Success in politics, as with so many things, is often about learning from past mistakes. What is surprising, perhaps, is how few in politics – full as they are of their own sense of certainty – are able to do this.
Following last week’s catastrophic election results for the Labour Party, which saw millions of their traditional supporters abandon them for the Brexit Party, Labour moved further towards supporting a second referendum. As the party inched towards formally repudiating the views of 17.4 million people, it seems its leaders are quite incapable of learning from what happened in 2015.
Ed Miliband’s inability to understand, let alone articulate, the anti-EU sentiment of millions of voters during the general election campaign in 2015 helps explain why he fell far short of a majority. Rather than recognise any of that, Labour looks set to repeat Miliband’s mistake on an even grander scale.
The Conservatives seem even less capable of learning from what went wrong when it comes to Europe. For forty years, the party has tripped up repeatedly as it has attempted to be both a party of the nation, and one whose leadership defaults towards closer European integration.
In the early 1990s, this meant joining the European Exchange Rate mechanism – with disastrous economic and political consequences. In 2009, it meant David Cameron putting aside his ‘cast iron’ guarantee to oppose the Lisbon treaty. His party’s poll ratings fell as a direct consequence, and in the ensuing election against Gordon Brown, he failed to secure a majority and was forced into coalition with Nick Clegg.
Finally, in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum, it seemed as if the Conservative Party might at last come to its senses and embrace leaving the EU. Instead, they have made a mess of it, with various would-be Tory leaders quick to tell us that leaving the EU without the EU’s permission would be a disaster.