The EU elections need to be a wake-up call for those of us who want a compassionate, fair, green, peaceful future
Former Green Party Leader & Co-Leader Caroline Lucas, who was an MEP for ten years writes: "Europe isn’t just about rules and the single market. It is about democracies coming together to tackle some of the major issues which confront us all".
These European elections are turning into the most important for years in the UK and that is, paradoxically, because of Brexit.
The backward-looking xenophobia of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party has dragged the Conservatives into its orbit, while many many progressive Labour voters, who are pro EU and pro freedom of movement, are abandoning the party for the Greens, after being alienated or confused by Jeremy Corbyn’s ambiguous position on Europe.
This contest is about something even more profound than Brexit alone – it’s about the kind of country we want to be. Democracy and truth are under attack, and the true agenda of those pulling the populist strings is widespread chaos in which division thrives. And the more we turn inward, the less likely we are to notice that the same damage is being done across the world – from Hungary to Brazil to the US.
At such a moment, our values and principles are paramount. Voters are turning to the Greens because they trust us to be honest. To consistently make the right call on all the big issues – opposing austerity, celebrating freedom of movement, and - crucially - championing urgent action on the accelerating climate crisis. That message is striking a chord across the country. And of course we’ve also been consistent on opposing Brexit right from the start, and I’m proud to have been one of the co-founders of the People’s Vote campaign.
But honesty also means facing this hard truth: that responsibility for the anger, exclusion and despair of the 17.4 million people who voted to leave cannot be laid solely at the door of the far right. Since February, I’ve been travelling round the country listening to Leave voters to better understand what led many of them to vote the way they did.
Time and again, I heard the same message: the status quo in this country is intolerable for huge numbers of people. The social contract is broken, levels of inequality are unsustainable, and local communities – whether rich or poor - have little or no control over the decisions that affect them.
They are right to be furious because politics has let down too many people in Britain. Many of those living in communities with proud histories, which have been hollowed out by years of de-industrialisation and neglect and where public services have been decimated in the name of austerity, felt they had nothing left to lose.
The tragedy of Brexit is that they do, and most likely will. Because leaving the EU will not solve these problems. It threatens people’s jobs and will undermine their rights. The likely hit to our economy would mean there would be less money for the NHS, schools and local services. And our ability to tackle the cross border impacts of climate and ecological breakdown will be massively undermined if we are not co-operating closely with our neighbours.
The challenge for pro-Remain parties like my own then is to make a compelling case for being part of the EU – one which fills people with hope and purpose. I know the EU is an imperfect institution – I was an MEP for ten years, and saw it close up. At times, it can be top-down, opaque and technocratic. But Europe isn’t just about rules and the single market. It is about democracies coming together to tackle some of the major issues which confront us all.
To do that we need so much more than milkshake. We need ambition, courage and vision, the very values on which the EU was first founded and which we urgently need to put back at the heart of UK politics.
The ambition of fixing Britain and ending inequality, not using Brexit to further your own political career. The courage to be truthful about the economic transformation required to stop climate breakdown, not turning on your colleagues. The vision of a future where wealth and power are shared equally for the common good, not one of deliberate discord and disadvantage.
I don’t pretend any of this is easy. But the 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg embodies the idea that nobody is too small to make a difference. And if Brexit has taught us anything, it’s that what we previously imagined unthinkable is in fact possible. Yes, these elections are a wakeup call for the establishment, for the bigger political parties who still think changing the leadership guard will reverse their fortunes. But they need to be a wakeup call too for those of us who want a compassionate, fair, green, peaceful future. Wanting and believing is not enough anymore though - we are facing an emergency on every level and it’s time to stand up, sound the alarm and unleash the power of our collective action.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton, Pavilion