Tuesday 16 February 2016

Bound To Be Consequences

Luke James writes:

Kate Hoey, a keen Arsenal fan, was watching her team in a tense FA Cup final replay on TV on the evening of Thursday May 20 1993. 

The game against Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley was deep into extra time when her phone rang. 

It was the late Labour leader John Smith. Earlier that evening Hoey had voted against the Maastricht Treaty being incorporated into British law against the Labour whip, which was to abstain. 

As a junior member of Smith’s shadow front bench at the time, there were bound to be consequences. 

But not only was she sacked, she also missed Andy Linighan’s last-minute winning goal. 

“I remember saying: ‘Oh hang on, hang on, there’s a goal’,” she says, recalling an eventful evening for politics and sport between sipping mouthfuls of soup in Parliament’s canteen. 

She had been joined in the No lobby by prominent figures of Labour’s left, including Dennis Skinner, Diane Abbott, Ken Livingstone and a certain Jeremy Corbyn. 

In the debate on the Maastricht Treaty earlier that year, Corbyn had said the “imposition of a bankers’ Europe on the people of this continent will endanger the cause of socialism in the United Kingdom.” 

Like Corbyn, she voted against Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community in 1975. 

And her suspicions about the EU were solidified during her time as a Home Office minister when she represented Britain frequently at Brussels summits. 

“That was when I really discovered the undemocratic nature and the whole cliquey-ness of the EU — it’s all about ‘you scratch my back here and I’ll scratch your back there’.” 

Hoey has since swapped roles with Corbyn. She plays the backbench rebel while he bears responsibility for the party’s collective position to remain in the EU. 

In a speech to Labour councillors earlier this month Corbyn said he will use the referendum to press for a “real social Europe.” 

Although “disappointed” to lose a long-term ally (and fellow Arsenal fan), Hoey says she “understands” his position. 

Equally, she reports that Corbyn told her recently that he had no problem with her involvement in the Leave campaign. “The reality is that we are doing a service to the party,” she contends. 

“What I believe we’re doing, in our small way, is flying a Labour flag in places that there wouldn’t otherwise be a Labour flag flying, which doesn’t do any harm.” 

Hoey is one of half a dozen Labour MPs who launched the Labour Leave campaign last month with funding from JML entrepreneur John Mills. 

They have been swamped with speaking invitations and Hoey has most recently visited Kettering, Manchester and Exeter. 

Early experiences on the campaign trail have been encouraging for the Leave campaign but disheartening for Labour, she reports. 

“The Labour Party is so out of touch with its supporters and ex-supporters,” she says. 

“The thing that has struck me most, particularly in the north of England, is people coming up to me and saying: ‘I used to be a member but we’re now Ukip voters and it’s great that there’s people in the Labour Party saying what we think about the EU’.” 

Hoey believes Labour’s enthusiasm for the EU is going to mean the referendum is remembered as a “missed opportunity” to re-engage with the party’s traditional working-class base. 

“It still astonishes me that there’s such a silence within the official hierarchy of the Labour Party about the detrimental side of the EU.” 

Margaret Beckett’s autopsy of Labour’s general election defeat contests that theory, however, concluding that “Ukip was in net terms more damaging to the Tories than to Labour.” 

And critics of Labour’s most prominent Eurosceptic might suggest that the number of “kippers” she’s bumping into might reflect badly on her campaign bedfellows. 

The Grassroots Out campaign with which she is now working is led by hard-right Tory MP Peter Bone. I ask if she finds it difficult to campaign alongside people she has such ideological differences with? 

“The reality is that if you really want to get out, every group has a slightly different perspective, and we can only win this referendum if we can all come together,” she says. “I don’t think there’s a problem with that.” 

Turning the question on its head, she adds: “The future aspiring leadership, people like Chuka Umunna, are going to be campaigning on the same platform as a Tory Prime Minister who has actually tried to destroy trade union rights through the Trade Union Bill.” 

She brands the Britain Stronger In Europe campaign “very Establishment” and says: “I doubt if [chairman] Lord Rose could go and talk to a bunch of car workers and convince them that they should be voting to stay.” 

However, Hoey levels the same criticism at the the Vote Leave campaign, from which Labour Leave disaffiliated last week after being sidelined by chief executive Dominic Cummings, a former adviser to Michael Gove. 

“We felt very much that we were not there for any other reason than to get them the designation [as the official Leave campaign],” she says. 

Her conviction is that the referendum represents “the people against the Establishment.” The question facing voters is who represents “the people” and who represents “the Establishment?” 

Hoey answers with a direct appeal to trade unionists, Labour members and Morning Star readers to “go with their instincts.” 

Making her pitch, she says: “A social Europe may have been the intention of some well-minded, good-willed people. 

“But look at what’s happened in Greece and other countries that have had economic austerity thrust upon them. 

“That is never going to be changed, influenced or reformed while you have a totally unelected Commission and no structure that allows for genuine meaningful change and no proper vetos for individual countries.” 

On that flourish, Hoey finishes her soup and practically sprints off towards the Commons.

There’s a debate on the timing of the EU referendum taking place, but she’s got a date with the Fire Brigades Union parliamentary group.

And that same, uniquely anti-EU, newspaper editorialises: 

British steel workers marching in Brussels with their comrades from other European Union member states are right to feel let down both by the EU and the Westminster government. 

Both organisations are wedded to a neoliberal economic approach that promotes maximisation of private profits through free trade and holding down workers’ pay and social benefits. 

The EU is pressing ahead with negotiations to finalise the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, which will deny nation states the ability to defend their economies against unfair competition. 

It will entrench the right of transnational corporations to sue national governments for perceived financial losses because of “restrictive” laws passed by supposedly sovereign parliaments. 

TTIP poses an impending grievous blow to national and local democracy and yet Brussels refuses even to let citizens/subjects see the documents being negotiated in their name. 

Abandonment of the steel industry in various EU member states is not an oversight or misjudgement. 

The EU can take steps to defend European steel industries against what is seen as unfair trade practices, including dumping. 

It chooses not to do so because it has no intention of alienating China with which it hopes to conclude further free-trade agreements. 

Britain’s Tory government could have defended steel plant, communities and jobs in a similar way to the bailout job carried out by New Labour, with Tory backing, for the private banking sector that bankrupted itself through reckless, though lucrative, speculative excesses eight years ago. 

But it has no interest in the manufacturing sector, including steel production, which continues to decline despite all of George Osborne’s claptrap about a northern powerhouse.

What responsible EU government would have let a £490 million contract for new rolling stock for Arriva Rail North drop into the lap of a Spanish company last month when Bombardier’s Derby train-building operation and Britain’s entire steel industry are on their knees? 

Steel has been allowed to go the same way as Britain’s coal, shipbuilding, automotive, motorcycle, aircraft, aerospace, computer and electronics industries, starved of investment, privatised and broken up. 

Neither Tata workers marching in Brussels nor their families back in Britain should be deceived into believing that the presence on the march of Tata European operations chief executive Karl Koehler means that they’re all on the same side. 

Koehler and his managers are interested chiefly in Tata profits, which is why, no matter how regretfully, it announced over 1,000 job losses last month. 

Pointing the finger at Chinese imports as the cause of British steel industry woes is disingenuous and misleading. EU steel imports into Britain are seven times higher than those from China, but Beijing is a handy whipping boy for many reasons. 

British steel would be in a much healthier position if our governments had stood up for it as strongly as the Chinese government has backed its own. 

But neither the Tory government nor the EU will take any meaningful steps to tackle the problems of the industry, which requires substantial investment to modernise and upgrade technologies. 

Indeed the EU stands in the way of any attempt by any government to impose emergency duties or quotas on steel imports from inside or outside the EU or to provide emergency funding to the industry. 

Jeremy Corbyn has indicated that a government under his leadership would be prepared to defy EU diktats on these issues, pointing out that Germany and Italy have already taken parts of their steel industries into temporary public ownership.

That would be a start, but rebirth of Britain’s manufacturing base will be impossible inside the EU, with its rules on free competition, on a long-term basis.

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