John Hayes: MPs must rise to the challenge presented to us by the British people
Brexit alone will not arrest the startling decline in engagement with and belief in modern politics. Those elected to serve must shoulder their responsibilities by rejecting timidity, writes John Hayes
Of course Brexit matters. The will of 17.5 million British patriots who cast their ballot in the biggest vote ever to take place in our nation must be delivered. Surely, we should all feel shame at the abuse directed at working-class Brexiteers, derided as ‘ignorant bigots’ by an arrogant and self-regarding elite who always insists it knows best.
However, Brexit is simply one battle in a wider war raging between the 21st century’s defining political tribes. Across the whole spectrum of public policy, we face an ongoing choice – do we believe in the supranational or the communal, the global or the local. For if we favour localism founded in decision making which is sensitive to the particular needs of communities, then Brexit is merely the first step on a journey which will fundamentally reconfigure our politics.
It suits the liberal establishment that the Brexit debate has been transformed into an arch polemic of reductive polarisations. Rather than a simple vote against immigration, Brexit represents an opportunity to take back control of our borders and forge an immigration policy that is in our nation’s long-term interests. Diktats from Brussels has infantilised political debate. One of the welcome impacts of the 2016 vote is that we are at last slowly moving towards a grown-up discussion about migration and its economic, social and cultural impacts.
Considering this subject amongst others, across the UK, we have seen the rise of a bureaucratic, unaccountable class whose ‘expertise’ is founded in a system of value judgements rather than scientific empiricism. Their determination to ignore the concerns of anyone outside their socio-economic interest group is disguised as professional decision-making. The dominance of this elite is reinforced by a media which is disproportionately drawn from socially liberal Londoners. All products of the same universities and bourgeoisie enclaves.
But it will take time to rebuild our political capital. That few seem to know where we go from here is the product of an absence of defining ideas. The majority of the political class have no religious conviction, no driving philosophy and no real mission to lead. How can we blame people for being bored with politics when so much of our politics is characterised by technocratic terminology spluttered out in scripted television interviews? How can we expect constituents to have faith in their elected representatives if what they say and write is bland and sterile? How can we hope that people to have faith in politics in an era in which ‘independence’ from political control has become a panacea to all our problems?
The electorate craves authenticity. That’s why Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of polish, and perceived genuineness, is seen as a welcome contrast to the slickness of the Blair years. To many, it’s less important that his ideas amount to no more than a reheated version of 1970s socialism – with the same ruinous impact – than that he truly believes what he says. The same might be said of Jacob Rees-Mogg, whose clarity of purpose is widely regarded as emblematic of a rejection of stifling compromises.
Until more politicians ground themselves in the philosophical traditions of the past, they cannot hope to muster the intellectual gravitas to make a meaningful contribution to our future. So, as we go forward, let us remember that delivering Brexit, vitally important as that is, will not be enough in itself to arrest the startling decline in engagement with and belief in modern politics. Those elected to serve must shoulder their responsibilities by rejecting timidity. Reclaiming power from experts in the ‘dull science’ of economics, politics must be ambitious, elegiac and significant once more.
In this respect Brexit represents an exciting opportunity. But it is only a chance to change, not an answer in itself. We must rise to the challenge presented to us by the British people, who instinctively understand that change is necessary. To fail would let down those who hope for more, whether or they voted to leave the European Union or not.
John Hayes is Conservative MP for South Holland and The Deepings