31 May 2018
Diary of a Corbynista
A Third Way on Brexit
by Don Urquhart
A report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Health Foundation said the NHS would need an extra 4% a year – or £2,000 per UK household – for the next 15 years. We have to deal with the results of 8 years of chronic underinvestment, a top down reorganisation that just added overheads and dogmatic privatisation sucking money into corporate profits. On this topic government ministers are as headless chickens firing off half-baked ideas and aspirational soundbites.
In the depths of the report is the suggestion that taxes on property and corporations might be an answer. Little by little it becomes ever more apparent that the 2017 Labour manifesto was and is just common sense.
We travel regularly on trains between Elstree and London and beyond. It has been a given for several years that the trains would often be delayed and cancelled.
Four days ago the Thameslink rail company introduced a new timetable. Our service would go from 4 trains per hour up to 6. Today we ventured into this brave new world. At Elstree station were many bewildered customers being placated by equally dumbfounded Thameslink employees. I wondered why it was necessary to have 2 police officers there. People were numb rather than angry and it was clear that many were now on their 5th day of disruption. We went through the barrier and spotted a graphic display being studied by 4 Thameslink people. They tried to explain what some of the blobs and numbers meant. One of the chaps divined that there was a train at Radlett and this generated considerable excitement among the 50% of customers who had not given up on their journey. We edged our way up the platform in an atmosphere of hope and apprehension reminiscent of the Kindertransport back then, and in 10 minutes a train duly appeared.
Coming back at Blackfriars I asked a harassed railway employee what he thought the problem was. Network Rail, Thameslink, the government – none of them know what they’re doing. So, a train company whistle-blower and I’m sure he would wish for more opportunities to exercise this skill in the conventional manner.
Brexiteers tell us that we voted to take back control of our laws, borders and money. Remainers tell us that nobody voted to be poorer. On last night’s Question Time a member of the audience was scathing about the quality of the referendum debate, noting for example that Northern Ireland was hardly mentioned.
My recollection is that we were presented with two fairly well-defined options. Remain was business as usual; Brexit would not be easy and we might take short term hits to GDP. But nobody predicted the mess that the Government is making off it. There should have been three options on the voting paper – Remain, Leave or Cock-up and I think it is fair to say that few would have selected the third option which is what we are about to enjoy.
On Newsnight Evan Davis interviewed Conservative MEP Daniel Hamman. The BBC man opined:
We are going to be stuck in a limbo that you say is worse than leave or remain.
To which Hamman responded:
The problem will be that there will be no majority in Parliament for delivering a sensible Brexit. I think ultimately the way to break the log jam will be through another election.
He is not the only Tory Brexiteer worrying publicly about the likely outcome of negotiations but I think he is the first to suggest that a General Election might be desirable.
More than 100 organisations in the food and farming industry have sent a manifesto to Theresa May seeking assurances that they will still be able to recruit enough staff from the EU after Brexit.
Their current business model has thousands of Eastern Europeans flooding in for the summer and largely returning at the end of the picking season.
It’s not only Brexit that has put this approach under threat. The labour pool is drying up as Eastern Europeans find more congenial work closer to home. Innovation is needed to make the work more attractive to people already living in Britain. In general, Britons want full-time employment rather than seasonal work. If you are on benefits you risk losing them if you take a temporary job. It cannot be beyond the wit of farmers and legislators to come up with an approach that is win-win for the industry and local workers.
As a connoisseur of dystopian dramas such as The Handmaid’s Tale, The Rain and Soylent Green I was impressed by this self-congratulatory statement from a farming executive published by the FT in 2016:
We are very self-contained so we don’t impact on the local community. If you go into town, very few people would know that we have this number of people here.
A couple of years ago my firm was moving offices. In the lift I found myself in the company of staff employed to help us with the move. It was clear to me that they were police officers doing some moonlighting. I remember asking myself why they needed to do this. In today’s Evening Standard it is reported that 300 Metropolitan police officers have a second job as minicab drivers. I guess we don’t pay them much.
What if President Mattarella calls a General Election for July in an attempt to establish a clear result? To us it might appear strange that he can veto the appointment of the successful coalition’s nominee as Finance Minister because he does not like his negative approach to the Euro. As an issue for the EU Italy’s tribulations throw our little local difficulties into relief.