The ti­tan we need to lead

The New European - - Agenda - An­drew Ado­nis

Lit­tle in life can be achieved with­out lead­ers. A ques­tion I get asked in all my Brexit pub­lic meet­ings is: “Who will lead us to the promised land?”

My an­swer is: Sir John Ma­jor plus a team in­clud­ing Nicola Stur­geon,

Caro­line Lu­cas and which­ever prom­i­nent Labour politi­cians prove ca­pa­ble of lead­ing in the anti-brexit di­rec­tion most Labour mem­bers want.

The point of the ques­tion is that there is no cur­rent leader of ‘Re­main’. It could have been Jeremy Cor­byn, but he went to Geneva for a sem­i­nar on Gen­eral Pinochet rather than ad­dress­ing the Peo­ple’s Vote march of 700,000, which was our break­through mo­ment.

Cor­byn has a key part to play in se­cur­ing the Peo­ple’s Vote – as­sum­ing he does show that vi­tal lead­er­ship next week – and he will own it there­after. But he clearly doesn’t want to lead a pro-euro­pean move­ment. He will be a fel­low trav­eller.

Do­minic Grieve has shown im­mense courage and prin­ci­ple. But he isn’t ‘the’ leader, as he showed in his now fa­mous Duke of York mo­ment, when he moved a mo­tion to push to­wards a ref­er­en­dum, then voted against it un­der pres­sure from Theresa May.

I get a warm re­sponse to the idea of Ma­jor, par­tic­u­larly in the English shires where the next ref­er­en­dum will be won or lost. There was loud ap­plause for the sug­ges­tion in East­bourne and Tun­bridge Wells, with ap­plause too for Lu­cas and Stur­geon, both of whom com­mand re­spect well beyond their own par­ties.

Of our former prime min­is­ters, Ma­jor is supreme. Partly this is be­cause he got some very big things right, no­tably the start of the North­ern Ire­land peace process and the Maas­tricht Treaty which gave us an opt-in to the euro. Partly also be­cause he got noth­ing wrong of ul­ti­mate sig­nif­i­cance. Black Wed­nes­day and the en­forced exit of ster­ling from the ex­change rate mech­a­nism was a po­lit­i­cal hu­mil­i­a­tion but of mi­nor eco­nomic con­se­quence and of far less ac­count than Iraq or Brexit.

Ma­jor has also made a suc­cess of be­ing a former prime min­is­ter, a task as hard as do­ing the job it­self. He hasn’t gone in for con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion or con­tro­ver­sial in­ter­na­tional jaunts. He has only in­ter­vened on is­sues where a se­ri­ous wrong turn may be in prospect.

His speeches and in­ter­views on Brexit – be­gin­ning low key but ris­ing in fre­quency and ur­gency – have mir­rored the na­tional mood and sit­u­a­tion. He has a par­tic­u­lar rap­port with the provin­cial English To­ries, with a prag­matic ‘keep calm and carry on’ al­ter­na­tive to Farage and Rees-mogg’s brand of in­creas­ingly stri­dent English na­tion­al­ism.

I’m sure Ma­jor won’t rel­ish lead­er­ship be­ing thrust upon him and I’m not sure he will ac­cept it. But his very re­luc­tance and lack of fu­ture am­bi­tion make him all the more en­dear­ing.

Lu­cas and Stur­geon are both es­sen­tially ‘so­cial democrats with edge’. When I sug­gested them in Wim­ble­don this week, a Labour mem­ber asked whether Lu­cas was the best leader Labour never had in Eng­land, and Stur­geon the best leader we never had in Scot­land. I couldn’t pos­si­bly com­ment but oth­ers may agree.

Don’t fall into the trap of think­ing that Brexit is a plague on all politi­cians and what we need is a cam­paign led by busi­ness peo­ple and celebri­ties. In pol­i­tics, that al­ways ends in tears be­cause busi­ness lead­ers rarely know what it takes to be a po­lit­i­cal leader and be­ing a foot­ball com­men­ta­tor or pop singer doesn’t mean you are taken se­ri­ously when of­fer­ing your views on the fu­ture of NATO. Re­call the dis­as­ter of Sir Stu­art Rose last time.

It is es­sen­tial to have re­spected lead­ers from other fields as part of the cam­paign, in­clud­ing prom­i­nent youth lead­ers. But Re­main isn’t se­ri­ous un­less it is led by peo­ple who have a claim to be able to gov­ern the coun­try suc­cess­fully.

A foot­note about me. I have lit­er­ally been called the ‘bubonic plague’ by the BBC’S An­drew Neil for my na­tion­wide Brexit tour. So some­thing con­ta­gious is com­ing near you soon.

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