School of Politics and International Relations

Labour's former Defence Secretary argues that the causes of Brexit are mainly economic at CBP guest speaker seminar

As part its guest speaker series, the Centre for British Politics (CBP) welcomed Lord Geoff Hoon, who represented the Derbyshire constituency of Ashfield for the Labour Party from 1992 until 2010.  Mark Stuart, CBP fellow and assistant professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, reflects on the event:

Labour’s former Defence Secretary spoke about the economic causes of Brexit, drawing eloquently upon the former mining town of Eastwood, the setting for D. H. Lawrence’s novel, Sons and Lovers. In Lawrence’s day, nearly every village and town had a coal mine, allowing people to leave school without qualifications at the age of 15. People were politically engaged, believing in ‘mutual interdependence’. However, in the 1990s, the textile industry collapsed due to the introduction of new technology and foreign competition. Meanwhile, every time a colliery closed, 800 men lost their jobs until by the year 2000, there were no coalfields left in the area.

The effect of these economic changes was to produce fewer opportunities for employment and political disengagement. With the Brexit Referendum in June 2016, this group of disengaged voters ‘suddenly found something to vote for’. The situation in Eastwood has been repeated across the Midlands and where traditional industries have gone and with it opportunities for unskilled jobs. As a result, seats like Mansfield and North East Derbyshire were lost by Labour to the Conservatives in 2017, something which would have been astonishing twenty years before.

Surveying the current political scene, Hoon made four key observations:

1) That the two party system is under strain in England (something that has already been witnessed in the other three nations - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)

2) The two main parties – Labour and Conservative – are divided between their memberships and their leaderships. ‘The parties produce leaders that conform to their views’. As a result, a gap has opened up between party members and the communities in which they lived.

3) Our First-Past-The-Post system, which is meant to produce strong government, has not produced a strong majority since 2005. The Conservatives were ‘deluding themselves’ if they thought that their current opinion poll lead would translate into a majority government.

4) The UK’s Constitution had rested on the twin pillars of strong party government and a gentleman’s agreement to behave honourably. These two pillars were crumbling, creating the need for electoral reform at Westminster and the creation of a Commission to draw up a written constitution.


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Posted on Wednesday 9th October 2019

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