Brexit, dirty campaigning, the TTIP and a case for Remain

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“We cannot be content with the state of the EU as it stands. But that does not mean walking away, but staying to fight together for a better Europe.” Jeremy Corbyn, Statement to The Guardian, 28 July 2015.

Despite his reservations, and a desire to see progressive reform within the European Union, Mr Corbyn strongly supports the Remain campaign. He has been very clear about his views, and he has presented powerful arguments to support his position. He says:

” I have seen first-hand jobs, investment, workers’ rights and environmental protection that being part of the EU helps secure for working people. That’s why, despite its faults, I believe it’s best we vote to stay and work with our friends to make the changes Europe needs.”

It was therefore something of a surprise to see the Leave campaign use a quote with such malicious intent from Mr Corbyn, that was so outdated and out of context, to deliberately mislead people into thinking that the Labour leader supports Brexit.

This post was sponsored on Facebook, and came up more than once in my feed: Stand with Jeremy Corbyn.  

The site is promoted by Matthew Elliot, the founder and former Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and Big Brother Watch. He also acted as Campaign Director for the successful NOtoAV campaign in the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum. He is the Founder and was the Chief Executive of Business for Britain, and is now the Chief Executive of the Vote Leave Campaign Committee, having founded and been the chief executive of the main Vote Leave.

Elliott also founded the Politics and Economics Research Trust (PERT) in 2004. Labour MP and former Shadow Minister for Europe, Emma Reynolds, raised significant questions about the affairs of the TPA and PERT, she wrote to the Charity Commission and said that “PERT may be in breach of charities legally binding commitments to preserve their independence, specifically regarding political activity and the delivery of charitable objectives.”

Of £532,000 PERT paid out in grants in 2014, £300,000 went to the TPA and £205,000 to Business for Britain, both of which are Eurosceptic. £10,000 went to Global Britain, which has campaigned for Brexit. Charitable trusts are not allowed to be used for political purposes under British charity law.

There were some pretty grubby tricks employed during November 2015, when the group established a fake company in order to gain entry to a speech being given by the Prime Minister at the Confederation of British Industry where they heckled him and held banners stating “CBI = voice of Brussels.” Dominic Cummings, campaign director of Leave, subsequently stated:

“You think it is nasty? You ain’t seen nothing yet. These guys have failed the country, they are going to be under the magnifying glass. Tough shit … It is going to be tough”.

The campaign group also stated their intention to target and disrupt meetings of pro-EU organisations and companies. In a letter to the Electoral Commission, Eric Pickles, the former Conservative cabinet minister, said he believed Vote Leave had disqualified itself from lead status in the referendum (which entitles the campaign to public funding) after it pledged to run a “nasty” campaign against opponents.

The European referendum, some have argued, is more important than any general election, because it will potentially change Britain’s relationship with Europe and the rest of the world. There’s a lot of grand and quaint imperialist talk from the Leave camp about power, sovereignty and Britain’s “place in the world.” But it’s a clever sales pitch, nonetheless, as it harnesses the public restiveness, which reflects a broader disquiet with social democracy in the UK. 

I have to agree with Michael Sandel’s comment, in his excellent interview in today’s New Stateman with Jason Crowley: “A big part of the debate has been about economics – jobs and trade and prosperity – but my hunch is that voters will decide less on economics than on culture and ­questions of identity and belonging.”

The Right have always been strongly inclined towards socioeconomic outgrouping, creating categories of others, using stigma and scapegoating techniques to formulate justification narratives for policy that is purposefully designed to impose gross social inequalities. This alienates already marginalised groups, fragments social identities, and of course, breaks social solidarity. It’s therefore no surprise that immigration and othering have been the focus of a substantial part of the Brexit campaign.

He goes on to say: “Social democracy is in desperate need of reinvigoration, because it has over the past several decades lost its moral and civic energy and purpose. It’s become a largely managerial and technocratic orientation to politics. It’s lost its ability to inspire working people, and its vision, its moral and civic vision, has faltered. So for two generations after the Second World War, social democracy did have an animating vision, which was to create and to deepen and to articulate welfare states, and to moderate and provide a counterbalance to the power of unfettered market capitalism.

This was the raison d’être of social democracy, and it was connected to a larger purpose, which was to empower those who were not at the top of the class system, to empower working people and ordinary men and women, and also to nurture a sense of solidarity and an understanding of citizenship that enabled the entire society to say we are all in this together. But over the past, well, three or four decades, this sense of purpose has been lost, and I think it begins with the Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher era.”   

Yes, the transatlantic neoliberal turn. The commentary throughout the article is coherent and compelling, and well worth the read.

Leaving the EU would mean the UK giving up its place and influence in Europe, turning back the clock and retreating from the established global power networks of the 21st century. It would also legitimize the Conservatives’ crusade against what remains of a political settlement based on an inclusive, multicultural democracy. Without a level of international scrutiny and legal safeguards, I believe that this Conservative governments’ already evident authoritarian inclinations would be held under rather less constraint.

The Labour Party, except for a small handful of eurosceptics, is now firmly pro-Europe  – we are, after all, internationalists – despite the fact that leader Jeremy Corbyn has in the past questioned whether the EU structure delivers more for business than it does workers. The Scottish National Party, most of the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cmyru are firmly placed with the ‘In’ camp.

Jeremy Corbyn has said that David Cameron must not have a carte blanche to negotiate away workers’ rights as part of his desired EU reform package, ahead of the in-out referendum. However, Corbyn knows for sure that workers’ rights will not be stronger if the UK ends up outside the EU. 

It was the New Labour Government who ended the Tories’ opt-out on EU social policy (the “social chapter” as it was then called) back in 1998. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) have also staunchly defended workers’ rights in the EU over the last two decades. Now Cameron is aiming to undermine such positive EU employment laws in the UK, as the Tories successfully did back in the 1990s with an across-the-board opt-out. This said, Cameron’s “re-negotiation” has been pretty quickly sidelined.

A Labour government could easily opt back into any areas that the Tories did succeed in opting-out of, as long as the UK is still an EU member state. The real attack on workers’ rights would inevitably happen if the UK left the EU. Then it would be straightforward for the Tory government to repeal other directives protecting workers’ rights. And they would – obligations to implement EU laws would cease, and so leaving the EU would reduce rather than help workers’ rights. And joining the EU again in the future would be very difficult – it would require a new referendum and fresh negotiations with Brussels, at the very least.

One final point. Some on the Left have said that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a reason for them to vote to leave the EU.  I can understand this, because the TTIP will lead to a large-scale transfer of democratic power to multinationals. It is a blueprint for deregulation and privatisation.

The Left Leave group argue that the deal promotes the privatisation of the NHS, and that leaving the EU would mean avoiding TTIP and hence save Britain’s free healthcare system. However, TTIP would still have a strong influence on the UK economy. Once outside the EU, the UK would be unable to stop the TTIP, or shape it. TTIP would create a transatlantic marketspace that would influence British firms and the UK economy by aligning regulation in the US and EU.  Britain would need to stop trading with both the EU and the US to escape the TTIP’s regulations. The EU, like the US, would most likely remain an important trading partner for the UK in the event of a success for the Brexit campaign. Brexit is premised on extreme free trade agreements coupled with looser regulation to make us more “competitive.”

The TTIP deal was supposed to be signed by now – but together, the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group and Europe’s people have seriously stalled things. Would it really be possible to stop such a move if we couldn’t link up with campaigners across Europe? If being in the EU has brought us TTIP, it has also brought us the means to stop it. Labour MEPs fought hard to secure support within the EU to get the toxic Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause removed from the TTIP at the negotiating table last year.

This was an excellent achievement by our own Labour MEPs within the broader S&D group. The ISDS contradicts principles of democratic accountability and would potentially allow one government to bind another for decades to come. Unlike the great majority of other treaties, investment treaties have very long minimum lifespans ranging up to 30 years.

Much debate has arisen concerning the impact of controversial ISDS on the capacity of governments to implement reforms and legislative and policy programs related to public health, environmental protection, labour and human rights.

In the UK, we already have a highly corporatised Government. We have witnessed scandalous price-rigging, and massive job losses, decreased standards in service delivery and a disempowerment of our Unions. This is because the Tories will always swing policy towards profiting private companies and not towards meeting public needs, as we know.

In Britain, privatisation was primarily driven by Tory ideological motives, to “roll back the frontiers of the State.”

This Conservative government has done everything possible to push the most extreme version of TTIP, just as they’ve fought against pretty much every financial regulation, from bankers bonuses to a financial transaction tax. Cameron has his own programme of stripping away laws that direct big business towards reasonable behaviours and standards, no matter how important those laws are for safeguarding people and our environment.

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Related

Three excellent articles: –

EU debate: what are the real choices? – Red Pepper

The energy of the Brexiteers and Trump is born of the failure of elites Michael Sandel / Jason Cowley

#BREXIT ANTI-IMMIGRATION ARGUMENT CONTINUES WAR AGAINST POOR – Richard Dreyfus/Consented

 


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