CHANCELLOR Philip Hammond’s Mansion House speech to the City of London corporate elite could, at first glance, be seen as mimicking Labour’s jobs first approach to leaving the European Union. But this would be a misreading of Hammond’s political priorities.
While the Labour position formulated by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell stresses the need to defend employment, investment and workers’ rights in the leaving process, the Chancellor is playing a long game with a view to dragging out a transition phase designed to defer indefinitely Britain’s exit from the EU.
Hammond is singing from the same song sheet as Bank of England governor Mark Carney who attributes falling living standards unerringly to the EU referendum decision.
Working people are, in reality, worse off because of the government’s capitalist austerity agenda that holds down wages and investment in public services in pursuit of a failed plan to eradicate its spending deficit.
The Chancellor looked both ways at Mansion House, claiming that “seven years of hard slog” have made the country weary of austerity while upholding the Autumn Statement fantasy of balanced books by the mid-2020s.
The working class doesn’t need crocodile tears from Hammond and Carney about the reduced purchasing power of their salaries.
Both men supported former chancellor George Osborne’s economic policy that squeezed working people, especially those receiving in-work benefits, and allowed the banking sector to continue paying huge salaries and benefits packages to its top brass.
Whatever the differences between leading Tories over EU membership, they were united in favour of the top 5 per cent wealthy elite.
Their blithe disregard for workers’ falling living standards, whether caused by government decree or bosses’ machinations to undermine wage levels through EU employment loopholes, was a major contributory factor to the referendum result.
Theresa May has constantly said that Brexit means Brexit, but delays in triggering article 50 and setting up negotiations with Brussels cast doubt on Tory seriousness.
It is surely no coincidence that Hammond’s Mansion House address coincides with a tidal wave of advice from pro-EU business outfits such as the Institute of Directors (IoD) whose director general Simon Walker said in June 2016 that the electorate had voted “for constitutional and economic chaos.”
The City and big businesses profiting from Britain’s EU membership are less committed to honouring the electorate’s decision than to arrangements they feel will benefit their shareholders most.
Throughout the referendum campaign, leading voices in both the leave and remain camps made clear that exiting the EU equated to bidding farewell to the internal market and the customs union.
Yet the likes of Nick Clegg, Chuka Umunna and Open Britain deny this now, with mainstream media favourite Umunna advising the Tories to “reopen the possibility of keeping Britain in the single market and customs union, which would be the best option for our economy.”
That would be the preference for many in the City and the corporate sector, but it would be disastrous for Labour to adopt this back-handed approach.
Corbyn and McDonnell stipulated that a Labour government would honour the referendum decision, which has played a role in winning many voters who switched to Ukip to return to Labour.
The Tories are in tatters, not simply over the EU, and could be ejected from office by a resolute opposition headed by Labour.
Today’s Queen’s Speech and related debates present a prime opportunity to Labour to unseat Theresa May and her party.