Wednesday, June 08, 2016

EU referendum: where is the labour party?

I posted this on facebook about a month ago:
I don’t know about you, but I’m completely fed up with the EU Referendum “debate”… (and we’ve still got 14 days to go!)… and I know I shouldn’t say this, but I also have great reservations about the electorate’s ability to understand (or care about?) the key issues… and, if they do vote, not to make decisions based purely on narrow prejudice”.
I reckon that more than 90% of my facebook friends favour staying in the EU. But, as we know from last year’s General Election, there’s clearly another facebook world out there that thinks entirely differently! The polls don’t all agree, but it really does seem that the referendum result is “too close to call” at this stage (but, hey, do we trust the polls?!).

It’s clear that, for the Tory Party, the EU Referendum marks, in part, an excuse for a leadership battle (which, in turn, would lead to the government moving still further to the right). However, given that less than 25% of registered voters actually voted Tory, then you’d think that, with Labour Party and the Scottish Nationalists backing the “Remain” option, the polls would be predicting a relatively large majority for a "yes" vote.

I don’t happen to think that Messrs Cameron and Osborne have been particularly convincing in the EU Referendum debate (just don’t get me started on Boris, Gove and IDS!), but why has the Labour Party NOT been at the forefront of the “Remain” campaign too? The situation demands a powerful Labour voice but, sadly, I don’t think that Labour has been pulling its weight. Too many Labour politicians – and that includes Jeremy Corbyn and senior members of the Party - seem too ready to sit on their hands so far. Alan Johnson (a bit of a political hero of mine) has been leading “Labour In For Britain” campaign – and I feel sure he’s been arguing the case at public meetings throughout the land - but how often have I seen him being interviewed on television interviews or news programmes or in extensive newspaper articles and the like? Not enough for my liking. I cannot understand this… when SO much is at stake.

This article in The Telegraph (7 June) gave an interesting, albeit somewhat depressing, picture. Amongst its findings were:
·         73 per cent of those aged between 18-29 want to remain in the EU, while 63 per cent of those aged over 60 want to leave.
·         Guardian and Times readers are “yes”, while Mirror, Telegraph, Sun, Mail and Express are “no”.
·         Northern Ireland, Scotland, London, Wales and North-East England are “yes”, while the rest of England is “no” (with East Midlands, West Midlands, East Anglia and Yorkshire+Humberside apparently leading the “no” vote).
·         University-educated people are more likely to be “yes”.

Clearly, it seems that Immigration is one of the key issues… and, for me, Polly Toynbee (writing in The Guardian on 7 June) summed up the situation pretty well:
“Immigration is Brexit’s winner. The bottom 10% do lose out by importing unskilled labour, according to the Bank of England. For them, that’s a real effect all governments have failed to remedy. But the focus on migrants conveniently displaces deeper causes of discontent about the loss of good jobs, as a third of people are left behind, never to be property owners. It wasn’t always that way: the late 1970s were the most equal time in our history, when boardrooms dared not pay themselves obscene sums and unions stopped pay falling back. But since Margaret Thatcher took the lid off “aspiration” for the top few, inequality soared and never recovered. Labour redistributed with tax credits and invested in public services – but that’s been swept away. Brexit would reap whirlwinds for the inequality sowed over the past 35 years.
The right has used immigration and a diet of lies about the EU to distract from austerity-stricken public services, most damaging to those whose living standards have stagnated for over a decade. University education has expanded, leaving little for the other school leavers but shoddy false apprenticeships and stripped-down further education colleges. Social mobility has fossilised. There would be an awful justice if that lack of education finally did the country in.
Economists, including the governor of the Bank of England, warn that inequality is the great economic risk. Capitalism eats itself when too many get left too far behind to consume its products. Insane investment in over-inflated house prices instead of job-creating production devours the nation’s wealth. If the dispossessed up-end the economy with a leave vote, it may serve the country right – though as ever, the poorest would lose most.
Out on the doorstep over the last weeks, the class divide jumps off the canvass forms as lower income Labour voters go Brexit, and Labour MPs turn ashen-faced. Yet when confronted with what a Johnson/Gove/Farage government meant, I found many did change their mind. Will enough Labour people get out there, making the case? Jeremy Corbyn’s contribution has been more saboteur than saviour, dismissing the remain case as ‘histrionic’, ‘myth-making’, ‘prophecies of doom’. But Labour canvassers talking to their own side are good persuaders – and there is still time”.
As a nation, we’re not used to holding a referendum. For me, one of the problems about the EU Referendum is that it’s NOT really about the EU… it’s become a fight for the leadership of Tory Party.
The trouble is that, yes, in 2020 there’ll be another General Election and, if we want to, we can vote out the current government… but, once we opt out of the EU, there won't be a chance for us to simply opt back in if we feel like changing our minds.

Photo: it's from Emma Chapman's facebook page... and I think it's VERY good!

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