Posts Tagged ‘Referendum’

Aaron Bastani on the ‘Independents’ as the Old, Blairite Austerity Politics

February 25, 2019

In this 20 minute long video from Novara Media, presenter Aaron Bastani utterly demolishes the new ‘Independent’ grouping of MPs. He shows that rather than being any kind of new politics, they are simply the old, Blairite and Tory politics neoliberal politics. They are radically out of tune with what people really want, especially millennials, who have left much worse off than the preceding generation by the same politics the Blairites and Tories were pushing. And they’re being promoted by the media because they represent the old style of politics the media like: austerity with a smiley face.

Labour MPs All Going Before They’re Pushed

Bastani begins the video by describing how the departure of the seven Labour MPs – Gavin Shuker, Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Ann Coffee, Luciana Berger, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, who left to form the Independents – wasn’t actually a surprise. They were all loud critics of Corbyn, and almost all of them had been subject to motions of ‘no confidence’ or were facing deselection. They were then joined the next day by Joan Ryan, another critic of Corbyn, who had also lost a ‘no confidence’ motion. They were then joined the day after that by Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston from the Tories, who complained about the old, ‘broken’ politics of Labour versus Tories.

Independents Not Democratic, and Not a Political Party

The Independents, however, aren’t a political party as such. Which means that they don’t get the Short Money given to opposition parties. This could add up to hundreds of thousands of pounds. They also don’t have to conform to the same standards as proper political parties, although they claim that they will try to do so as best they can.  They also don’t have a membership. You can give them your name and contact details, and make a donation, but there is no mechanism for creating a mass organisation where the membership can determine policy. It’s a private organisation more than a political party. But what concerns Bastani the most is that they don’t want to hold bye-elections, because this would ‘crush democracy’. It’s doublespeak, and the truth is that they don’t want bye-elections because they’d lose.

Angela Smith’s Racism

He then goes on to describe how the seven founding ex-Labour members claim that they were driven out of the party by its racism, only for Angela Smith to say within hours the most racist thing he’s ever heard a politician say on television. To show how badly their launch went, Bastani produces some viewing figures. On the Monday the video of their launch had 75,000 views on Twitter. The video of Angela Smith’s apology got 700,000 views. But the video of Smith making her racist comments got even more – 1.5 million views. And while the Mirror and the Guardian wanted to splash on a video by Tom Watson, which got 500 shares on Facebook, Novara’s video of their own Ash Sarkar showing the corruption at the heart of the group – she challenged smith on her chairmanship of a parliamentary group supporting water privatisation, funded largely by the water companies – got 200,000 views. Chris Leslie then appeared later on the Beeb to sort this out. Where once again he talked about their love of democracy. A love so strong, that they don’t want to hold bye-elections, thus disenfranchising the hundreds of thousands of people, who voted for these 11 MPs. They claimed to be anti-racist, but set a new record by being racist ‘pretty much by lunchtime’.

People More Politically Engaged, Not Less

But their fundamental principle is that people don’t want Labour or Tory, but what Labour used to be 15 years ago. But at the 2017 election, 82 per cent of the population voted for either of the two main parties – Tories or Labour. That was the highest percentage the parties had since 1979. In 2010 only 65 per cent of the public voted Labour or Tory. The idea that people are turning away from the two main parties when there is a clear choice, socialism or neoliberalism, isn’t true. And the claim that people are disengaged from politics doesn’t stand up either. Voter turn-out was higher in the 2017 election, just as it was higher during the Scottish reference in 2014, and the Brexit referendum in 2016. Which was the biggest democratic exercise in British history. More people voted in that than in any previous general election or referendum. And Labour now has more than 500,000 members – more than it has had in a generation. The same is true for the SNP. More people are members of political parties now than at any point in Bastani’s lifetime. And if people genuinely do want centrist politics, how is it that the Lib Dems, who got only 8 per cent of the vote in 2015, got even less in 2017? This was despite the ‘media Einsteins’ telling us all that they would do well against the two main parties in a Brexit election. It’s almost as if, says Bastani, that the media don’t know what they’re talking about when they claim to know what the public wants.

Labour Policies Massively Popular

And then there are the policy issues. Labour’s policies are very popular. They’re right at the top of the list of why people voted Labour. But they don’t want to imitate these popular policies. Chris Leslie in an interview with New Scientist said he didn’t want a top tax rate of 50 per cent. That’s not a Corbynite policy, it’s one of Gordon Brown’s. He was also against stopping tuition fees and rejects the renationalisation of the railways, both extremely popular policies. These aren’t just popular with Labour voters, but also with Tories and Lib Dems. And polls conducted by IPPR And Sky News did polls at the end of last year which showed clear majorities of the British public wanting the Bank of England to keep house prices down and a minimal presence, at least, of workers on company boards. People don’t want centrist policies. They’re moving left, as shown on poll after poll.

Millennials Left-Wing because of Neoliberalism

And there’s a clear generational difference. At the last Labour split in 1981 when the SDP was formed, there was a clear movement to the right and post-war socialist policies had become unpopular. And yet when this split happened, the Economist carried an article decrying the popularity of socialism amongst millennials both in America and Britain. This meant ‘Generation Z’ young people, who want the government to address climate change as a fundamental part of 21st century politics. And these millennials despised the Tories, as shown by footage of an anti-Tory march. These are going to be the voters of the 2020s. And they’re not going to be bought off. They’re not left-wing because of something the read in a book, or because they want to be countercultural. They’re left-wing because their living standards and expectations are lower than their parents, they have a less expansive welfare state, they’re going to have higher levels of debt and earn less, and they will have to deal with systemic crises like demographic aging and climate change. They rightly feel that they’re screwed over. And the idea that these same people are going to agree with Chris Leslie’s idea of politics is probably the stupidest thing you’ll hear this year. And this is only February.

The Failure of Centrist Parties in France, America, Italy, Spain and Canada

But since 2015 centrist politicians have been hammered in election like Hillary Clinton in 2016. Emmanuel Macron in France was hailed as the saviour of French centrism, despite only taking 24 per cent of the vote in the first round. Now he’s the most unpopular president in French history after months of protests by the gilets jaunes, which have been met with tear gas attacks by the gendarmes, which have left people losing their eyes and their lives. Then there’s Matteo Renzi of the Partito Democratico, the Democratic Party, the Italian sister party to Britain’s Labour. In 2014 they took 42 per cent of the vote. But he was out within two years, having lost a referendum by 20 points. And in the last election the party lost half of their senators, leaving Italy governed by the Five Star Movement and the far-right Liga. Then there’s the example of the PSOE’s Pedro Sanchez. The PSOE is the Spanish equivalent of the Labour party. He’s also suffered mass protests and this week Spain called new general elections, which his party are certain to lose. Centrism is not popular in Europe or America, so the Independents have to turn to Canada’s Justin Trudeau. But Trudeau is now less popular in his country than Donald Trump in the US. Not that the media pushing ‘centrism’ will tell you this.

The Centrist Real Policy: More Austerity

The unpopularity of centrist politics is due to the fact that they still haven’t solved the problems of global capitalism created by the 2008 crash. They believed that financialisation would create the economic growth that would support public services. But financialisation hasn’t created growth since 2008. And as they can’t create prosperity and tackle income inequality, all they’ve have to give us is austerity ‘with a nice smiley face’.

Labour Splitters against Iraq Inquiry, For Welfare Cuts

And not only do the eight former Labour MPs have Brexit in common, they also voted against an independent inquiry into Iraq. A million people have been affected by the war, along with those, who suffered under ISIS, and Iranian influence has expanded across the Middle East. The idea that Iraq is irrelevant is not only absurd, it is a disgrace. People have died, and it has made an already volatile region even more so. And Britain is directly responsible. The former Labour MPs also abstained on the vote of welfare reform before Corbyn came to power. They do not stand for a moral foreign policy, or for a more just social system at home.

Their politics are a mixture of careerism and opportunism, and their opposition to Brexit actually makes a new deal more likely. They are driven by fundamental democratic principles, but won’t stand for a bye-election. No members, no policies, no party democracy, no vision. Bastani states that this isn’t the future of politics, it’s the past, and the worst aspects at that. He looks forward to sensible people joining them, because they’re going to be found out sooner or later. And if we want to establish the primacy of socialist ideas, he says, then bring it on.

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250 + Companies to Leave UK for Holland Due to Brexit

January 25, 2019

According to yesterday’s I for Thursday, 24th January 2019, the Dutch are claiming that more than 250 firms currently based in the UK are planning to move across the North Sea to them due to Brexit. The article on page 10, entitled ‘More than 250 firms plan to relocate from UK to the Netherlands’ by Nigel Morris and Benjamin Butterworth began

More than 250 companies are looking to follow Sony by moving from the UK to the Netherlands because of Brexit, it emerged yesterday.

The Netherlands Foreign Investment Agency (NFIA) said that scores of companies with UK headquarters had expressed interest in relocating, and the number was expected to rise.

Many business chiefs have been dismayed by Theresa May’s refusal to rule out leaving the European Union without an agreement, leaving Britain immediately operating on World Trade Organisation rules.

The article then goes on to list some of the companies moving. They were Sony, Panasonic, which moved last year, P&O, while the car maker Bentley was stockpiling parts.

It quote Michiel Bakhuizen of the NFIA as saying

“The number of businesses we are in contact with for a possible arrival is growing. At the start of 2017 it was 80. At the start of 2018 it was 150, and now it’s more than 250.

“This increase will continue and it is not strange, because there is great uncertainty at the moment in Britain. And if there’s one thing that’s bad for business, it’s uncertainty.”

One of Tweezer’s little minions said in reply that it was clear that companies around the world would continue to invest in Britain and its people. Against this was the Labour MP Rupa Huq, who backs a second referendum. She said

“This shows the shrinking appeal of Britain as a decision-making base for top companies as a result of Brexit.

“The Japanese were supposed to be a top ally for Brexit, but time and again they have been shocked at the scale of self-destruction.” The below the article was another which also listed other firms leaving the UK. These included the Japanese financial houses Nomura Holdings and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group; HSBC, which is moving its HQ from London to Paris; Barclays and Bank of America, which are moving to Dublin, MoneyGram, which is going to Brussels; the European Medicines Agency, which is going to Amsterdam; the European Banking Authority is going to move to Paris, while the German engineering company Schaefler is going to close two of its plants, in Plymouth and Llanelli.

Brexit is going to be a disaster for Britain. but it’s going to be great for rich financiers like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Nigel Farage, because they can move their investments around the world without worrying about losing profits. It’s the rest of us, who depend on manufacturing and trade in goods for our jobs and businesses, who will take the real hit.

We were lied to by the leaders of the ‘Leave’ Campaign, who were chiefly members of the Tory right. Well, it’s high time to kick the Tories out of office and put in someone who really can clear up this mess: Jeremy Corbyn.

Democratic Socialist on the Von Mises Institute’s Lies About the Pinochet Coup

November 5, 2017

I’ve blogged several times about the Von Mises Institute. They take their name from Ludwig Von Mises, one of the founders, along with Von Hayek, of modern libertarianism.

And they’re a deeply, deeply unpleasant lot. They hate the welfare state, demand the complete privatisation of every state enterprise or service, and are thoroughly racist. Von Mises’ himself was a member of Dollfuss’ austrofascist government, before fleeing to America when the Nazis invaded. He was instrumental in setting up the Chicago School, which included Milton Friedman, the father of Monetarism, and which provided the economic doctrines for Pinochet’s disgusting regime in Chile. Von Mises, like Friedman, used to go down there to see how their doctrines were working out under the old dictator.

During the Cold War they used to publish pseudo-scientific racist and eugenicist literature, arguing that Blacks were mentally inferior to Whites, and that there was no point in setting up a welfare state, as you’d just be wasting your money keeping alive the biologically unfit. Which means Blacks, as well as poor Whites. Or indeed, anyone who isn’t rich and White. More recently they’ve been pushing the lie that the American Civil War wasn’t about slavery, but about tariff control and states’ rights. Which is rubbish, because the leaders of the Confederacy said they were going to war to defend slavery.

In this video, Democratic Socialist, who sounds Antipodean to my ears, tears apart the lies in an article about the Pinochet coup by George Reisman in the Institute’s wretched journal.

Reisman claims that Pinochet was absolutely correct to overthrow the government of the Marxist president, Salvador Allende, because Allende was planning to overturn democracy and incarcerate and kill millions in concentration. Pinochet did not do any of this himself. If he had lived in Germany, he would have stopped Hitler coming to power, and would similarly have overthrown the Russian Revolutionaries under Lenin.

This is all hogwash.

Democratic Socialist uses the Pinochet Coup to demonstrate that it seems to bear out Trotsky’s comments that Fascism is the highest stage of capitalism, when it is challenged by the workers. He begins by stating that capitalism is the system under which the means of production are owned privately by a group, which then forms the working class. It needs a state apparatus to defend itself from being attacked and taken over by the exploited workers. This is followed by footage of Hitler’s ‘Minister for Public Enlightenment’, Nick Robins-, sorry, Josef Goebbels, ranting about how Hitler had saved Germany from the threat of Bolshevism. Just as Pinochet claimed he had saved Chile from Communism.

In fact, Allende had been democratically elected and his government had been in power for three years when Pinochet overthrew him. Allende himself never imprisoned anyone, did not shut down any opposition radio stations or newspapers, nor set up a single concentration camp.

But Pinochet certainly did. He imprisoned thousands of Chilean left-wingers. If you read the text shown in the video, it gives the number of people imprisoned by the b*stard as 3,000. Reisman claims that these victims were not innocents. They were. One of them was Victor Jara, a popular singer and musician. Apart from imprisoning and torturing members of the Chilean left, he also used football stadiums as the venues for their execution.

As for preventing Hitler from coming to power, Democratic Socialist points out that both Hitler and Pinochet had the backing of the capitalist class, and both claimed they were saving their countries from Marxism. This is accompanied with footage showing troops in coal-scuttle helmets doing a kind of goose-step. They could be Nazi storm-troopers, but they’re not. Democratic Socialist doesn’t point this out, but they’re actually Chilean soldiers. Pinochet was a fan of Adolf Hitler, and deliberately modelled the uniforms of the Chilean army on those of Nazi Germany. And to anyone from the Right, who wants to dismiss this as coming from a tainted left-wing source, I didn’t get it from a left-wing newspaper. It came from an article in the Daily Mail years ago. So definitely not from a left-wing source!

Democratic Socialist also puts Reisman right about the possibility that Pinochet would have saved Russia from Communism. Well, that was what the Russian Civil War was about, when the Whites tried to overthrow the Bolsheviks. They had thousands of little Pinochets, but were defeated as they faced an army of armed revolutionaries, not unarmed, innocent civilians.

He then goes on to demolish the claim that Pinochet stepped down voluntarily in 1988. He didn’t. He was forced out by the other members of his vile junta after he lost a referendum. Pinochet himself was planning to overturn it.

And unsurprisingly, Reisman claims that Pinochet’s economic reforms benefitted ordinary Chileans. They didn’t. They simply plunged them into even worse poverty.

Democratic Socialist also compares Pinochet’s regime with Castro’s revolution in Cuba. Pinochet overthrew a democratically elected government, and imprisoned and tortured innocents. Castro, by contrast, overthrew the Bautista dictatorship, which was also supported by the capitalists, and which had killed thousands of political opponents.

He also takes issue with the claim that capitalism has not killed anyone, or is not responsible for the same number of deaths as global communism. He shows this to be untrue by citing the figures for the famines in China and India created by capitalism, and of the horrific punishments inflicted by capitalist regimes when their workers aren’t productive enough.

He ilustrates the last with pictures of Black Africans with missing limbs. These are from the poor indigenous people of Zaire, formerly the Belgian Congo, when it was the personal possession of King Leopold in the late 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. These people were forced to cultivate and produce rubber for the king. If they were unable to meet their quotas, they were flogged or had their hands and feet hacked off. If you want to see the photos for yourself, along with some of the other grim depictions of slavery and the slave trade through the ages, try Susan Everett’s Slavery, published by Buffalo Books. It’s a big coffee table book, rather than academic text, but it does cover slavery throughout history, including the ‘Coolie Trade’ in indentured Indian and Chinese migrant workers.

This is very much the type of pernicious lies which the Republicans and the Libertarian wing of the Tory party over here have been trying to spread about Pinochet’s regime in Chile. Thatcher was very much part of the Libertarian wing of the Tory party, and she was very much a friend and admirer of the old b*stard, when he came over here for medical treatment. Or to evade arrest after a left-wing government took charge of the country.

And far from Allende destroying democracy and setting up concentration camps, part of what made him so dangerous to the Americans was that he was democratically elected and was not destroying democracy in Chile. This undermined the right-wing attempts to present Communism as a threat.

The Communist regimes have been responsible for massive repression and famine across much of the world, from Stalin’s Soviet Union to Mao’s China. I wouldn’t like to say that capitalism has killed more people than Communism, but it has certainly produced millions of deaths. For example, capitalist ideas about the sanctity of free trade were partly responsible for a horrific famine in India, which carried off millions. See the book Late Victorian Holocausts, which is shown in one of the pictures in the video above.

RT: Hundreds Demonstrate in London against Police Brutality in Catalonia

October 4, 2017

This is another very short video from RTUK. At just over a minute long, it covers the protest in London today against the Spanish government’s violent suppression of the Catalan independence referendum. One young man says he’s been crying over the past two days every time he’s seen the footage of the violence, as it could be his parents and family. A young woman complains that Theresa May has issued no condemnation of the violence, and she finds this shocking in a country that prides itself on respect for the rule of law. Another young woman, who I would think from the way she speaks is probably Catalan, says that there has been no help from the EU. They have said instead that they should try for a dialogue with Spain. She goes on to say that ‘we’ve tried that for years’, and shakes her head, indicating that it hasn’t worked. A young Asian chap says that he’s a Remainer, but he finds the EU’s attitude to the violence, as well as the violence itself, shocking. He states clearly that ‘there’s no need for that’.

There were protests against the Fascistic violence used by the Spanish police against the Catalan voters in Scotland yesterday. I put up another video from RT of that. from what I’ve read, Rajoy’s popularity in the rest of Spain has gone up, even though his actions have been a brutal assault on democracy in Catalonia itself, and will have made the case for independence even stronger amongst Catalans.

And I don’t doubt it has soured the image of Spain and the EU, for failing to stop or issue any strong condemnation of the brutality, elsewhere in the European Union. I strongly support Britain’s membership of the EU, but this failure to prevent or tackle state violence in Spain is disgusting, and must alarm some of the other nations, who are suffering from the EU’s less than democratic policies towards them, like Greece and Italy.

It Was Not Corbyn, But the Tories and Blairites, Who Are to Blame for Brexit

June 25, 2016

After the disastrous vote of 52 per cent of the British people to leave the EU on Friday, the Tories, Lib Dems and Blairites automatically turned to blaming Jeremy Corbyn. One stupid Tory MP on the breakfast news on BBC 1 on Friday declared that it was all Labour’s fault. She announced that the people voting to leave were all working class Labour voters. This ignores the fact that the leaders of the ‘Leave’ campaign, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel and the rest of the gutter pack, were all Tories, and that the most vociferously sections of the British political establishment critical of the EU was the Eurosceptic extreme Right of the Tory party. But having lost the vote, and seen her party deeply divided on the issue, this lady clearly couldn’t stand the fault that it was all her fault.

Predictably, Tim Farron, the head of the Lib Dems, followed suit, blaming it all on Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn, you see, had not campaigned hard enough for us to stay in, and so it was all somehow due to him. He was then joined by two Labour MPs, Margaret Hodge and someone Coffey. They immediately demanded a ‘no confidence’ vote in Corbyn. Now I think that Corbyn has been a Eurosceptic, and in fairness I don’t think he put his heart into personally campaigning for Europe. But I’m not sure how much difference it would have made if he had. And it all seems to me that the decision to leave was taken very much in spite of Labour as a deliberate act of opposition, and not because of a simple lack of effort by the Labour leadership.

The authors of the book on UKIP, Revolt on the Right, which is an academic study of the party, point out that the majority of the party’s grassroots supporters are older Labour voters, who are socially very conservative – against immigration and gay rights, and so on. These are the very people that Bliar, Broon and New Labour abandoned. Blair and his cronies fully embraced Thatcherism, including its hatred and contempt of working class organisations. One of the first things Blair did in the 1990s was threaten to cut ties with the trade unions if they didn’t back one of his ‘modernising’ measures. He then further cut down workers’ rights and the power of the unions as a way of currying favour with the right-wing press and the middle class, swing voters New Labour wanted to appeal to. In the last years of Blair’s period in office and Broon’s occupancy of No. 10, the party passed further measures to make it easier to sack employees, all in the name of encouraging mobility in the labour market, or some other vile piece of economists’ jargon to make people losing job security sound positive.

At the same time, New Labour was, like Clinton’s New Democrats, also committed to internationalism and the movement of labour between nations. Behind some of the idealistic verbiage behind this, about encouraging peaceful relations between nations, hands across the water, diversity and so on, there was a harsher, economic motive. Immigrants were and are easier to exploit than indigenous, settled workers, and profits made from them could be used to support the welfare measures for the rest of the population without raising taxes. Though Blair and his successors were also extremely keen to cut down on these as well.

Now Blair’s New Labour effectively ignored the working class as a whole, but it did put genuine efforts into raising the performance and opportunities for women and ethnic minorities, in schools, at work and in politics. And it was the White working class that felt particularly snubbed. A few years ago, you may recall, the Beeb broadcast a short season of films about race relations in Britain. One of them showed the face of a stereotypical working class man, which was gradually scribbled over with black until at last nothing was visible. A gruff male voice then asked whether the White working class had been written out politically. I think it was a very controversial trailer, but it’s actually a good question. Many White working class voters felt that New Labour was ignoring them, and when the time came they transferred their support to UKIP.

Many of the ‘Leave’ voters undoubtedly were working class, but they weren’t necessarily Labour voters. In the case of UKIP, they’re largely former Labour voters. If they’re not Eurosceptic Tories. When I met our local Labour MP, Karin Smith and the local councillor for my part of Bristol last year, I expressed my dismay at finding that people in the neighbouring ward had voted for a Kipper as one of their councillors. It shocked me, as I didn’t think this part of Bristol was particularly racist. They told me that from talking to the people there, they found that what moved them to vote UKIP was economic fears, not racism. Again, this is a fair point. Mike over at Vox Political had a running argument on his blog with a Kipper who insisted, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that UKIP was ‘left-wing’. He appears to have done so solely because of Farage’s tactics of lumping the opponents altogether as ‘LibLabCon’. Liberals, Labour and the Tories are all raging Neoliberals with a fanatical worship of Maggie Thatcher, or at least that’s how they appeared. UKIP claimed to be different, even though it was more Neoliberal, pro-privatisation and fanatical in its adoration of Thatcher than the others.

Aside from the grotty xenophobia and racism of the ‘leave’ camp, the vote to leave was a sharp retort against Neoliberalism and its supporters across the political spectrum. And in the Labour party, this means Blairites like Hodge and Coffey. It does not mean Corbyn.

Why I Believe Leaving the EU Will Be Particularly Bad for Bristol, Gloucestershire and Somerset

February 22, 2016

Since David Cameron raised the issue of the EU referendum last week, there’s been a flood of posts about the subject. I’ve blogged about the dangers to British workers and the middle class if we leave Europe, and the human and workers’ rights legislation contained in the EU constitution and treaties. The Lovely Wibbley Wobbley Old Lady has put up her piece explaining the issues involved in Britain leaving the EU, as have a number of others. In this piece I won’t discuss the general issues, just give some of my thought on why it would be disastrous for Bristol, Somerset, Gloucestershire, and areas like them elsewhere in Britain if the country decides to leave.

Firstly, Bristol is a port city. It’s not so much now, after the docks in Bristol have been closed to industry, and the port itself moved to better deep water facilities over in Avonmouth. Nevertheless, a sizable amount of trade goes through port facilities. The EU is Britain’s major trading partner, and my fear is that if Britain leaves Europe, trade will be hit, and the income and jobs generated by that trade will plummet. This will, of course, hit British industry generally, but it’ll also affect the ports as the centres of the import/export trade.

Bristol furthermore has a proud tradition of aerospace research through BAE and Rolls Royce at Filton. Further south in Somerset there is the former Westland helicopter firm, while in the Golden Mile in Gloucestershire there are engineering firms, such as Dowty, that specialise in aircraft instrumentation and control systems. The sheer cost of developing and manufacturing modern high-performance civil and military aircraft means that many of these projects are joint ventures between aviation companies across Europe. Airbus is one of the most obvious examples, as is the Eurofighter. And then, back in the 1970s, there was Concorde, which was a joint project between Britain and France. Hence the name. Parts of the aircraft were built in France, but the wings and a other components were manufactured here in Bristol.

The same is true of space exploration, and the satellites and probes sent up to the High Frontier. Several of these, or parts of them, have also been manufactured by British Aerospace at Filton. I’ve got a feeling the Giotto probe that was sent to investigate Halley’s Comet in 1986 was also partly made in Bristol. Again, like aviation, space travel can be enormously expensive. The costs are literally astronomical. So many of the space projects are joint ventures across Europe, between aerospace firms and contractors in Britain, France and Italy, for example. This was always the case going back to ESRO in the 1950s and ’60s. This was a joint European attempt to create a rocket launcher, involving Britain, France, Italy and Germany. Unfortunately the project collapsed, as the only section of the rocket that actually worked was the British first stage. Nevertheless, the French persevered, and out of its ashes came Ariane, launched from their base in Kourou in French Guyana.

ESA, the European Space Agency, operates under a system of ‘juste retour’. Under this system, the country that supplies the most funding for a particular project, gets most of the contracts to make it. Despite various noises about the importance of space exploration and innovation in science and technology by various administrations over the years, space research by and large has not been well-served by the British government and mandarins at Whitehall. It has a very low priority. Opportunities for British firms to benefit from European space research have been harmed by the British government’s reluctance to spend money in this area. I can remember one of Thatcher’s ministers proudly informing the great British public that they weren’t going to spend money just to put Frenchmen into space. It’s partly because of this attitude that it’s taken so long to put a British astronaut into space with Tim Foale. Those of us of a certain age can remember Helen Sharman’s trip into space with the Russians in the 1980s. This was supposed to be a privately funded joint venture with the Russians. It nearly didn’t happen because the monies that were supposed to come from British capitalism didn’t materialise, and in fact the Soviets took Sharman to the High Frontier largely as a favour.

The aerospace industry in Bristol and the West Country has contracted massively in the past few decades, as the aviation industry throughout Britain has declined along with the rest of our industrial base. I’m very much afraid that if we leave Europe, we will lose out on further commercial aerospace opportunities, and that part of Britain’s scientific, technological and industrial heritage will just die out. We were, for example, invited to take part in the development of Ariane, but the mandarins at Whitehall didn’t want to. Rather than invest in the French rocket, they thought we’d be better off hitching rides with the Americans. The problem with that is that the Americans naturally put their own interests first, and so tended to carry British satellites only when there was a suitable gap in the cargo. It also meant that British satellite launches were limited to the times the Space Shuttle was flying. These were curtailed after the Challenger explosion. If we’d have stuck with the French, we could possibly have had far more success putting our probes into space.

I’m sure there are very many other ways Bristol and the West Country could also be harmed by the decision to leave the EU. It’s just what occurs to me, as someone with an interest in space exploration, from a city that was a centre of the aeroplane, rocket and satellite industries. I also decided to post this, because I know that Bristol’s not unique in its position. There are other working ports and centres of the aerospace industry across the country, that will also suffer if we leave Europe. And so I firmly believe we should remain in.