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.