Saturday, April 13, 2024

Blogpost: What losing to UKIP means for Labour, Thurrock and beyond…

By Basildon councillor, Gavin Callaghan

Basildon is a deeply divided town.

That is the lesson I have learned from my election defeat last night to UKIP.

IT is clear that communities are divided about the question of Britain’s EU membership, Labour’s beleaguered Leader, the government of the day and about the state of our union.

There are some political parties that stoke divisions for electoral gain. UKIP and the Conservatives are the main players in this regard.

But whilst they divide communities in order to win seats, my Labour colleagues and I want to unite South Essex in order to see it and it’s people progress. I’m more determined than ever, to make good on that commitment, after last night’s defeat.

I’m someone who came into politics because I don’t want to spend all of my time blaming someone else for our troubles.

I don’t want to blame the unions, or immigrants, or gay people or some other group for the fact it is tough right now for a young person in Basildon to get a home of their own, a decent job or a pay rise.

I want us to actually do things.

I believe that we really are all in this together. That each person in Basildon and Thurrock has a responsibility to themselves and to their families, but just as importantly to their neighbour and their community.

That’s been lost in recent times.

Eight years ago globalisation failed it’s first fiscal test. The global recession that engulfed Britain and large parts of Europe, America and the Asian-Pacific region is still keenly felt in people’s homes and workplaces in Basildon today.

For the first time in our nation’s peacetime history, parents in South Essex are asking if their kids will actually do better then them. It is a legitimate fear when wages are so low and house prices are so high.

For many people that I have met in Basildon, they are having to work even harder, for even longer, for even less in order to just stand still.

On June 23rd I believe that a vote to leave the European Union will make that economic climate worse for people in Thurrock and Basildon.

Yes economists have been wrong before. Yes they will be wrong again in the future. Yes countries will still want to trade with Britain on June 24th and no, we won’t become Iceland or Norway overnight.

However, it is now clear to me that the pound will fall and that there will be a negative economic impact to every household that will see incomes struggle to keep pace with inflation and the next decade just as hard, if not more difficult, than the last for those on middle and lower incomes.

Job security will be less, insecurity will be greater.

So think about this:

Britain spends £7bn (net) on annual EU membership, against a total spend in the UK of £748bn each year on frontline public services. That means we spent 0.9% of our annual public spending budget on membership of the EU.

If we leave the EU we will keep that £7bn per year.

If we leave it is likely that in the short to medium term, circa 3 million people will lose their job or be negatively impacted upon (hours cut).

How much of the £7bn we save would then be used on Job Seekers Allowance payments for the newly unemployed?

The UK Civil Service will be required to expand significantly in order for civil servants to begin the renegotiation of 53 trade deals plus agree new trade deals with America, Canada and India.

It is likely that existing trade arrangements will be readopted as solely British trade deals by 2030 meaning that between 2018 and 2030 British businesses will be required to adopt World Trade Organisation rules that mean 10% taxes and tariffs added to every import and export, increasing costs for businesses which means they increase costs for customers and/or hire fewer staff.

The majority of the £7bn we save will there be tied up in additional bureaucracy and benefits for much of the next decade and not used to solve issues with housing, the NHS or schools as promised by the Brixteers.

Is this really what we want to vote for?

Then of course comes the issue of immigration. I am someone who has long argued within Labour that this is the issue that will provide my party with it’s 21st century clause 1V moment. In other words, Labour will only win again when it’s brave enough to recognise it needs to fundamentally redraw its policies on immigration. That is how important an issue this is to the public.

I say that with confidence because last night the people in Basildon took issues such as education, social care and public transport and discarded them in favour of focusing solely on the issue of immigration.

How Labour remedies that starts, in my view, with reviewing our position on free movement of people. Like Ed Balls (and I was rarely in agreement with Mr Balls on anything), I believe that the global recession of 2008 has shown us that the principle of free movement that underpinned the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, is unsustainable for richer economies like ours. When the fiscal bottom falls out across other members states, Britain becomes the ‘go to’ place for workers to find good paying jobs and a decent standard of living.

If like me you believe passionately in strong public services, it is incredibly difficult to ask local planning authorities and CCGs, NHS England and schools to ensure they are adequately resourced when you have no idea what demand there will be on your services.

Invariably we have seen in towns like Basildon and Thurrock, demand far outweigh supply in regards to public services, which fuels the division between immigrants and British-born nationals. Impossible planning decisions, leads to public discontent and a laissez-faire approach to solutions that all winds up with charlatans like UKIP winning political power and convincing the public there is an easy answer; leave the EU.

However, just because I share the view of some who are voting for UKIP, that free movement of people must be reviewed and reformed, it doesn’t mean that I share their view that Brexit is the right answer.

I think that in relation to immigration it’s worth baring in mind some facts that are not routinely used in the national tabloid press but which are important for voters to consider:

There are 54 countries in Europe of which only 28 are in the EU and have access to free movement.

It is not free movement if you have a criminal record or you are a known terror suspect.

If you come to the UK under free movement but do not have a job within six months, you are deported.

Free movement means our country is open to 430 million people to choose to live and work in.

An Australian points based system opens our immigration policy up to 7.4 billion people and it becomes more difficult to undertake rigorous criminal record checks on each individual applying to come into the country as the UK border force would be required to work with 193 countries worldwide and not just the 27 EU Member States.

Leaving the EU would mean removing UK border controls in other countries. Therefore everyone seeking access to the country would have to be detained in detention centres in the UK, having already reached the island by sea or air, at a considerable cost to the UK taxpayer.

Brits would need visas in order to visit other EU countries for work or holidays.

Finally, I believe that working class people in Thurrock and Basildon, voting to leave the EU are like turkeys voting for Christmas.

There seems to be this glib misunderstanding of the last 100 years of British political history.

There is an argument that the social mobility legislation that that EU introduced, doesn’t matter. That somehow British governments would have just done it anyway.

Take disability for example. More than 300 regulations come from the EU to protect disabled people’s rights to access, participation, healthcare, telecommunications and finance. Those on the Leave side say that disabled people need not worry; the British government protected them before the EU and it will protect them after.

It’s not quite true though.

Up until 1995, it was still legal in the UK for a small business to discriminate against a person on the basis that they were disabled. It took an EU directive to force the then Conservative government to outlaw this practice in the UK. Would they protect people any better today? The same Conservatives who introduced the bedroom tax, then slashed £30 a week off of Employment Support Allowance (the benefit for the most severely disabled people in society) and who planned a savage £4.4 billion raid on PIP (formerly the disability living allowance) in this year’s budget?

Should the nation’s 12 million disabled people cross their fingers and hope that without the EU forcing the UK Government to act, the Conservatives will have a ‘road to Damascus’ moment and suddenly decide to grow a social conscience? Has anything in the last century convinced you that is likely?

Then what about worker’s rights? Your entitlement to holiday pay, sick pay, maternity leave and the working time directive are all rights enshrined by EU regulations. And you know what? The Tories have spent the last 100 years opposing their introduction and implementation.

They want to undergo a ‘red tape challenge’ that would see the watering down and abolition of many of these protections for working men and women.

So when you go back into work on Monday morning, ask yourself if you seriously think that your boss would pay you when you were on holiday if they didn’t have to? Would they give you a year’s salary when you were on maternity leave if they didn’t have to? Would a Tory government protect your rights or would they side with the businesses and employers who want to save money by not having to pay you?

History gives working men and women all the answers they need. A vote to leave the EU is a vote to hand control to a Conservative government to carve up our country’s workers rights, disability rights, equality rights, health and safety laws and economic future.

These are real fears that I have for middle and lower earners in Basildon and Thurrock if we Brexit. It is a roll of the dice into the unknown with only one certainty; the richest in society won’t be affected. If there is any negative to come from a Brexit then you can guarantee it will fall on the shoulders of working people and their families.

The last ten years have been hard for families in Basildon and Thurrock. If we are honest, then the situation hasn’t ever really fully recovered. That’s why I implore people to forget the charlatan tactics of UKIP – a party with no credibility, no policies and no plan for the future of working people, and to think long and hard about your children and your grandchildren.

In one night, 100 years of social progress, forged by Churchill, Chamberlain and Thatcher, can be undone by Boris, Nigel and Gove. It’s a regression South Essex cannot afford.

Think long and hard about whether your priority is isolation over immigration, recession over recovery, failure over the future.

When you do that, I hope that you will reach the same conclusion that I have, and that for all of our tomorrows, you will vote to remain in the European Union.


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