Baroness Stowell is a former leader of the House of Lords.
The video clip of Matthew Elliott getting Tony Blair bang to rights on him not accepting the EU Referendum Result is worth watching. And both wings of the Labour Party have much to learn from their own response to the result.
But they are not alone. The Conservative Party may well be in a much stronger position than Labour right now, but if it is to remain there, it too has to learn the same lessons.
The first and most basic lesson is this: when people voted to ‘take back control’, they did not intend it should be a transfer of power from Brussels to Westminster. In their eyes, the referendum was a transfer of power from politicians to the people. In taking back control, the voters believed they were setting the agenda for politicians to follow.
When Theresa May became Prime Minister she understood this. I think that’s why she didn’t rush to call a general election last autumn. As she explained many times, the people had given a clear instruction and it was her duty to carry out that instruction – even though she had supported Remain: “Brexit means Brexit.”
Her mistake was in thinking that everyone else had received and understood the instruction too. Instead, there was some argy-bargy at the Supreme Court and a power-struggle within Westminster, where Parliamentarians (including the unelected Lords of which I used to be Leader) tried to give themselves the power to overturn the referendum result.
As long as die-hard Remainers keep consoling themselves that Leave won because of a mixture of gullibility, bad faith and unrealistic expectations, they miss the point. To borrow a favourite phrase from the biggest Bremoaner of them all, rather than being tough on Brexit, they need to be tough on the causes of Brexit. Had more Labour Remain supporters shown humility and a desire to understand the contribution they played in making Brexit happen, perhaps they might not now be fighting for their political lives and the future of their party in a general election campaign.
Indeed, if all proponents of an open, confident, outward-looking Britain (I’m one of them) want to be heard by more than one another over the next few years, we not only have to accept that Brexit will happen, but also our part in bringing it about.
Which brings me to Lesson Number Two.
To the voters, the EU Referendum didn’t end up being much about the European Union. You don’t have to take my word for it. As Michael Ashcroft and Kevin Culwick conclude in their excellent book about why the UK voted to leave the EU, “Above all… the question large numbers of voters heard, and the reply they gave, was nothing much to do with the European Union. People tried to wrestle with such facts as were available, and to make sense of the competing promises and claims. But, ultimately, the question many saw was ‘Are you happy with the way things are, and the way they seem to be going?’ And their answer was: ‘Well, since you ask… no.’”
Again, May seems to be the only serious party leader who understands what this means: that Brexit is simply a means to an end, and the result voters want is for the way things work in this country to change. Therefore, because Labour, the LibDems and the SNP didn’t learn Lesson One, this General Election is not about Brexit, it’s about the causes of Brexit.
Now we come to the all-important Lesson Number Three.
Being a politician on the “Leave” side of the referendum campaign doesn’t mean that you don’t need to change, too.
Whilst it’s true that many accomplished and experienced politicians, such as Tony Blair and Nick Clegg, don’t understand the risks they are taking by ignoring the part they played in causing the disruption they now fear, that doesn’t mean everyone else is getting it right.
The destruction of UKIP in last week’s Local Elections is luring high-profile supporters of VoteLeave and long-standing Conservative Eurosceptics into a false sense of security – and this is compounded by unwitting Remainers congratulating them on everything they’ve achieved. They might have learned Lesson One, but they haven’t learned or have already forgotten Lesson Two.
We must keep reminding ourselves that Brexit didn’t cause a divide: it exposed one that already existed. It’s the divide between those of us who hold power in politics, unions or business and those people who are labelled “just about managing”, “hard-working people”, “squeezed middle”, “alarm clock Britons” or “ordinary working people”. In other words, the voters who politicians from both Leave and Remain sides say they back, but have a long way to go to show they really mean it.
May is attracting support from previous UKIP and Labour voters because she’s the only party leader to have demonstrably respected the transfer of power that occurred via the referendum result; show she understands that Brexit is just a means to an end; and begun to show “ordinary working people” that she’s ready to learn from them.
In other words, she has learned lessons one, two and three.
What the voters want is for everyone in a position of power or influence to do the same. As is widely acknowledged, the whole political map is changing and, to voters weighing up who to vote for at the General Election, the question they seem to be asking themselves is this: who is with us and who is against us?
Next week will see the launch of the Conservative Party’s manifesto. As Conservative members prepare to weigh up the new policy proposals (some of which might not be of the kind normally found in Tory manifestos), it might be worth keeping the voters’ question in mind – and the three lessons all political parties need to learn if they are to survive and thrive.