Chris Bryant MP, Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, spoke last night to our local Epsom and Ewell Labour Party meeting. He spoke passionately on the remain side of the EU referendum debate. He also spoke of the need for unity in the Labour Party, calling for inclusive attitudes towards those on the right as well as the left of the party. This was a contentious point and there was a heated response in the room, predictably dividing the Blairites and the Liz Kendall supporters from the Corbynistas!
Inclusive attitudes are all very well, but not if they undermine the very existence of the radical alternative to the status quo, which was, after all, the people’s choice in the leadership election. The membership voted for a left-leaning candidate as the only hope for a real alternative to the neoliberal agenda of the last forty or so years of Westminster governance.
All the weapons of the establishment have been aimed at undermining and unseating this democratic choice, including the BBC, the Guardian Newspaper and the PLP. There are many party members who see Corbyn as the only chance of instituting a radical alternative to ‘business as usual’. It takes time to turn a great vessel around, and the PLP needs to give Corbyn the time it takes.
In fact Corbyn is not the far left ‘looney fringe’ candidate. Academics across the globe, even in some of the most conservative quarters, such as the International Monetary Fund, are now speaking out against the neoliberal agenda and against over-stringent austerity measures, against policies which damage the economy and damage the prospect of domestic and international recovery. Policies which hand more and more political and economic power to a tiny wealthy minority.
Corbyn embodies this radical shift in perspective, a perspective which is based on both hard statistical evidence and theoretical reasoning. The Thatcher dream has failed abysmally. The ‘trickle down theory’ is more aptly described as a ‘suck it up theory’, yielding more and more prosperity for a tiny privileged few. At the same time demand, investment and productivity have sunk to very low levels and financial instability has brought on a worldwide recession from which we are still struggling to escape. ‘More of the same’ condemns the vast majority to increasing deprivation, not to economic recovery. This view is becoming increasingly mainstream. Under Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party is well positioned to be in the vanguard of badly needed change.
I feel, as an economist, that Bryant underplayed the importance, whether in or out of the EU, of protecting workers rights. The gap in pay between the richest and the poorest (even the richest and the average) has rarely been so great and is continuing to increase year by year. Even within the top 1% the gap is widening out of all control. Inequality on this scale threatens democracy itself. Lobbying power has become too great. We all have the sense that the super rich-live in a different world and make their own rules: paying little or no tax, buying off the legal system, controlling the media etc.
If we stay in the EU, and I hope we will, protecting workers rights, especially ending the diabolical practice of allowing employers to actively and exclusively recruit unskilled workers from overseas, then exploiting their vulnerability when they arrive in the UK, (denying them basic rights, such a sick leave and toilet breaks under threat of expulsion) has to be at the centre of government policy. Chris Bryant agreed with me on this point, saying he did not understand why such practices were not already illegal within the UK and the EU.
Allowing cheap labour to be brought in wholesale to the UK with false promises from unscrupulous employers, undercuts the security and pay of workers everywhere. If local workers were better protected there would be less incentive for employers to recruit vulnerable, virtual slave-labour overseas, thus solving two problems at once. Workers everywhere must unite against such practises.
On the other hand fair migration, where good terms and conditions of employment are insisted upon, is a good thing. The issue is not migration but workers rights. Many of our services and businesses rely on migrant workers from abroad and they add greatly to our economy and our society. The skill set and tax revenue that such workers bring to this country assists our growth and development. Such migration does not put a strain on public services, far from it. It alleviates the strain on services, such as the NHS, as many of us who have used those services recently should know only too well. The strain on public services is not caused by immigration but by underfunding of those services.
The infighting within the Conservative Party has become a grotesque debacle. The referendum is a mere ploy to pander to the threat from the far right. This is the chaos that self-serving neoliberalism has brought about. The sooner we put all this to one side and get on with the business of running the government in the interest of the majority and not the feckless minority the better. Corbyn is providing the umbrella beneath which radical alternatives can be nurtured. This takes time and persuasion as well as political unity and a common commitment to a common cause.
What the majority of us have to fear is not migration but the neoliberal agenda, the spiraling out of orbit of the political and economic power of a tiny privileged few. This is not the politics of envy, it is the politics of sound reasoning and hard evidence.
The Labour Party is called upon to offer a manifesto that offers real change. This is where the PLP and the party members need to see collective reasoning and a sense of political unity emerging. A general election may be triggered sooner than we think. We must hope the Labour Party is ready to get behind real change, for that is precisely what Labour Party members called for in the last leadership election.