John Hayes is Member of Parliament for South Holland and The Deepings and serves as the Security Minister.
It now seems possible that the British people are on the brink of making a decision of great historical importance. When David Cameron announced that, if re-elected, he would call the first referendum on our membership of the European Union since 1975, few predicted that so many would clamber for the exit. What the chatterati failed to realise is that the majority of people have woken up to just what a profound impact on our laws, and how we are governed, the unaccountable institutions of the EU are having.
Many of those that want Britain to remain in the European Union still can’t see what most people I meet know well. The most unreconstructed Europhiles cling to the (ironically dated) idea that to be pro-EU is modern, clever and chic; it’s the zeitgeist. But this tired notion of how things work was forged back in the dark days of Tony Blair and the hollow triumph of New Labour.
Back then, it was the height of fashion to believe in a ‘progressive’ liberal majority, keen to embrace the continental principles of abstract rights and written constitutions, rather than time-honoured English common law. Though this narrative ran counter to the unique character of British history since the Reformation, anyone who questioned the ‘right on’ smartness of ideas like incorporating the European Convention of Human Rights into our law, or, for that matter, joining the European single currency, was dismissed as out-of-date, insular or small minded.
I always knew that this was at odds with what people thought and felt, not least from listening to the thousands of people I meet in my South Holland and the Deepings constituency. People want what they always have – Government to be there when they need it and stay out of their lives when they don’t.
The referendum campaign is the final indication that what could be called the ‘Blair paradigm’ is at an end. The overwhelming rejection of the abolition of our voting system in 2011 and the election of a majority Conservative Government in 2015 were both indications that the so-called ‘progressive majority’ Blair often talked about simply does not exist. The zeitgeist is where people are, not where the bourgeoisie progressives think it ought to be.
One great Conservative reformer from a previous era, Rab Butler, once said that politics is ‘the art of the possible.’ What we are seeing now is nothing less than a shift in what is possible, in what politics can achieve. The British people now have a chance, probably for the last time, to take back control, to restore to their proper place the democratic institutions that have served our nation so well over hundreds of years. The only chance of a fresh start is to vote leave.
Simultaneously, the opportunity to counter the long dominant Whiggish assumptions about progress is deliciously seductive.
To vote leave is to redefine what’s possible and to know the only limit on all we can be is – not a predefined progress to a preordained end – but the extent of our dreams.