Southwark Has Spoken and it's a 'No' to Brexit

So the United Kingdom has spoken and we are now set (perhaps or perhaps not) to leave the European Union.

The decision has caused one of the biggest upheavals in recent political history which could (and probably will) have ramifications that last far into the future.

The short term effects seem painful enough with the value of sterling falling to its lowest in 31 years, and approximately $3tn being wiped off of global stocks.

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Somewhat ironically Leave’s biggest donor has already lost £400m as the FTSE 100 was hit, although there has been a recovery since.

As for the long term – your guess is as good as mine although the looming question of a re-energised independence campaign facing Scotland (and possibly Northern Ireland and Wales) seems a real possibility.

What is clear is that over 17 million people voted for Brexit last Thursday, and they did so for a whole host of reasons.

Some believe the EU fails to live up to the ideals of internationalism or democracy or the promotion of prosperity. They believe that a brexit will restore Britain to its rightful place on the world stage; an architect of its own future, unbound by stifling bureaucracy and red tape. We will have to wait and see who is right about that.

What has emerged is that support for Brexit seems to have come from those who feel left behind in a changing world – mainly those who are less well off, less traditionally educated, older, and who feel far removed from the most dynamic, moneyed urban centres.

It is easy to see how some of these people feel forgotten and perhaps this referendum gave them a chance to be heard. The instinct outside of Scotland and London is to seek security – to oppose immigration, to oppose sending British money abroad (whether in EU contributions or as foreign aid), and subscribe to an idea of traditional British greatness.

The Realignment of Our Politics and Our Nation

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If you look at Southwark’s voting record a rather different picture emerges. The borough voted overwhelmingly (along with most of London) to vote to remain in the EU, with almost three quarters (72.3%) ticking that box.

An interesting question has been raised as a result by the leader of Southwark Council. Peter John labelled the decision to leave the EU as the “beginning of the realignment of our politics and nation.”

He went one step further and said it would be a “legitimate question” if London were to consider a future independent from the United Kingdom “just like people in Scotland did last year”.

He went on to state that “London would be the 15th largest EU state, bigger than Austria, Denmark and Ireland and our values are in line with Europe – outward looking, confident of our place in the world, enriched by our diversity and stronger working together with our friends and neighbours than we are alone.”

Is this an idea that appeals to you? If so there is an online petition that has been signed by 175,000 people at the time of writing for London to be declared independent and join the EU.

To sign it click here. 

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has distanced himself from the idea of a United States of London.

He declared: "As much as I might like the idea of a London city state, I'm not seriously talking about independence today. I am not planning to install border points on the M25!

"But on behalf of all Londoners, I am demanding more autonomy for the capital - right now. More autonomy in order to protect London's economy from the uncertainty ahead, to protect the businesses from around the world who trade here and to protect our jobs, wealth and prosperity."

He stressed that he wasn’t “asking for London to get a bigger slice of the British pie”, only for Londoners to “get more control over the slice of the pie we already get.”

An independent London seems unlikely but the ramifications of Brexit may well have a substantial impact on Southwark.

The borough has the third highest financial sector employment in the country and companies who have bases in Southwark such as HSBC and Morgan Stanley have indicated that they may transfer jobs to other EU member states. 

A New Trend Sweeping Politics

Aside from the effects of the Brexit vote on the UK’s finance and infrastructure, the decision is causing deep schisms within the two main political parties.

After David Cameron’s resignation the Conservative party is set to embark on a leadership election to determine the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. At the time of writing it appears that Conservative party members will be choosing between Boris Johnson, Teresa May, Stephen Crabb, Liam Fox and Jeremy Hunt. I’m sure one or two more will throw their hat in the ring.

Not to be outdone by their rivals across the House of Commons, the Labour Party appear hell bent on self-destruction as a concerted campaign to oust Jeremy Corbyn as leader is well and truly underway.

It appears as if a new trend is sweeping politics – publicising your resignation letter on social media for all the world to see. Even if you are resigning from a role that few people had even heard of.

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Southwark and Old Bermondsey’s very own MP Neil Coyle jumped on the bandwagon as he resigned from his position as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Leader of the House team. I’m fairly sure that I’m not the only one who wasn’t even aware of this role or what exactly it entails but Mr Coyle felt that it was important enough to share via his twitter account.

The statement itself alludes to examples of the potential damaging effects of the Brexit vote and cites job losses that have already occurred in Southwark. Mr Coyle believes that the ensuing weeks and months will see this trend continue.

The MP, who deposed Simon Hughes in last year's general election, also predicts that tourism will be hit. Whether this will see a reduction in seven million people who visit the borough annually remains to be seen.

The statement ends on a foreboding note – if Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t do the “honourable thing” and step down as leader he risks potentially destroying the Labour party. Some may argue that a swathe of MPs launching a coup at a time when the party needs to be unified may achieve exactly that.

It appears that we will now have a new leadership contest after Corbyn lost a no-confidence motion by 172 votes to 40 within the parliamentary Labour party. Angela Eagle and Tom Watson are being mooted as potential challengers.

How Do We Build a More Integrated Society?

The shockwaves of the referendum decision are set to be felt for months and years to come. Whether you voted In or Out the key question is how do we build a more integrated society, in which people see diversity as enriching and energising, rather than threatening?

Southwark, and more broadly London, certainly appears to be at odds with the rest of the UK.

Connected communities will become incredibly important going forward, where people from all walks of life come together to tackle the issues that affect them and engage in meaningful discussions in how to shape where they live.

If you feel compelled to become more engaged in your community the why not sign up to the Southwark CAN website? Or come along to the next Community Action Network meeting in your area?

If you have any questions about how you can get involved, whether it is in the democratic process of a leadership election or getting shaping your community then don’t hesitate to get in touch. engage@communitysouthwark.org

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.