Corbyn – misled and misleading

This letter from our Chairman appeared in the Derby Telegraph on Friday 2nd March

Sir,

MR CORBYN IS MISLED & MISLEADING

EU documents are rarely an easy read, so very few people bother to read them. Even politicians tend to rely on commentators or journalists, who also don’t read them, but who will tell people what they want to hear. Mr. Corbyn appears to be amongst the non-readers. Like many MPs, he seems to believe that the EU Customs Union facilitates swift movement of goods through border controls. It has very little to do with that and is mainly concerned with harmonising tariffs.

Turkey has an agreement with the EU Customs Union yet the crossing point to Bulgaria at Kapikule is notorious for delays. Lorries can be stuck there for days at a time. As studying EU documents is so boring for readers as well as for Mr Corbyn, I refer to another part of his recent speech.

“A Mini will cross the channel three times in a 2000 mile journey before the finished car rolls off the production line. Starting in Oxford, it will be shipped to France to be fitted for key components before being brought back to BMW’s Ham’s Hall plant in Warwickshire where it is drilled and milled into shape. Once this process is complete, the Mini will be shipped to Munich to be fitted with its engine before ending its journey in the Mini plant in Oxford for its final assembly…”

This statement is pure fantasy. Assembly is carried out at the BMW plant in Oxford. The Swindon plant produces body pressings and sub assemblies and the Ham’s Hall plant near Birmingham has made the engines since 2006.

Most of BMW’s aluminium block and head castings are made at Landshut near Munich and some of the machining is done at Steyr in Austria where other components for the Mini are also made. Since 2013 most of the machining and main assembly of the Mini’s engines is done at Ham’s Hall. The complete engines are mated with front suspension and steering units which are fitted to the cars as sub assemblies in the Oxford plant.

Mr Corbyn’s ignorance of the process of motor manufacture with its supply chain of components brought together and cars assembled in one plant is perhaps excusable in a man who has no industrial experience. But where did he get his strange ideas from? The answer is the media. This part of his speech may have been lifted from an Evening Standard article from July 2017 which, in its turn, may have been lifted from a Guardian article of March 2017.

Given his reputation for getting back to the roots of the Labour party, Mr. Corbyn could have consulted an engineer trade unionist who would have put him straight and stopped him making such an ass of himself. Yet the listening media took him seriously and did not realise it was being fed rubbish. So perhaps it doesn’t matter. People may draw their own conclusions about the reliability of the rest of his speech.

Yours faithfully,

Edward Spalton

Photo by Chatham House, London

Lessons from recent history at the Labour Euro Safeguards Campaign fringe event

With a Conservative government fully engrossed in the Brexit negotiations and dominating the newspaper headlines, Labour’s take on Brexit has received comparatively little coverage beyond the divisions among its MPs in the recent vote on the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and complaints that the party leadership stifled any debate or vote on its Brexit policy during its party conference.

Yesterday evening, the Labour Euro Safeguards Campaign held a fringe meeting in which a pro-Brexit position was articulated as clearly as in any Tory  – or even UKIP – gathering. In the chair was John Mills, a long-standing member of CIB’s Committee. The speakers were not as advertised, with Kate Hoey and Brendan Chilton being unavailable, although Tom Bewick, a Labour Councillor from Brighton & Hove City council who chaired the local  vote.leave group last year, was a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Kelvin Hopkins MP, the first speaker, informed the meeting that he had led Luton’s “No” campaign in the 1975 referendum. It is all too easy to forget that, in the history of euroscepticism in our country, Labour has a longer and in some ways, a far more distinguished record than the Conservatives.

The claim that Brexit was dreamed up by a set of public schoolboys who thought that “ruling Britain was their prerogative; they didn’t want outsiders muscling in,” as suggested by Simon Kuper in the Financial Times is revisionism pure and simple.  Tony Benn, Kelvin Hopkins, Nigel Spearing and, indeed John Mills himself were all campaigning for the UK to leave the EU when the likes of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg were still at prep school.

Labour Brexiteers have different emphases from their Tory counterparts. Yesterday, several speakers pointed out that their party’s 2017 General election manifesto contained a number of re-nationalisation pledges that would not be possible to honour if we had voted to remain in the EU. No one mentioned Jacques Delors, but as far as LESC and its supporters are concerned, his “Social Europe” is dead and buried. The EU, we were told, is a neo-Liberal project committed to eroding workers’ rights and responsible for the hollowing out of UK’s industrial base.  More than that, the EU is anti-democratic and would not allow a democratically-elected socialist government to implement its agenda, as evidenced by the savage treatment meted out to Greece.

There was no enthusiasm for remaining in the Single Market, in spite of the ambivalence of Labour’s shadow Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer. Free movement of people, said one speaker from the floor, dehumanised human beings, treating them as mere commodities. There was no love lost for free movement of capital either, which was blamed for the economic decline in some poorer member states, notably (again) Greece.

The meeting recognised that many young Corbyn enthusiasts were strongly pro-EU, but felt that they could be won round by pointing out that the socialist agenda set out in the manifesto – which they enthusiastically supported – can only be implemented from outside the EU. Likewise, the leaders of many trade unions, who predominantly supported remaining in the EU, were not behaving logically considering that workers’ rights were better likely to be protected in an independent UK compared with the EU whose supreme court, the European Court of Justice, had sided with the employers rather than trade unions in the Laval and Viking Ferry disputes.

Both platform speakers and audience members recognised the challenges they faced in putting forward pro-Brexit arguments to fellow party members, with several people admitting that their stance has lost them friends. What is more, as one speaker pointed out, more people voted to leave the EU than have ever voted for anything else, so does Labour respect democracy or not? It’s not just ordinary party members who have faced criticism for raising this important issue. Caroline Flint, a former Europe minister, was heckled in Parliament for taking this stance. She represents a strongly pro-Brexit constituency and said “Since the result, I have argued leave and remain supporters should bury our difference and get on with it.”  Even if some of her parliamentary colleagues did not like her words, her principled stance was strongly endorsed by the speakers at yesterday’s meeting.

The timing of this meeting was particularly interesting coming less than 24 hours after the announcement of the result of Germany’s General Election. The headline story has been the success of Alternative für Deutschland, but another equally important development was the very poor showing of the German Socialist party, the SPD, who won a mere 20.5% of the vote. This comes in the wake of Benoît Hamon, the candidate from the equivalent party in France, the PS, polling a mere 6.36% in the first round of France’s Presidential election. In the second of the two General Elections held in Greece in 2015, PASOK, the socialist party, came fourth with only 6.3% of the vote. In each of these countries,  new left-wing parties of a more eurosceptic and radically socialist nature are making significant inroads into the traditional vote of the mainstream social democratic parties.

This hasn’t happened in the UK, but the leftward shift in Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has brought a surge of new members into the party. Last night’s meeting highlighted the common factor in this growing sense of alienation among traditional left-wing voters across Europe towards the historic socialist parties – the EU. How could a man like Martin Schulz, the former leader of the Socialist group in the European Parliament, have campaigned so fervently for TTIP, the now abandoned EU-US trade deal?  TTIP was widely criticised on the left for the power it handed to multinationals, so to repeat, why were the socialists supporting this deal? The answer is simple:- Europe’s “mainstream” socialist parties, including our own Labour Party in the years from Kinnock to Miliband, saw commitment to the EU project as a far greater priority than fighting for workers’ rights – or indeed, preserving our national democracies.

Add to this the depressing effects of mass migration from Eastern Europe on the wages of the working classes in the more affluent western European nations (including the UK) and it is unsurprising that white working classes have started to look elsewhere when casting their ballot.

The white working classes were instrumental too in securing the Brexit vote.  Last year’s Leave campaign was in many ways an unlikely and at times, awkward coalition, if coalition it can be called, but the distinctive feature of the UK is the substantial right-of-centre “Thatcherite” support for withdrawal, which has no parallel in any other EU member state. This unique combination of hatred of the EU on both the left and the right of the political spectrum was necessary to clinch the vote. Left and right have differing visions of what a post-Brexit UK should look like, but last night’s meeting was a healthy reminder that without a willingness to put aside these ideological differences and work together to secure our independence,  such debates about the future shape of our country would not have been possible at all.

The Miller’s Tale – Episode 2

The Swinging Sixties and Beyond

 It is easy to forget how much things have changed since the Sixties. There was no internet. So unless you subscribed to specialist publications or were in a political party or special interest or trade group, your information was limited to what the main newspapers or the BBC and ITV told you. With regard to the European project, the most crucial of the government’s information and intentions were concealed from the public for thirty years by the Official Secrets Act. I will give an account of things as I remember them but will use italic type like this to insert information which was not available until later and also give links to later articles which give a fuller explanation, not available to me at the time.

Whilst the countryside looks picturesque and much of it appears unchanged, that is very deceptive. Farming has been one of the most rapidly modernising industries of all. Whilst there were still  small farms in the Sixties which  used horses for some of the work, mechanisation went on at a great pace and the number of people required to work the land declined steeply as machines got bigger and better.

I called on such a  farm in the mid Sixties and the farmer was in his fields. I had to wait for him to finish his job because he was sowing seed by hand and had to count the paces and keep the rhythm as he broadcast handfuls of seed from the bag round his waist – just as in the bible story “a sower went forth sowing.” That was the last time I saw it done.  His descendants now drive machines which are positioned by satellite and controlled by computers.

Most farms were going for bigger and better tractors and machinery – seed drills, fertiliser spreaders, sprayers, ploughs, combine harvesters, forage harvesters and so on. Cows were being moved out of cow sheds and into covered yards where they could self-feed on silage when not grazing.  Milking parlours replaced the cow shed stalls. Bulk milk tanks replaced the man-handled milk churns.

Britain had a unique agricultural policy. Food from abroad was allowed in freely without customs duties and farmers received subsidies to keep up home production and guarantee food security.  To the benefit of the less well-off, the tax payer, not the consumer,  funded the system. Food was a much bigger proportion of household expense in those days and cheap food also reduced pressure on wages.

Farm land would not be allowed to go derelict, as it had done in the depression between the wars. This system was negotiated annually in the Farm Price Review under parliamentary scrutiny. As the memory of food shortages and rationing faded, politicians naturally scrutinised this expense very carefully. World food prices fell from the late Fifties onwards and this tended to drive up the required subsidies which were gradually restricted. So farming was not  as profitable as the increases in production might suggest. (See attachment for fuller description).

Attitudes changed in the Sixties. Early on, the satirical TV programme “That Was The Week That Was” mercilessly lampooned the failings of our political class. In  doing so it reduced people’s confidence in the institutions of government. It was part of the process of rubbishing the hitherto undisputed comfortable feeling that “British is best”.  No fearless investigator or satirist looked into government deceit about the European project. Our European neighbours were doing better than us economically. Documentary programmes drove  this message home relentlessly.

Things were not helped by the fact that our key industries frequently went on strike. We did not know it at the time but the Prime Minister Harold MacMillan (from 1957 to 1963) expressed the view that our country was “ungovernable”.  He thought that the trade unions would come to their senses if British industry was opened to unrestricted competition from Europe. The unions were so powerful that he dared not alter the laws which gave them almost total immunity from normal legal redress..

At this time, we were installing some new machinery. The engineer, who was supervising the job,  picked up a spanner and started to make an adjustment. He put it down very quickly, looking around with a worried expression. “Is this a union shop?” he asked. Fortunately we weren’t. In some factories,  only  members of the right union were allowed to do certain tasks. Shipyards, already months or even years behind with deliveries, were brought to a halt. Drilling a hole which went through a piece of metal and a piece of wood could cause a strike whilst the shop stewards argued whether a woodworker or metal worker should have done the job. Then they would want overtime to make up for lost time. That was the way things were then. Britain’s industries were rightly losing the confidence of their overseas customers. The Germans, French, Japanese and others would willingly replace them and make deliveries to quality and to time.

The Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson (1964-1970) wanted to modernise British industry. His catch phrase was “the white heat of the technological revolution” but he couldn’t tackle the unions either. As well as being over-mighty, they were the Labour party’s paymasters. He did stand up to a Seamen’s strike in 1966. He believed that communists were using the strike to take over the union.

He brought in emergency powers and the strikers backed down but not before goods piled up on quaysides and most of the Cunard fleet was out of action. The crew of the Queen Mary stopped work at Southampton. The left wing of Labour supported the union.

By luck rather than by good judgement I did rather well out of this. I had bought a large contract of groundnut cake and two months’ shipments arrived together just before the strike. So we were sitting pretty. But I still got a row from my father because we had to hire outside warehouse space.

There were two other disruptive features of trade union conduct in those days – the “sympathy strike” and “blacking”. Trade unionists with no grievance against their own employer would strike “in sympathy” with workers involved in another dispute. “Blacking” was the practice of blacklisting lorries from a firm involved in strike action so that trade unionists in other factories would refuse to load or unload them. Dubious tactics could also be used in disputes between trade unions.

I have a copy of the Sunday Mirror of July 20th 1969. The front page stories are of the first moon landing, the death of Ted Kennedy’s girlfriend in a car which ended underwater and a surprise appearance by the Duke of Edinburgh at a registry office wedding in Cardiff. But inside is a tale of thuggishness between trade unions which I quote here. The TUC was called in as umpire in a dispute between the United Road Transport Union and the much larger Transport & General Transport Workers’ Union, who were in competition for recruits.  Their Midlands Organiser, Alan Law, had been accused in Parliament of blackmail and extortion. A firm called Stephenson Clark had paid £5,000 into the TGWU convalescent homes fund following negotiations about dismissed drivers. Mr Law intended to share the £5,000 with £400 each to seven drivers and £1,100 each to two shop stewards. I knew several firms which were shaken down by Law. Businesses in the Midlands dreaded the attentions of this man and spoke of “The Rule of Law” which bordered on gangsterism, using the immunities from normal legal redress which the unions continued to enjoy until the days of Margaret Thatcher.

One thing strikes me about the Sunday Mirror of those days. It was very much better written than any tabloid today. A full page article by Roy Jenkins, Chancellor of the Exchequer sang the praises of what her termed “the civilised society” and the beginnings of our present obsession with homosexuality and transgender matters. He was a leading light amongst the group of  Labour MPs, working behind the scenes to defy their own party policy and get us into the European Economic Community.

In this, he was at one with the up and coming Conservative, John Selwyn Gummer, now Lord Deben. He and Jenkins both peddled the lie that the Commonwealth countries, grown up and independent, wanted nothing more to do with us – so we must look to Europe.  Gummer came to our Corn Trade Association Conference at Buxton to tell us that. I knew it was a lie because our New Zealand friends supplied us with thousands of tons of milk powder and were not at all pleased to be losing one of their best customers. So, I decided that a project which required a lie to promote it must be concealing more and greater evils. The Canadians who supplied excellent quality wheat for flour milling got the same treatment.

In late 1971 I became a member of a MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries & Food) Committee, concerned with bringing in the European Common Agricultural Policy. The others on the committee were a good twenty years older than I . When they heard the details of the policy which I had heard in Holland ten years before (see Episode 1), they were so outraged that they wanted to walk out. We had not yet met Sir Humphrey Appleby of “Yes Minister” but a senior civil servant who greatly resembled him smoothed them down expertly.

“Well gentlemen” he said “We were not founder members of the community, so these arrangements are not what we would have wished. But just give it a few years of British common sense and we’ll soon get it licked into shape”.  Tea and biscuits appeared instantly. With hindsight, I guessed that the lady with the trolley was waiting for her cue. “And now gentlemen, the political decision having been made, we want to help you get the very best out of this”.  It was a deceit expertly done but, to give the civil servants their due, they certainly gave us the help we needed to make our living in this strange new world. We had to make radical alterations to the way we ran our business. In the highly regulated Common Agricultural Policy our profitability would depend on being able to claim EEC subsidy for “denaturing” wheat and milk powder – that is, rendering them unfit for human consumption by blending them into animal feed. We needed new record systems, new laboratory equipment and parts of our production lines had to be redesigned. By Autumn or early winter of 1972, we were ready to be up and running with the new system. So everything worked perfectly when we “went into Europe” in January 1973 . The only things we were not prepared for was the new breed of inspector and Harold Wilson’s 1975 “Renegotiation” – of which more anon.

 

Labour’s Brexit dilemma

Before the EU referendum, many people thought that the outcome, whatever it might be going to be, was going to cause far more problems for the Conservative than the Labour Party. At least up to now, this is far from what has happened. Only one Tory MP, Kenneth Clark voted against Article 50 on 2nd February 2017 while 47 Labour MPs voted that way, showing how deep the divisions within the Labour Party over Brexit are at the moment.

A number of key statistics tell the story. Of the 230 odd constituencies held by Labour at the time of the EU referendum, 70% had Leave majorities. If London and a small number of university cities are excluded, the ratio rises to about 90%. Some of these Leave majorities were very substantial. In Stoke on Trent, where one of the recent bye-elections was held, the Leave majority was close to 70%. Among Parliamentary Labour Party members, however, the picture is very different. There is still only a comparatively small minority of committed Leave supporters, and most of the seats with the largest Remain majorities had Labour MPs.

This is what has caused the Labour Party such huge difficulties. Clearly there was a democratic vote in favour of leaving the EU on 23rd June 2017 which needs to be respected. Many Labour MPs who were both personally strongly for Remain and who had substantial majority support for this position among their constituency electorates, however, thought that they had good reasons, in their judgement, for voting against Article 50.

The danger then is that the Party as a whole loses out heavily in the country at large because of its ambivalent stance on Brexit – and more polling evidence emphasises the scale of this risk. On the one hand, of the 9.3m people who voted Labour in the 2015 general election, just short of 3.5m voted Leave in the EU referendum and half of these people, about 1.7m of them, say that they do not intend to vote Labour again at least partly because they are unhappy with Labour’s policies towards the EU. At the other end of the spectrum, fervent Labour-leaning Remain voters are concerned enough about Labour supporting Article 50 to desert the Party and to vote for the Lib Dems, which is clearly what happened in the recent Richmond by-election at the beginning of December 2016, where Labour finished up with only 4% of the vote.

Labour is thus threatened with losing large numbers of votes both among its industrial heartland blue collar erstwhile supporters, because it is not Eurosceptic enough, as well as from metropolitan middle class people, many of whom do not want to leave the EU at all.  Of course, issues to do with Brexit are not the only reason why the Party is in difficulties, but Brexit is currently dominating political discussion in the UK at the moment, and Labour cannot afford to call this issue wrongly. So what can it do?

The by-elections held on 23rd February 2017 provide some guidelines. In both Copeland and Stoke Central Labour’s share of the vote fell. Obviously, other factors were in play apart from Brexit but both the loss of the seat by Labour in Copeland and the low turnout in Stoke suggest that many Labour-leaning voters away from London and university cities are upset by the Labour Party’s lack of enthusiasm for Brexit.

Furthermore, even though there was some good news from a Labour perspective, this needs to be treated with caution. The threat from UKIP turned out to be much weaker than might have been expected, no doubt mainly because the Conservatives have promised to do much of what UKIP supporters want. Nor did either the Lib Dems or the Greens do well. The problem Labour faces, however, is that, as the main opposition party, it has to win support back from the government and this is not what is currently happening. Instead, it seems that the Conservatives have been much more successful on Brexit in positioning themselves where the country wants to be.

What, in these circumstances can Labour do? Really, there is only one way ahead on Brexit which has any realistic chance of helping it to recover the electoral support it needs to become an effective opposition, let alone the party of government. It cannot afford to disregard the result of the EU referendum both for democratic reasons and because the Party stands to lose much more support from those alienated by Labour backing off supporting Brexit than it is likely to lose by failing to obstruct the Brexit negotiations, which has to be Lib Dem and not Labour territory.

What Labour needs to do, therefore, is to recognise that it has to accept the referendum result and then to play as constructive a role as it can on the Brexit negotiations. This will not be secured by tactical manoeuvring against the government. It will be achieved by supporting the government wherever it is acting in the national interest, while no doubt carving out a distinctive Labour position where there is genuine difference of view, for example of social legislation. 

Brexit is all too likely to dominate the political horizon for all the period running up to the next general election in 2020. Labour needs to use this period to rebuild the electorate’s trust in the Party on the EU – as well as much else.

Photo by DavidMartynHunt

An outbreak of reality hits Labour while Mrs May’s europhile credentials are further questioned

We are hoping to offer you some informed comment about the implication of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election in the coming days. In the meantime, however, it is encouraging to know that an outbreak of reality regarding the EU referendum has hit a number of Labour MPs.

As most readers will be aware, Labour Brexiteer MPs were very few in number. CIB’s patron Kate Hoey, who addressed our annual rally back in May, had little company on the opposition benches. However, it was Mr Corbyn’s lukewarm support for the EU during the referendum which provided the trigger for his critics to launch their leadership challenge, with his rival Owen Smith promising a second referendum if he ever became Prime Minister.

Now the dust has settled on the leadership vote, a more sober note is being sounded. In particular, Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader, warned the party at its annual conference that it must not become “the party of the 48%” – i.e., solely the voice of those who voted to remain. Chuka Umunna, the former Shadow Business Secretary, struck a similar note, saying it would be “an incredibly patronising way” to treat those voters who voted to leave the EU.

While Miliband was heckled by a German national in the audience, who said she felt betrayed by the party’s opposition to a second referendum, her concerns will carry less weight among many Labour MPs than those of their constituents. Some of the highest Brexit votes came from traditionally Labour-supporting areas. In Doncaster, which includes Miliband’s constituency, over two-thirds of those who voted supported Brexit. Hartlepool, which once boasted Peter Mandelson as its MP, voted even more strongly to leave.

A survey by YouGov found that over half of Labour voters who supported the party in last year’s General Election but who subsequently supported leave would not currently vote for Labour. The party is clearly facing a challenge to reconnect with its traditional voter base.

This website is not the appropriate place on while to dissect the troubles which the Labour party is currently facing. Furthermore, the reasons for Labour voters’ disillusion with the EU have been endlessly debated elsewhere. We will say, however, that with Conservative MPs having already come together in recognising the Brexit vote (even if they are still far from united on any sort of leave strategy), it is good to see Labour MPs following suit.

There still remain a few incorrigibles, including  Lib Dem leader Tim Farron,  who pledged that his party would fight for a second referendum and Craig Oliver, Cameron’s former spin doctor who has recently published a new book  described by the columnist Dominic Lawson as a “cry of rage from an ousted establishment.” Not only does it savage Michael Gove and Boris Johnson but it also attacks the only serious  challenger to Jeremy Corbyn for the title of most unenthusiastic high-profile remainer – Theresa May.

Mr Oliver informs us that Mrs May had to be bullied by Cameron into endorsing the campaign to remain in the EU. When she did make a rather lukewarm speech, Oliver noted that “she isn’t fully signed up.” The very fact that this speech, which did include a claim that “the sky would not fall” in the event of Brexit, seemed to have kept off most people’s radars indicates just how little impact she made on the remain campaign.

Mr Oliver is therefore pretty scathing about her. For those of us willing her to make the best possible success of Brexit, however, it is very encouraging, as it shows that she was even less enthusiastic about the EU than we were hitherto led to believe.

Photo by RiotsPanel

Peer’s shock at Labour joining PM’s ‘conspiracy’ against working people

THE PRESS OFFICE OF                                                           

The Lord Stoddart of Swindon (Independent Labour)                                                                                          

News Release

 

17th May 2016

 

Peer shocked to see Labour Party joining PM’s “disgraceful conspiracy of the elite against working people”

The independent Labour Peer, Lord Stoddart of Swindon has strongly attacked the Labour Party over its support for the Remain campaign in the debate over Britain’s future in the EU.

Lord Stoddart said:  “As a life-long Labour man, I find it shocking to see the Labour Party ganging up with Cameron and Osborne to talk Britain down in favour of shackling our country to the EU, an organisation which is hell-bent on destroying nation states in favour of a bureaucratic, centralised corporate state, in a country called ‘Europe’.

 “How can Corbyn and co expect to be treated seriously in their attacks on the Government whilst it is joining them in a disgraceful conspiracy of the élite against working people, engineered by David Cameron?  Labour has become wedded to what can only be described as a one party state and has betrayed the very people that they claim to represent.

“Labour supporters should vote Brexit on 23rd June, to save their country, their jobs and their livelihoods because their Party isn’t going to be able do it for them, if we stay in the EU.”