Posts Tagged ‘Craig Gent’

The Labour, Pro-Working Class Arguments for Brexit

December 22, 2019

The decisive factor which swung 14 million people to vote Tory in the general election two weeks was Brexit. Labour’s programme of reforms was popular, despite the predictable Tory attacks on it as impractical, costly, too radical, Marxist and so on. 60 to 70 per cent of the public in polls supported the manifesto, and the party received a slight boost in popularity in the polls after its public. The areas in Labour’s heartlands in the midlands and north that turned Tory were those which voted ‘Leave’. Craig Gent in his article for Novara Media on the lessons Labour must learn from this defeat lamented this. By backing Remain, Labour had ceded Brexit to the Conservatives, allowing them to shape the terms of the debate and the assumptions underlying it. But Gent also argued that it could easily have gone the other way.

Indeed it could. Labour’s policy, before the right-wing put pressure on Corbyn to back a second referendum, was that Labour would respect the Leave vote, and try for a deal with the EU that would serve Britain the best. Only if that failed would Labour consider a general election or second referendum. This is eminently sensible. The referendum was purely on whether Britain would leave the European Union. It was not on the terms under which Britain would leave. Despite Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’, he will have no more success than his predecessor, Tweezer. The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has stated that the negotiations are going to take far long than the eleven months Johnson claimed. The people who voted for him are going to be sorely disappointed.

The right-wing campaign for leaving the EU heavily exploited racism and xenophobia. Not only had Britain lost her sovereignty to Brussels, but it was because of the EU that Britain was being flooded with immigrants taking jobs and placing a burden on the social and economic infrastructure. In fact, the Black and Asian immigrants entering Britain were permitted, as Mike showed on his blog, through UN agreements covering asylum seekers. Moreover immigrants and foreign workers were a net benefit to Britain. They contributed more in taxes and took less in benefits. But with this was drowned out, along with other, vital Remain arguments in the Tory rhetoric of hate.

But there was always a part of the Labour movement that also distrusted the European Union for democratic, socialist reasons. The late Tony Benn devoted an entire chapter to it in his 1979 book, Arguments for Socialism. One of his primary objections to it, as he outlined in a 1963 article for Encounter magazine, was

that the Treaty of Rome which entrenches laissez-faire as its philosophy and chooses its bureaucracy as its administrative method will stultify effective national economic planning without creating the necessary supranational planning mechanisms for growth and social justice.

Like right-wing Eurosceptics, Benn also objected to Britain joining the EU because of loss of national sovereignty and democracy through inclusion into a European superstate. He was also worried about the threat from Brussels to British industry. The European Union hated Britain’s nationalised industries, and Benn said that he was told by Brussels bureaucrats that investment, mergers and prices in the former British steel industry would have to be controlled by them. Every issue of state aid to British manufacturing industry would have to be subject to the European commission. He was very much afraid that British manufacturing would be unable to compete against the better financed and equipped European firms, and so close. And he also argued that membership in the European Union would create higher unemployment through the EU’s economic policy, which was exactly the same as that tried by Conservative premier Ted Heath’s first government. He believed that EU membership would leave British workers with a choice of either being unemployed at home, or moving to Europe to seek work. Only the directors and shareholders in European companies would profit. He then gives the statistics showing how much Britain was paying to the EU for policies like the Common Agricultural Policy, that penalised Britain’s highly efficient farming system in favour of that of the continent, and the disastrous effect EU membership had had on British industry and jobs. The devastation caused to some sectors of British industry and agriculture also formed part of Conservative attacks on the EU. The former Mail, now Times journo, Quentin Letts, bitterly criticises the EU in his book, Bog Standard Britain, for the way the common fisheries policy drastically cut back our fishing fleet to a fraction of its former size.

It also seems that Ted Heath also used some very underhand, dirty tricks to rig the initial referendum to give the result he wanted: that the British people agreed with him and wanted to join Europe. This was the subject of an article in the parapolitical/ conspiracy magazine, Lobster some years ago.

I’m a Remainer. I was as shocked by the Tories’ victory as everyone else on the Left. I expected that they would win because of the vast propaganda and media resources they had poured in to attacking Labour and Corbyn personally. But I was astonished by how large the victory was. I believed that the continuing failure to secure a deal with Europe would have made Brexit less popular, not more. The result of the original referendum was so narrow that I believed a second would reverse the decision. How wrong I was.

Some of the Eurosceptic arguments against Europe are overstated or simply wrong. The EU was a threat to our nationalised industries, but it seemed nothing prevented the French, Germans and Dutch from retaining theirs and buying up ours, as the Dutch firm, Abellio, was awarded the contract for some of our rail services. Britain’s entry into the EU did not result in us losing our sovereignty. We retained it, and all law passed in Brussels had to become British law as well. And I believe very strongly that leaving Europe, especially under a no-deal Brexit, will badly damage our trade and economy.

But understanding Brexit and the arguments against EU membership from the Left from people like Tony Benn, may also provide a way of winning back some at least of the support Labour lost at the election. Labour can show that it understands the fear some people in those communities have about the loss of sovereignty, and the effect EU membership has had on trade, manufacturing and employment. But we can also point out that the Tories are using the same set of economic principles as the EU, and that this won’t change so long as Boris is Prime Minister. And any trade agreement he makes with the Orange Generalissimo will be worse than staying in the EU. It won’t secure British jobs or support British industry, manufacturing or otherwise. Indeed, it will cause further damage by placing them at a disadvantage against the Americans.

A proper Brexit, that respected British workers and created a fairer, better society, could only be brought in by Labour. But the Thursday before last, 14 million people were duped into rejecting that. But Labour is learning its lesson, and people are getting ready to fight back.

Labour can and will win again, on this and other issues. Brexit may have got Johnson in, but it may also be the issue that flings him out. 

UKIP’s Working Class Voters and the Tory Victories in Labour Heartlands

December 19, 2019

Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin in their book Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support For The Radical Right in Britain (Abingdon: Routledge 2014) argue that UKIP’s brief appearance as a new political force was due to it developing strong working class support. It articulated the frustration with contemporary politics of the people left behind. These were generally older, less educated workers, marginalised through de-industrialisation and social change, particularly immigration and European integration. They write

UKIP’s revolt is a working-class phenomenon. Its support is heavily concentrated among older, blue-collar workers, with little education and few skills; groups who have been ‘left-behind’ by the economic and social transformation of Britain in recent decades and pushed to the margins as the main parties have converged to the centre ground. UKIP are not a second home for disgruntled Tories in the shires; they are a first home for angry and disaffected working-class Britons of all political backgrounds, who have lost faith in a political system that ceased to represent them long ago.

Support for UKIP does not line up in a straightforward way with traditional notions of ‘left’ and ‘right’, but reflects a divide between a political mainstream dominated by a more financially secure and highly educated middle class, and a more insecure and precarious working class, which feels its concerns have been written out of political debate. In a sense, UKIP’s rise represents the re-emergence of class conflicts that Tony Blair’s New Labour and David Cameron’s compassionate Conservatism submerged but never resolved – conflicts that reflect basic differences in the position and prospects of citizens in different walks of life. Before the arrival of UKIP, the marginalisation of these conflicts had already produced historic changes in political behaviour. Blue-collar voters turned their backs on politics en masse, causing a collapse in electoral turn-out to record lows, and fuelling a surge in support for the extreme right BNP, making it briefly the most successful extreme right party in the history of British elections. Since 2004, Farage and his foot soldiers have channelled the same social divisions into a far more impressive electoral rebellion….

(T)he potential for a political insurgency of this kind has existed for a long time. Its seeds lay among groups of voters who struggled with the destabilising and threatening changes brought in by de-industrialisation, globalisation and, later, European integration and mass immigration. These groups always occupied a precarious position on Britain’s economic ladder, and now, as their incomes stagnated and their prospects for social mobility receded, they found themselves being left behind.

Many within this left-behind army also grew up before Britain experienced the recent waves of immigration and before the country joined the EU, and their political and social values reflect this. This is a group of voters who are more inclined to believe in an ethnic conception of British national identity, defined by birth and ancestry, and who have vivid memories of a country that once stood independent and proudly apart from Europe. They also came of age in an era where political parties offered competing and sharply contrasting visions of British society, and had strong incentives to listen to, and respect, their traditional supporters. Shaped by these experiences, today these voters look out at a fundamentally different Britain: ethnically and culturally diverse; cosmopolitan; integrated into a transnational, European political network; and dominated by a university-educated and more prosperous middle class that hold a radically different set of values, all of which is embraced and celebrated by those who rule over them. This is not a country that the rebels recognise, nor one they like. (pp. 270-1).

Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters believe that the defeat in the recent general election was primarily due to Brexit and Boris Johnson’s presentation of the Tories as the party that would ‘get Brexit done’. Craig Gent, in his article for Novara Media, ‘Learning the Lessons of Labour’s Northern Nightmare Will Take Longer Than A Weekend’ argues that the northern communities, who turned to the Tories were those which voted for Brexit. He writes

The bare facts are these: Labour’s election campaign did not look the same across northern towns as it did on left Twitter. Swathes of towns that said they wanted Brexit in 2016 still want Brexit. Those towns by and large felt patronised by the offer of a second referendum, a policy whose public support has always been inflated by the gaseous outpourings of its most ardent supporters. And two years on from 2017, the novelty of Corbynmania had thoroughly worn off, with his increasingly stage-managed media appearances beginning to rub people up the wrong way.

See: https://novaramedia.com/2019/12/17/learning-the-lessons-of-labours-northern-nightmare-will-take-longer-than-a-weekend/

It’s also been argued that working class voters turned to the Tories in the north and midlands because the Leave vote was primarily a rejection of the political establishment, and in those areas, Labour was the political establishment.

Some of the features of UKIP’s working class supporters obviously don’t fit those, who voted Tory last Thursday. The people voting for Johnson weren’t just the over-55s, for example, and so wouldn’t have had the glowing memories of Britain before we entered the EU, or EEC as it then was. And it should be remembered that UKIP was never as large or as powerful as its supporters and cheerleaders in the lamestream media presented it. But clearly there are a large chunk of the British electorate, who did feel ignored by Labour’s Blairite leadership and shared their elders’ impressions of a Britain that was powerful and prosperous outside the EU, and which had been actively harmed by its entry.

But Boris won’t do anything for them, except possibly make a few token gestures towards improving conditions for those communities. It will mean hard work, but Labour can win those communities back.

But it means not taking them for granted, as Gent’s article states, and building a solid working class base once again through community activism and campaigning.

And not leaving them behind to concentrate on marginals and Tory swing voters, as New Labour did.