Monday, 23 May 2016

The Left & Brexit: Is Corbyn Trying?

by Les May
LAST Saturday's edition of the 'i' newspaper had a column by Andrew Grice, headed 'Corbyn could decide the EU vote – so why isn't he trying?' 
Now both the 'i' and Grice 'have form' in being negative about Corbyn and this piece was no exception.  So it was hinted that Corbyn is making a half-hearted attempt to persuade Labour voters to back 'Remain' and that he is an instinctive 'Outer' who voted to leave in 1975, and only 'went with the flow' of his party when he became leader.

On the letters page was this:
'On Thursday I was privileged to be in a packed audience in Bristol to hear him (ed. Corbyn) make an impassioned and forceful case for Remain.  Not the modified Tory leadership race but a positive case for the good that has been done for the environment, the right of workers to fair treatment, and care and concern for the disadvantaged.' 
The writer went on to point out that there was no mention on the TV news and local BBC news had something low down in the running order.

So obsessed has the press become with the Tory infighting over the EU that the notion that there might be a distinctive case to be made from a left-wing perspective both for remaining in the EU and for leaving it, is never aired.  This reflects the fact that since the 1970s the whole locus of political debate in Britain has shifted so far to the right to such an extent that anything else is inconceivable.  Grice and the 'i' are manifestations of this phenomenon.

The Guardian's economics editor Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson the economics editor of the Mail on Sunday have been commissioned to write from a left of centre perspective a book on the Euro in the wake of last summer's crisis about the possibility that Greece would exit the single currency.  The book 'Europe isn't working' will be published by Yale University Press in the autumn, but Elliot gave us a flavour of the contents in last Friday's Guardian.

Elliot reports, seemingly with approval:
'Tony Benn's warning at the time of the 1975 referendum that Britain was signing up for something that was 'undemocratic, deflationary and run in the interests of big business' and 'I can think of no body of men outside of the Kremlin who have so much power without a shred of accountability for what they do'.

Is it surprising then that, like me, Corbyn and about one in three of the population voted against continued membership?

But having stated so well the left-of-centre case for leaving in 1975 Elliot weakens his case for leaving now by resorting to a 'catch all' argument when he goes on:
 'The left-of-centre case for divorces is that Europe doesn't work, is not remotely progressive and is heading for an existential crisis anyway.  Last year's crisis was Grexit.  This year's threat is Brexit.  Next years threat will be something else; Italy leaving the single currency, perhaps, or Marie Le Pen's tilt at the French presidency.'

If Elliott thinks this is a 'left-of-centre' case for Brexit he is fooling himself.  Anyone in the Brexit camp could have made it and probably has already.

But in fairness to Elliott he states the case for continued membership of the EU succinctly. 'One left-of-centre argument against Brexit is that it it would result in the break up of the Euro and set of a chain reaction that would lead to the next global crisis; a perfectly fair point.  Those who fear that another recession and even higher levels of joblessness would threaten a return to the totalitarian politics of the 1930s are right to highlight the risks.'

What Tony Benn said in 1975 still applies.  But in my judgement leaving now risks all the above and ignores the fact that we in Britain have our own pretty good record of governments letting the interests of big business override questions of accountability and avoiding democratic decision
making when it suits them.

Here are two recently reported examples.  Last Thursday speaking at a CBI bash Alastair Darling recounted how in May 2008 Fred, 'The Shred', Goodwin had phoned him to say:
'RBS is haemorrhaging money. We can only survive another two or three hours.  What are YOU going to do about it?'  I'll repeat that, 'What are YOU going to do about it?'

A month after Goodwin took early retirement RBS announced the largest corporate annual loss in UK history of £24.1 billion.  This didn't stop the pro-Brexit Daily Telegraph saying, 'his grasp of finance is in the Alpha class' and that he was 'unlikely to be in the growing queue of jobless bankers' for long'.

Had Darling let RBS go bust Goodwin would have been entitled to a pension of £28,000 a year at starting at age 65.  Because the state, (a.k.a. you and me), stepped in Goodwin was able to retire early with a tax free £2.7 million lump sum and now gets a 'reduced' annual pension of £342,500.  

At a conference on 'fracking' last week with reference to planning delays Francis Egan, the Chief Executive of Cuadrilla told energy minister Andrea Leadsom, 'the words are good, the intent is good but the delivery is not. Investors have patience but it's not limitless.'  He was complaining that the government had not yet implemented its promise last August to intervene if councils failed to meet the deadline of 16 weeks to approve or reject fracking applications.  Leadson replied 'The new measures we've introduced will help to make this happen.  We are addressing a problem that causes unnecessary delays.'

That's right four months to decide on something that could affect very large areas of the country for years to come and may bring about irreversible changes to ground water.

Incidentally Cuadrilla is privately owned which means very little about its activities will find its way into the public domain.  How's that for accountability?

Voting for Brexit won't change things like this.  But I'm sure it will make some people feel better.  I'd rather they felt angry that things like this are happening in our country.

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