“THERE is no such thing as public opinion,” said Winston Churchill. “There is only published opinion.”
If you are an MP in the North of England, as we are, ‘published opinion’ (and Nigel Farage) tells you we are surrounded by shouty people who all voted for Brexit; whose entire lives are dominated by anger that the “elites” are betraying them.
‘Published opinion’ states that we Northern Labour MPs live in constant fear of losing our seats, unless we repeat that mantra that Leave means Leave and – if we don’t deliver ‘the will of the people’ – we are all heading for the political scrapyard.
Journalist after journalist writes it. Broadcaster after broadcaster says it out loud. The London-based metropolitan media has declared it so. The North is Brexitland.
On the rare occasion when they venture outside Westminster, they depict ‘the North’ with films of chimney pots and run-down mills and find a few angry men who warn that there will be riots on the streets if Brexit is not delivered immediately.
Of course such people do exist, but they exist in London too. And Brighton. and Cambridge. And Glasgow. But these are ‘Remain’ cities. How dare the media use our constituents to reaffirm Brexit stereotypes of 2016? They were stereotypes then and they still are.
Yes, we all know Leavers who still want Brexit. But we also know Leavers who, now they know what Brexit will mean for their families, jobs and incomes, have changed their mind.
We know people who are adamantly opposed to a People’s Vote. We know others who were opposed, but who now see it as the only democratic way out of the mess we are in.
Earlier this year, the biggest poll done so far of more than 6,000 voters across three Northern regions – the North East, North West and Yorkshire and the Humber – showed they would now split narrowly in favour of staying in the EU if they were allowed another say.
This shift of opinion is particularly true of Labour voters. The myth has taken hold that, just because a constituency voted for Leave, Labour voters in those seats did the same.
The truth is that Labour voters split by a margin of two to one in favour of Remain in the referendum. A poll of 5,000 Labour voters in the party’s “heartlands” of the North and the Midlands last month showed that margin has risen to three to one – and four to one if they were faced with a choice between the Government’s Brexit deal and remaining in the EU.
So much for ‘published opinion’.
We remember that prior to the referendum the EU did not top the concerns of our constituents. No one ever mentioned it on the doorstep. It was austerity, rising crime, hospital waiting times and the cost of living.
Where were fund manager Jacob Rees-Mogg, Morgan-driving Iain Duncan Smith and Telegraph columnist Boris Johnson, as our schools crumbled, poverty increased, knife crime soared and our NHS was stretched to the limit?
We understand that there are those in the Labour membership who reject the idea of a confirmatory vote and who believe we must respect the result of the 2016 referendum.
Yet it is precisely because we respect the 2016 referendum that there must be a confirmatory vote. Such was the number of people who took part, from across the North of England, that the result requires confirmation now that we know the promises made in the last referendum will be broken.
Just as we reject Northern caricatures, we equally reject that all Leavers want the same thing.
There is a genuine risk of unmet expectations. That Brexit will be seen as a Parliamentary ‘stitch up,’ and they have every right to say this is not the Brexit they asked for. Those who voted Leave, voted against the status quo. But nobody voted for the mess the country is now in. To overcome this requires more democracy – not less.
We, as Labour MPs, believe firmly that a People’s Vote is not only in keeping with Labour party policy, but also with Labour values and we need all MPs to push back against simplistic caricatures of our voters.
We have all had criticism and praise aplenty. But we can count the angry confrontations in single digits. We can count the reasonable, thoughtful, anxious, serious conversations with the silent majority of people who know that we, as MPs, are having to make difficult decisions about their futures in the thousands.
The stereotyping and the caricaturing has to stop. If the media took these issues as seriously as our voters do, the debate would be very different.
Mary Creagh is the Labour MP for Wakefield. She has written this piece in conjunction with Redcar MP Anna Turley, Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, Newcastle upon Tyne North MP Catherine McKinnell and the People’s Vote campaign.