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Mark Argent: Hustings opening speech — failed leadership from the Tories

June 2, 2017 11:11 PM

Mark Argent - StortfordThis is an election utterly framed by Brexit.

Brexit means the biggest cultural, political, economic and constitutional upheaval in the UK in a very long time.

Culturally, the referendum was followed by a worrying number of xenophobic attacks, revealed deep divisions, and saw people from other EU nations who have been contributing to British society for many years, choosing to leave the country.

A measure of how the civil service views it comes from the rumours of Brexit being dubbed "the catastrophe", and the Tories' naïve plans for trade deals with other Commonwealth nations as "British Empire 2.0"

Even if we can avert the worst aspects of a hard Brexit there are significant issues on the domestic agenda.

We're promising to bite the bullet and bring in a 1p increase in income tax to address the chronic funding problems for the NHS and social care - and to push for cross-party co-operation so that the NHS is not a political football.

Tory cuts to schools are undermining our children's future - at a time when increased globalisation makes education more important than ever. We're promising to reverse the Tory cuts to corporation tax in and use this money to reverse the cuts to schools: in part that recognises that business needs a well-education population.

But Brexit is the core issue. It was a gross failure of leadership for the Tories to call a referendum without establishing what one of the options on the ballot paper actually meant - and they still don't know what leaving the EU will actually mean.

It was an even greater failure of leadership not to follow up the referendum by engaging with the people who actually voted Leave. The vote has been interpreted as license for things that we were told would not happen - such as leaving the single market. I knocked on over 2000 doors in the run up to the referendum, and many more since then. I've heard all sorts of reasons for be people voting Leave. They reflect real frustrations with how life is and how things have changed. The painful reality is that many of these people are likely to lose out from Brexit, especially if it is shaped by Theresa May's megaphone diplomacy. Labour's promise of a "Brexit that works for the many" is hardly better - it's their core supporters who have most to lose.

This is time to change Britain's future away from both of those paths. It is time to work out what can be done to improve life for those who have lost out - the Institute of Fiscal Studies thinks our policies will be better for the less well-off than either the Tories' or Labours'. We think people should have a vote when the government has finally worked out what life outside the EU would look like, so people can make an informed choice between that or staying close to the European neighbours with whom we have deep and historic connections in a rapidly-changing world.