should argue for and vote to Leave and 317 to Remain (presuming Sinn Fein take part) – I don’t take that view as I believe we elect Parliamentarians to use their judgment on our behalf, not to vote as we dictate on any particular issue, but that doesn’t sit at all well with a referendum so I’m a bit lost. In any case I would expect a vigourous debate with a very significant number of MPs (not just the SNP) voting against leaving. I will be very disappointed if my MP, representing a constituency in which Remain got three quarters of the vote, does not vote against triggering Article 50, just as should Labour form a government I would be disappointed if any Conservative MP voted for an 80% top rate of tax or whatever John McDonnell was proposing that week.
Mr Smith seems determined to continue to provoke and anger the 48% who voted to remain. He is absolutely right in one respect – as a Remainer I went through the stages of grief, including denial, anger, bargaining and depression, and am now well into acceptance and seeing the possible benefits alongside the possible downsides. I would be amazed if Mr Smith did not go through the same when he was sacked from the Party leadership – it is a well-documented human reaction to loss and has nothing to do with the EU referendum as such. Yet instead of generously recognising this, the ‘nasty party’ wing of the Conservatives would rather use it as a further weapon with which to bash and sneer at those who took a different view.
If all this has done one thing for me, I have come to realise that I may now be feeling like many of those who voted Leave and voted Trump might have felt – ignored and demonised by an elite which has no empathy with my feelings or sympathy with my interests. It’s quite a jolt but very good for my personal growth as a fully paid-up member of the metropolitan elite who has not always been open enough to other philosophies. But Mr Smith might reflect on the implications of treating a significant proportion of our nation in such a way. He comes over more as someone who wants to settle old scores than to take us forward to a better place.