Defend democracy. End chaos and secrecy in the Brexit process

Speech to CLASS Think Tank 2016

Brexit is a disaster. It didn’t have to be: there’s a perfectly justified case for Britain – already half out of a Europe – to step back, stay in the Single Market, go for a Norway or Swiss-style deal, listen to what is rational about the complaints about the economic impact of migration, and reject what is irrational.

But that’s not what we’ve done.

Brexit is a disaster because it’s disorderly, chaotic and carried out by a Conservative government with no mandate and no idea what to do.

Theresa May is like a drowning woman, thrown back on her reflexes. And she has only one reflex left: attack social justice – think grammar schools; attack the poor – think benefit cuts; and attack the NHS, using cuts and privatization. And now, attack democracy and the rule of law.

Since the High Court decision, and those appalling attacks in the newspapers, people have been asking: what do Jonathan Harmsworth and Rupert Murdoch want? What would make them stop?

The answer is simple: they want Britain ruled by a xenophobic mob, controlled by them. They want a Labour Party controlled by them.

What they want in charge are people like Jacob Rees Mogg.

Don’t laugh at Jacob. Before he became an MP, Jacob set up Somerset Capital Management. It’s a small fund – only £7bn. In its mission statement it says:

“with the exception of the legal boundaries, we make no claim to using environmental, social and governance concerns as tenets of ethics in the fashioning of investment returns…”

“the end of our engagement, unless specified in client mandates, is the preservation of client investment returns, which often is, but may not be consistent with a social or moral agenda.”

That could be the mission statement of the Tories after Brexit: a rule free environment for the rich, in which an unelected government with no mandate gets to rewrite the relationship between the citizen and the state.

Meanwhile people are being shouted at in the streets. Told to go home. Who incited them? Amber Rudd incited them. Liam Fox with his determination to use three million EU migrants as a “bargaining chip”. Boris Johnson incited them.

That’s what Brexit has unleashed. And voting Brexit was an honourable and understandable position; destroying the judiciary, the constitution and poisoning public life against migrants is not.

But Brexit is only a symptom of a bigger problem.

Globally the whole economic model has stopped working.

Freemarket capitalism is broken. Wages: flat. Growth: dire. Productivity; flatlining. Don’t take it from me, take it from Mark Carney – who told the G20 in Shanghai this year that, yes, if they want it, the central banks can pump more money in. But after that we need a new model.

A brilliant insight. The only thing is, the rich are so addicted to the utopia of free markets, zero social or moral or environmental obligations – that they cannot bring themselves to imagine what that new model could be.

But we can.

In my book Postcapitalism, I predicted that if we don’t find an alternative to neoliberalism it will destroy globalisation.

That’s what’s happening now.

The alternative is: preserve globalisation, the multilateral system, the IMF, WTO, Paris Climate Change Treaty, exhangeable currencies – but change the economic model.

So that banks exist to lend to businesses; so that innovation leads to secure, decent high-skilled jobs – not parasitic firms like Uber. So that, when you walk into a fast food cafe, and the server smiles at you, you know it’s because they’re happy – not because the enture shift will get its bonus deducted if one person looks sad.

That’s what Labour Party is.

It is the desire for a capitalism that is more humane; where globalisation works for poor people in rich countries, not rich people – and corrupt people – in poor countries.

And that’s all it is. Yes me and you can bang tables in the pub over Israel-Palestine, nuclear weapons, criminalising sex work or decriminalising it. But the party must be a respectful alliance

I wish we hadn’t had the leadership challenge. But now it’s over I genuinely want to forget the arguments and emnities that it stirred up.

So what should we do?

We have to be honest with people. We cannot sabotage or ignore the Brexit referendum vote.

Because want to govern Britain: the SNP doesn’t; the Libdems and the Greens can’t.

We can prevent that vote from being hijacked – so that in the process of trying to leave the EU we protect working class people and take power away from Rupert Murdoch and Jacob Rees Mogg.

I would like to remain part of the single market and request a time limited emergency brake on free movement, while we remove the incientives that have pulled highly exploited, temporary and dislocated migrant labour into some parts of the UK.

The press is full of articles saying this is impossible – it may be, but we have no way of knowing if we don’t try.

But if it’s not, then we stick to the red lines outlined by John McDonnell: single market access; passporting for the banks; the right to remain for three million EU nationals; all labour rights maintained; the UK’s membership of the European Investment Bank upheld.

But red lines have to be red lines. If the Tory proposal crosses them – and it will cross them all – Labour has the right to vote them down.

If we do it won’t be the Lobdems calling for a second referendum it will be Jacob and friends – they won’t stop until Britain becomes a 21st century Downton Abbey.

I want the Labour movement to stop being paralysed in the face of xenophobia and racism.

Trade unionists, day in day out, face a problem people who only do focus group politics not used to. Being treated like a terrorist. Drawing a line of principle and fighting for it.

I’ve watched our MPs and journalists remain calm under fire – on the phone in programmes, Queston Time, and any Questions – and its been an education for some. It was an education for me.

In the old world – Labour politicians assumed there was a centre; you had to give this “centre” what it wants. And that if you were getting booed on Question Time this is a terrible outcome.

In the average audience of Question Time – last summer, now, next year – there is no centre. There are Tory and UKIP voters, who we want to persuade. But we don’t do it by splitting the difference.

There are people who hate migrants and the “loaded foreign elite”. We should oppose them.

And there are decent people who blame the bosses, the banks, the system. People who come out of I am Daniel Blake saying: I am Daniel Blake not, “I think Ian Duncan Smith has a point”.

So the polls are against us. There’s a trend for blaming the leadership challenge – but that’s not the main problem.

The polls are against us because people are afraid; and they’re right to be. They’re living through a self-inflicted catastrophe.

We’ve got almost the entire media against us. And the Tories saying: trust us, override justice, sideline parliament, blame your Spanish nurse, your Romanian cleaner – the edge of the cliff is a scary place so lets just close our eyes and jump, destroying 7.5% of GDP for certain – and nothing but chaos after.

But we have something money cannot buy.

When a working class mum, on an estate, asks – who stands up for me; when the three million EU migrants ask – who are our friends among the British workforce; when the young ask – who will pay our college fees; when couples in their 20s say – who will give us an affordable rent; a secure tenancy; rights at work and access to justice when they’re flouted; when people survey their town centre, blighted by closed shops, poverty, bleakness and dislocation and ask – who in this world can put it right?

We have an answer.

It’s us. The Labour Party. We are the hand around your shoulder.

We, like you, are tired, pissed off, damaged, fearful. But there’s half a million of us. And if we stick together we can win.