Why we need a People’s Vote

Placard at the People’s Vote March, London, June 2018. Photo © Matthew Perks.

“We’ve had a People’s Vote.” The words come out of his mouth begrudgingly, dismissive of my entreaty to sign the petition for a People’s Vote.  He walks by swiftly before I can engage any further.  His response piques my curiosity.  I’m used to most Leavers saying, “We’ve had a vote.” This one has claimed we’ve already had a People’s Vote.  Have we?

“Is that another referendum?” others ask.  Truthfully, I have to say “Yes” because in practical terms it would be run like a referendum, but I want to convey that it is so much more.

I usually end up saying that we’re calling it a People’s Vote because we want to distinguish it from the 2016 referendum which is true.  This vote will be on the terms of the actual Brexit deal, not the mish-mash of lies, manipulation and wishful thinking served up in the spring of 2016. But I think it is even more than that. It is a vote that the people want and are calling for.

The 2016 referendum was not called for by the people.  It was not wanted by the people.  It was in the Conservative manifesto for the 2015 General Election which they won on 36.9% of the votes.  Even assuming everyone who voted Tory positively wanted a referendum, it was only supported by a small minority of the country.

The referendum was not even called for the right motives.  It was not a genuine attempt to find out what the people really thought about our relationship with Europe. It was called to settle a rift in the Tory party. It was hasty, unprepared and carried through with breath-taking complacency. No supermajority.  The advisory status was there but diminished to nothing by the ramping up of the political stakes by David Cameron.  How many times have we had the phrase “This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide” thrown back at us?

And then we were given four months to campaign. Four months to get to grips ourselves with what the EU actually is, because unknown by many Leavers it seems, most of us were not paid up Europhiles.  Four months to unravel and debunk the 40-odd years of myth, lie, hyperbole and hysteria about the EU that has emanated from our (mostly) right-wing media.  Four months to watch the lacklustre foreboding that was the Stronger In campaign headed by stale politicians in studios. Four months of essentially not involving the people.

So, this was not a People’s Vote because it was not wanted by the people, not held for the people, not carried out by the people.

Although it has been nightmarish to watch the horror of Brexit unfold over the last two years, it has at least given us time to reflect and organise, to practise our arguments, seek out that expert opinion and factual information and speak to others about how they will be affected.  So what now? The People’s Vote petition, The Independent’s Final Say petitionand recent polls are showing that the people are increasingly demanding a final say on the Brexit deal.  Why? So the people and not the politicians can make an informed choice for our country’s future.  This is too big a deal to leave to the politicians.  How? Through a campaign that will have real, ordinary people at every level as well as at grassroots.  A campaign where thousands of people are motivated to take to the streets peacefully.  A campaign where the people lead the debate, ask the questions and seek the answers.

Now that’s what I call a People’s Vote.

Claire Thomas