Why as a lifelong leftie I’ve joined Team Nigel: CLAIRE FOX explains her reasons for standing as a European election candidate in The Brexit Party
As a left-wing campaigner for 35 years, I’ve been arrested on picket lines, led anti-imperialist demonstrations and spoken at anti-deportation protests outside police stations. I’ve made speeches at street rallies, in prisons and universities and at pubs.
Yet yesterday, in an unexpected twist of events, I found myself sitting next to Nigel Farage, announcing my intention to stand as a candidate for his Brexit Party in the European elections on May 23.
You’d struggle to find a pair of more unlikely political bedfellows than the former Ukip leader and myself, a former Trotskyist who spent her youth agitating for a workers’ revolution.
We disagree on a wide range of issues – from workers’ and women’s rights to immigration and the NHS. But – and this is a crucial ‘but’ – we agree on the one historic issue that today matters more than anything else: Brexit and the future of British democracy.
Brexit Party MEP candidate Claire Fox speaks by Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage during a candidate launch event for the European elections in central London yesterday
That common ground of honouring democracy – the very basis of the Brexit Party – is what counts.
Be in no doubt, this is a watershed moment for democracy. It’s been almost three years since 17.4 million people voted to Leave the EU – the largest popular mandate in British political history. But today, thanks to an ineffective Government and a cabal of staunchly Remain-supporting MPs, we remain shackled to Brussels. It is almost as if a referendum was never held.
Now, with countless MPs and members of the unelected House of Lords lining up to try to overturn the decision of the British people, democratic principles matter more than old party allegiances.
That hero of the Labour movement, Tony Benn, whose criticisms of the Brussels machine would make Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington Set shriek with disgust, once said ‘democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world’.
How right he was. Without democracy, we are voiceless subjects. But with it, we are citizens armed with the power to change our destinies.
With every political party on the brink of bottling Brexit, now is the time to decide whether we want to be subjects or citizens; whether we want to defy the millions of British voters who opted for Brexit or show solidarity with the ordinary people who look on aghast at the cavalier way in which their voices are being expunged.
I’ll be damned if the Establishment should get away with this act of vote-vandalism.
As a lifelong Leftie who’s witnessed a seemingly endless series of setbacks and defeats, I believe now is the time to transform this seismic sellout into a constructive political opportunity.
Those, like me, who voted Leave will remember how seriously we took being asked for our ‘once in a generation’ verdict on how to be governed. In the months leading up to the referendum, we were sneeringly told that a vote to Leave was a vote for economic Armageddon, for lower wages and higher costs of living.
But, armed with a fervent burst of democratic energy, we ultimately decided it was worth it.
Ever since, politicians in Westminster have treated the Brexit revolt as a terrible mistake, as if it was an act of self-harm carried out by gullible plebeians.
After being treated with such contempt, is it any wonder that old party loyalties are dying?
Now, the Left-Right divide has been replaced by democrats vs anti-democrats: with, on one side, those who will stand up for political agency; and, on the other, those who would sacrifice our democracy for the sake of revoking Brexit altogether.
Thankfully, there are large groups of decent Remain voters who respected the rules of the referendum, accepted its result and are as appalled by Parliament’s undemocratic antics as the most ardent Brexiteer. I am standing for those politically principled people, too.
Indeed, democrats of every shade should find comfort under the banners of the Brexit Party.
The Tories have long demonstrated their contempt for Brexit voters. Having promised them that ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and that ‘No Deal is better than a bad deal’, the Prime Minister has torn up her pledges and tried to sell us a Withdrawal Agreement rightly described by Nigel Farage as ‘the worst deal in history’.
The Tories will fully deserve the drubbing they look likely to receive in the European elections. But Labour voters have been betrayed, too.
During the 2017 general election campaign, Jeremy Corbyn stood on a manifesto promising to honour the referendum result.
Yet now Labour has effectively come out as the party of Remain, with 203 of its MPs – many representing Leave-voting constituencies – voting for a second referendum to overturn the result of the first. Any Labour supporter with a democratic bone in their body should show their MP what they think of this political contempt by voting Brexit Party.
Yet many of my Left-wing peers are in denial about this political shake-up. In doing so, they simultaneously cling on to their old rhetoric about supporting the working class while turning their backs on the brave, ordinary people who voted for Brexit.
I’m furious that many on the Left who have long been hostile to the EU – not least Jeremy Corbyn – have sided with the Establishment at the moment when it counts the most.
Their feeble excuse – that a ‘Tory Brexit’ is a Right-wing project supported by fascists – grossly insults the 5 million Labour voters who supported Leave and ignores the fact that a third of ethnic minorities voted Brexit.
Of course, I expect some criticism for standing for the Brexit Party. Not a day goes past without someone pontificating about Brexiteers being ‘worse than Nazis’. Often it is Labour MPs and Corbynista activists who lead this bullying, treating their own party’s traditional voters as second-class citizens who need to be sent to re-education camps to learn the party line.
I prefer to take my lead from the millions of Brexit voters who, despite being defamed as ignorant, racist, xenophobic fools for three years, have steadfastly refused to be intimidated.
I’ve been inspired by the rank and file groups of Leavers that have sprung up from Warrington to Watford and beyond, organising pro-Brexit gatherings and marches. I stand in solidarity with their democratic spirit and determination to fight.
I am a passionate supporter of liberty, equality and popular sovereignty. These values have been championed by democratic giants for hundreds of years.
Whether wielded by the Levellers during the Civil War, the Chartists in the 19th century or the Suffragettes in the early 20th, Britain has a proud history of fighting for the right of ordinary people to determine their own futures; to make Parliament answerable to us all.
Two hundred years ago, more than a dozen brave protesters died at a rally in Manchester when the cavalry charged into a vast crowd who had gathered to demand that mill workers should have an equal democratic voice to that of the factory owners.
Today, we do not face sabre-wielding military. But whether you stand on the Left or Right, we all owe it to those Peterloo martyrs to seize this once-in-a-lifetime moment and protect our hard-fought-for franchise from the new foes it faces.
Claire Fox is an MEP candidate for the Brexit Party and a panellist on Radio 4’s Moral Maze
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