JEREMY CORBYN’S reminder this morning that “Brexit is what we make of it together” should prompt all of us on the left to look at what kind of country we want to live in.
As the Labour leader is due to say, “In or out of the EU we have to deal with the reality of market failure and austerity.”
Any Labour government that fails to deal with both these issues will ultimately be a failure itself.
Austerity, as a regime of squeezing wages, starving public services of funding and tearing up social security provisions is euphemistically known, has to end.
Corbyn has always said so and he has won that argument. MPs who were prepared to abstain over Tory welfare cuts three years ago no longer challenge the leader’s office over the need to raise public spending.
Market failure is another matter. The public never swallowed the “private good, public bad” mantra of the Thatcher years and support for public ownership of water, energy, postal services and transport is now overwhelming.
We can also point to victories like that of the local people of Haringey, London, against a corporate redevelopment scheme as evidence that a popular fightback against the dictatorship of “the market” is growing.
But, perhaps scarred by years of defeats, there is a tendency on the left to think critically without thinking creatively, assuming that market forces will continue to call the shots.
Keir Starmer might say that “we all want more trade agreements,” but that surely depends on the terms. Popular opposition to EU-driven trade deals Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) was huge, and rightly so. Labour needs to push fair trade not free trade.
Starmer’s position suffers from a fixation on the threats leaving the EU poses rather than the opportunities it creates.
The threats are real — the Tories are desperate to turn Britain into “a deregulated corporate tax haven with low wages, limited rights and cut-price public services,” as Corbyn will say. A Brexit on their terms will deliver exactly that.
But what about a Brexit on our terms? An exit deal built around how we tackle those two problems — austerity and market failure.
That involves ensuring our government can make strategic interventions in the economy without being hauled over the coals by the European Commission for proffering illegal state aid, as Italy was two months ago for guaranteeing loans to the Ilva steelmaker to try to prevent its collapse.
It means ensuring that competition and right of establishment rules do not prevent government or local authorities from taking non-commercial factors into account when commissioning services, including the pay and conditions of staff, whether the provider recognises trade unions and ethical issues such as whether it is implicated in the arms trade.
Similarly, Labour’s regional investment bank will be more effective if regional authorities have the right to positively discriminate in favour of local providers and producers — a right also linked to our ability to combat climate change.
Labour MPs who demand continued membership of the single market place a ceiling on our ambition.
They say we can’t improve on an economic set-up that has been disastrous for ordinary people.
Fear of what the Tories might do, given a free hand, does not justify such defeatism. People are rejecting the status quo. The left will not succeed unless it can offer them something better.
This is why Corbyn is right to emphasise that any deal must “ensure we can deliver our ambitious economic programme” and insist that "we cannot be held back from taking the steps we need to support cutting-edge industries and local business, stop the tide of privatisation and outsourcing or prevent employers being able to import cheap agency labour from abroad to undercut existing pay and conditions."
As so often in the past, Corbyn is streets ahead of many of his parliamentary colleagues on this one. We as a movement must ensure he can turn these words into reality.
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