Lesley McLeod: From my Westminster bubble I helped create Brexit – and I am ashamed

Lesley McLeod, CEO, Association for Project Safety
Lesley McLeod, CEO, Association for Project Safety
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Where I grew up, ­January is very black time of the year. The long Caithness winter nights started ­early and clung on well after the turn of the year. But, despite that, I remember the dark months as a lively season of concerts and music and bountiful conviviality. Still, Thurso could feel a long way from anywhere, perched as it is on the farthest mainland shore right on the edge of Europe.

I suppose that was why our ­little town was so keen for its young people to discover other cultures and ­places.

I remember sighting La Rochelle from the deck of the education cruise ship SS Uganda. I started a lifelong love affair with the Portuguese ­capital when we docked in Lisbon. And I was almost permanently put off tinned fish when they took us round a ­sardine cannery in Vigo. Later, I spent time with a German family on a school exchange and in Saarbrucken as a UK representative to the then EEC. I love Europe – and I make no ­apology for it.

I had vowed not to write about ­Brexit. Not least as I am well aware that, like any other group of ­people, members of the Association for Project Safety have differing views which shade every opinion from right out to further in.

But I can bear it no longer. I am going to abandon any attempt at ­neutrality – these are my thoughts alone.

I don’t want to leave. I would ­rather ditch a union with England than a relationship with Europe.

This whole Brexit debacle is a ­misconceived mess that will leave the UK economically poorer and intellectually and culturally diminished. It was cooked up by a Conservative party incapable of holding its feuding sides together and facilitated by David Cameron, a prime minister so used to getting his own way he didn’t believe he could lose, so he put up no fight to remain. It was perpetuated by a Labour opposition with no position of its own and without the mental or political nous to muster enough fire-power to challenge the least competent government I have ever known.

The devolved administrations are nowhere to be seen as they have been left outside the door as the grown-ups got on with the conversation without them. They can stamp their feet all they want, but Theresa May is simply not going to listen – and there is ­nothing they can do about it.

But, worse than that, we got a UK vote that chose to leave the EU because an inner-M25 elite lost all sense of reality or knowledge of the cares and concerns of normal ­people. I know – I was one of them. And I am deeply and enduringly ashamed.

They say that populism is on the rise across the world as if, in some way, people power is something to be resisted. The truth, in my view, is that our politicians – and the army of professional crawlers and consultants who surround them – failed the people they were meant to serve.

People like me despised and ­disparaged. We told people what was good for them from a lofty ­position of ­privilege and comfort. Policies, whipped through without concern for the consequences, have left ­people poorer and – in more and more cases – homeless and hopeless.

Our services and the fabric of town and country need urgent attention, yet the country’s cake is increasingly consumed in an over-populated south-east that’s systematically draining the life out of communities elsewhere. Brexit, Trump or Macron – and the ‘gilets jaunes’ – are the result.

But make no bones about it, it is ­people like me who are the cause. For years I worked in the Westminster ­bubble becoming bubble-headed as a result. When you only speak to your own, you become deaf to other views, except that your opponent is there to be beaten.

Our Prime Minister has never been good at hearing other people – even those in her own camp. She has led a fractious rabble intent on devouring each other’s ambitions as they claw their way towards dreams of the premiership. The country’s interests have only come into play when they created a sliver of hope for self-promotion.

I believe Brexit is a historical disaster. It will leave Britain marooned and isolated on the outside, a friend to no one and reliant on the patronage of bigger and more hostile patrons.

We will lose our say. We have most definitely lost our way.

Lesley McLeod, CEO, Association for Project Safety.