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Our best bet is to contain the centrifugal forces unleashed by Brexit
Simon Parker, published in LGC, 27 June, 2016

I’m one of the 48% who voted Remain and, if I’m honest, I’d rather not be writing this blog.

It would be very easy to curl up into a ball and try to ignore the crashing value of sterling and the falling markets. It would be even easier to give in to a sense of angry powerlessness.

But we can’t afford that. The people have voted for change and all of us are going to have to make the best of it. The challenge now is to take this moment not only to bring powers back from Brussels, but to thoroughly renovate our creaking democracy.

I recognise the impulses that have driven so many people to vote Leave. Britain’s economic performance has not been spread evenly or fairly across the country. Our overly-centralised political system has bred an arrogant and out-of-touch elite. Asking people in Swansea and parts of the East Midlands to vote for the status quo was never going to work: too many of them didn’t feel like they had much to lose by taking a chance on change.

London represents a particular challenge. The city voted to Remain, which emphasises the gulf that is opening up between the values of the metropolis and the rest of the country. Sadiq Khan has already called for the UK to stay in the single market. It is inconceivable that the referendum will not lead London to call for more power and greater financial independence.

Whatever else it may achieve, Brexit forces us to step back and re-examine the British constitution. We are a divided nation, whose people increasingly want the freedom to see their differences recognised and celebrated. Our national politics has been tarnished, if not poisoned, by both sides in the referendum campaign. Our economy faces a rough ride. It is difficult to imagine the democratic status quo surviving this series of hammer blows.

Our best bet may be to try to contain the huge centrifugal forces unleashed by today’s choice within a new federal settlement: a confederation of the northern cities, a Greater London region. The public are soon going to realise that a remote Westminster is not much better than a remote Brussels. The Leave campaign slogan was ‘take back control’. Its leaders need to show us that they really meant it, by giving up their own overweening national power and putting it in the hands of ordinary people.


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