South of the River – Trans Europe Express

Compass-SouthComment logo 2It’s been a bit of a hectic time here at South Leeds Towers, so I must apologise to people who commented on my last column. I’ll try and give a proper rely here to Rich, Luke, Sarah and Paul.

I’ll start with Sarah who asked me to let people make their own minds up. I’m really not trying to tell anyone what to think. South of the River is an opinion column. I try to share what I think, but I’m quite happy for readers to disagree with me, which is just as well because plenty do.

I found the EU Referendum debate at The Hunslet Club very interesting. In between trying to ‘live tweet’ the event (very badly) take notes for a report and photos … I heard one or two new points or twists on arguments.

I was particularly struck by Gerald Jennings’ comments. He’s the President of Leeds Chamber of Commerce and was until recently a Director of Land Securities who’s White Rose Centre is one of the smaller items in their portfolio. We’re talking serious business person here.

I’m a professed socialist, but I appreciated this captain of industry’s grasp on reality. Business he said needs an open market, not just to sell things in, but to hire labour from. As a consequence he’s nervous of immigration policies.

He also understands that immigration policies work over decades not months. Cutting immigration to ‘tens of thousands’ as Cameron promised will send a message to the ‘brightest and best’ that they are not welcome in Britain and that’s a problem for UK plc who needs them to grow the economy.

The issue for UK plc is that it doesn’t know exactly which skills gap it will need to fill from abroad at any particular time. Everyone seems to agree that this class of immigrant is welcome, but it’s not just about letting them in, it’s about attracting them in the first place.

Another point he raised was that two major issues with British capitalism – the skewed London-centric economy and the long term decline of manufacturing – have nothing to do with the EU, but are effects of long term trends global capitalism and British politics.

This may seem esoteric, but much of the Leavers’ messages seem to hark back to a time before we joined the EEC, as it was, in 1973. Back then we had a manufacturing base, although it was already under threat from emerging economies. I seem to remember it was Indonesia that did for the spinning and weaving industries around then. I could be wrong on the detail, but defence and nuclear was certainly located around Preston after the war because of decline of King Cotton.

You must make up your own mind about how to vote. Maybe leaving will make Britain Great again, but it won’t turn the clock back.

You may have guessed by now that I have come down on the side of remaining in the EU. I guess the clinching argument for me is not to do with sovereignty, democracy, or trade deals, but thinking about how I will feel the day after the referendum.

This perhaps answers Paul’s question. Yes I am more concerned about what my Marxist friends would call the ‘balance of class forces’, what others might call the state of British politics, than the principle of directly elected decision makers. I know the EU is a capitalist club, but if we vote to leave, the people who will gain momentum are populist right wingers.

Those people who hate all immigration and want us to be isolationist in the world, to take what we want from the world, but not give back in return. Those people who believe in individualism, I’m Alright Jack and there is no society. And before anyone takes offense, I do not class all people who intend to vote leave as rabid right wingers. My point is that these people will benefit and their ideas will circulate and be amplified by the media.

I would prefer Britain’s position to be based on solidarity, both within the country and internationally. So that’s how I’m going to vote. In answer to Rich, I don’t think Britain will vote to leave, but I’m worried it might.

I’ll be on holiday next week, but back with more of my views from South of the River soon. If you’re on Twitter, you can follow me: @BeestonJeremy.


3 Replies to “South of the River – Trans Europe Express”

  1. Jeremy

    At least you’re honest about your general lack of concern for the principles of democracy and sovereignty. What this really reveals is a fear of the electorate itself, lest it votes in a direction you don’t like. But there is no reason why Brexit, and the hopeful disintegration of the EU that would follow, would benefit the right more than the left – that’s just fear mongering.

    Ultimately, “the balance of class forces”, as you quote, is there to be decided through political debate and contesting views of society – what politics and democracy is about. In fact, I would argue that the precondition for the reconstitution of politics in Europe is the disintegration of the EU, which exists to shield the political elite from the will of the peoples of Europe.

    You may frighten yourself, and hope to frighten others, with the spectre of the right, but the more insidious and dangerous arguments are those that question democracy itself in the hope that unaccountable and the unelected might save them from their own worst nightmares.


  2. Hi Jeremy: the point is this: everyone is aware that the STAY and BREXIT campaigns are full of spin. What you offer here is your interpretation of that spin and through doing so are trying to persuade people with your own political views. What you need to do is let people use their own intelligence and gut instinct to unravel the waffle and make their own choice. Ed Carlisle is just as bad. Political views don’t need to be aired or shared -they are personal.

    1. Of course the whole point of a referendum is all our votes are equal – so whether Jeremy writes a column or not, we’re all entitled to cast our vote as we see fit.
      I’d be interested to know what proportion of the electorate have changed their choice since the neverendum campaign started. My views have just hardened and I’m in.

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