Last week, for the first time in my life, I wished I lived in Streatham, the south London suburb of bowling alleys, chicken takeaways, skating rinks and social insecurity. It has one jewel, however: Chuka Umunna, the sitting Labour MP. Mr Umunna does not follow his party leader; he is not, therefore a card-carrying, grievance-mongering Leftie. He has described himself as “One Nation Labour” and “Blue Labour”. He is keen on social justice and free markets. Some might suggest he is a bit of a libertarian, but I have no wish to be rude to the man. On the contrary, if I lived in Streatham (rather than in achingly hip Balham) I’d give serious consideration to voting Labour – something I have never done before.
For me, Mr Umunna’s great attraction is that he loves and values the European Union and was sickened by the result of the referendum. In this campaign he is not quite calling for a new referendum, but for the softest of Brexits, with free movement and access to the single market (though he’d be prepared to sacrifice the single market for the sake of guaranteed free movement). Most Europhiles would settle for that. In the meantime our European cousins – but especially European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker – are getting sick of the stamping and posturing of British exceptionalism, and who can blame them?
To many on the right, of course, the European question has been settled. It is no longer on the table. So, they say, let’s get on with the important stuff. Like the NHS? Less said about the NHS the better. Otherwise ordinary human beings might ask what has happened to the £350 million a week. No, the Right is focusing on our future as a free and sovereign people. No more cringing before the slave-drivers of Brussels, they say; now we decide on our place in the world. There is a touch of the Tony Blair of 2001 here. Our place in the world, many Leavers believe, is at the side of the United States of America. But wait. The US is in many respects an admirable and amusing country, but might we not, following a hard Brexit, find ourselves falling in line with President Trump’s latest whim? Boris has already suggested that we might give military support to the US in an future clash with Syria. And then there is North Korea…
Brexit means Brexit, of course, but Remainers can take heart from the work of the lovely Gina Miller, who is very tough friend of the EU. Last year, you will remember, she was the brain behind the Supreme Court case that forced Theresa May to get parliamentary approval for triggering Article 50. This year, within days of the election being called, Miller had raised more than £300,000 on behalf of her tactical voting campaign to unseat pro-Brexit MPs at the general election. Money will go to candidates in marginal seats to help them defeat such MPs. Those who have been sending her racist and sexist hate mail are a poor advertisement for the lovely, free, kind and gentle England than many British nationalists talk about, and possibly believe in. But let’s not get pious, eh? It’s a free country, as Leavers like to say; or at least it soon will be.
Which brings me, reluctantly, to Tim Farron. He has promised to fight for another referendum, but only in the sense that the people should be allowed to vote on the final Brexit agreement. But can he be trusted? One hopes so. He is, after all, a believing Christian, a rare species these days in Westminster. My brief enthusiasm for him lasted for about two days, however. It vanished last week when, in the hope, apparently, of winning back votes in the West Country, he said he was a bit of a Eurosceptic, sort of, er… One makes allowance for the fact that Mr Farron is a politician, but that sort of contradictory campaigning is not going to work.
In the meantime, we must seek justice through prayer. St Catherine of Siena, whose feast was celebrated last Saturday, has been a patron saint of Europe since 1999. Perhaps she can help. She would not approve of the EU, of course, because it is governed by secular humanism. But she might, like Benedict XVI, think that the EU was in principle good and worth saving from its errors.
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