The Last Word: Disarray on Brexit

theresa-may-tories-768x576Labour’s opportunity to shape Brexit, why progressives must deliver for the young, and World Mental Health Day – Progress director Richard Angell has the Last Word

First published on ProgressOnline

It is becoming clearer and clearer that half of the government’s aims for Brexit are incompatible with the other half of its aims for Brexit.

Theresa May set out a position in her Florence speech that the United Kingdom would have a two-year transition period following March 2019, during which we would have the ‘exact same trading arrangements we have now’. However, this week, the prime minister told the House of Commons that we will leave the single market and customs union in March 2019. That is not just unclear; the two statements are entirely contradictory.

It is a point that was ably made by Progress chair Alison McGovern in the chamber, saying to May: ‘The prime minister is proposing that we want a thing, and the opposite of that thing. How will she resolve this obvious contradiction?’ Unfortunately, the Conservatives seem preoccupied with party infighting, proposing publicly-funded Brexit yachts, and encouraging a worst-case scenario, no deal, World Trade Organisation terms outcome than actually coming up with a coherent plan for how the British economy will work in just 18 months.

To understand just how remarkably empty-headed this is, read the article Alison followed up with on LabourList.

With the government in such disarray, Labour has an opportunity to really shape what Brexit will look like in the medium term. All the party needs is to work out a clear and simple approach. For me, it is clear: commit to staying in the single market. It would give more seriousness to the leadership’s claim for a ‘jobs-first Brexit’, and retain the obvious trade benefits that even hard Eurosceptic rightwingers in the Tory party cannot deny exist.

That is exactly what we discussed in the first episode of our new podcast, Progressive Britain, which launched this week. Subscribe now, and let us know what you think – we would love to hear any feedback.

Progressives must deliver for the young

The best piece from Alison’s guest edit on LabourList (other than McGovern’s aforementioned piece and my article of local councils enforcing the national minimum wage, obviously) was from Jade Azim.
She looks at the misunderstanding of the millennials – mostly graduates – that made up the Corbyn-surge in June this year. She scorns the lazy analysis: ‘much conversation still considers this class through the prism of old class politics – manual versus non-manual – pitting them against not just other generations but the traditional working class.’
She says, however, it would be ‘easy for me to follow the Sadiq Khan line: “Working class girl and middle class woman”. But unlike Sadiq’s journey, me and my peers with similar journeys will build our social capital – but are very unlikely to procure capital itself; be it money, housing, or any other tangible wealth.’
Azim provides much food for though. It is key that progressive politics delivers progression for the generations. This is not happening. The trend started in the UK with progressives in office – we should be honest about that, it has been exacerbated by the Tory government that followed. Azim’s analysis is an opportunity for Labour to start its rethinking.

World Mental Health Day

This Tuesday Progress marked World Mental Health Day with a special guest edit by Progress strategy board member Joanne Harding. There were excellent pieces from Joanne, Liz Dobres, Dan Heley and Labour Campaign for Mental Health president Luciana Berger – on everything from the impact mental health has on business and how employers can be more mental health friendly, personal accounts of interacting with overstretched mental health services, and the strain Tory underfunding of those services is placing on police officers on the front line.

In 2012, Ed Miliband gave a speech to the Royal College of Psychiatrists where he condemned the fact mental health was treated as an ‘afterthought’ compared to physical afflictions. In the years that followed, due in no small part to the emphasis Miliband placed on mental health as Labour leader, as well as brave interventions from parliamentarians like Kevan Jones, John Woodcock and Berger about their personal struggles with their own mental health, it has become a burning issue.

Jeremy Corbyn used his first speech as Labour party leader to challenge the Tories to make parity of esteem a reality, not a slogan – and, to his credit, has used the Labour leadership to hold the Conservatives’ feet to the fire on mental health funding at every turn, forcing even Theresa May to acknowledge mental health as one of the ‘burning injustices’ facing modern British society when she took office.

But warm words from the prime minister are not enough – as Dobres said in her piece, for the sake of those that are struggling with their mental health and their loved ones, May must turn words into action and give mental health services the funding they need.

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Richard Angell is director of Progress. He tweets at @RichardAngell

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