10th June 2016
–By Keith Nieland-
Career Politicians Playing Board Games
There has been something bugging me for weeks about the EU referendum debate. Suddenly, the other night, I realised what it was. The blinding insight came during a BBC TV news interview with Tim Roache, leader of the GMB trade union. I had never heard of, or from, Mr Roache previously but I was mightily impressed. He did not speak for long but he did not have to. He spoke with passion and conviction about the EU referendum and the impact of a Leave vote on his members. Above all he spoke from experience and knowledge of his subject. He knows his members, he knows their jobs could be at risk from a Leave vote and, most importantly, he knew what that would mean for their livelihoods, families and the communities in which they live. He knew what Leave would mean for his members’ sense of well being and economic security. He knew what Leave would mean for their mental and physical health.
The difference between Mr Roache and so many other participants in the EU debate is that he is not debating from a position of personal ideology (or group ideology come to that). He knows his stuff because he works with the potential impact of Leave on a daily basis. He knows how his members’ jobs fit into the wider European trade set up. He knows, because his members tell him, what the potential impact would be should the UK leave the EU and their jobs put at risk. He also knows, despite how they might spin it, nobody on the Leave side can say to Mr. Roache, and more importantly, his members, “don’t worry fellows, your jobs are safe come what may”. For him this is not a debate about the semantics of sovereignty or a romantic longing for the supposed halcyon days of the 1950s but a debate about the life chances of his members and their families.
As Mr Roache’s voice almost began to crack with emotion as he worried about people not voting because they see the Referendum as some private dispute in the Conservative Party, I could not help but compare his performance with the leading contributors we see on our TV scenes on an almost daily basis.
Compared to Mr Roache the outcome of the referendum will have little effect on the life chances of Gove, Johnson, Duncan Smith, Farage – and Corbyn come to that – beyond a bit of ego damage if the vote does not go their way. Most of the leading politicians on both sides are so secure financially they can withstand the impact of the outcome. For them life will go on pretty much as normal. The fights within the Tory Party can continue but no MPs will be plunged into unemployment and the accompanying economic insecurity. Even for Corbyn the stakes are not that high. He could continue as MP for Islington North until he is 120 if he wishes, and then retire on a rather grand House of Commons pension.
For me most of the EU referendum debate, or at least the part involving politicians, has descended to the quality of a rather poor board game with little at stake for the participants in the life prospect and family security sense. This might account for some of the twaddle being peddled mainly from the Leave side. Does anybody really believe a Brexit will be quickly followed by a reduction in VAT on domestic fuel or a massive increase in NHS funding? These are hard-line right wing Tories who are opposed to socialised medicine, remember. The “butter would not melt in my mouth” Tories appear to have forgotten it was them who taxed domestic fuel in the first place.
If ever there was a time for politicians to bury the hatchet and stand together in the national interest this is it. To his credit Cameron has done this (it might be out of self interest but at least he has done it). On the other hand Corbyn has refused to stand and give a common message with Cameron. Instead he gives speeches which sound as if he is backing both sides. He focuses on workers’ rights but they have to have jobs in the first place before they can enjoy rights and it is that he and Cameron should have in common. He clearly dislikes Tories and capitalism but you can comfortably take those positions when you have a job for life.
The big news last week that was drowned out by the political game-playing was the warning from Air Bus and Siemens that they may have to consider whether to maintain production in the UK and the warning from banks that UK banking jobs could be lost to mainland Europe. Why? Because to bank with the EU you must be based in one of its member countries.
I listened to Boris this morning waxing lyrically about the supposed democratic deficit of EU institutions. Fixing that by leaving the EU will be of great comfort to Mr. Roache’s members, J P Morgan’s staff and the skilled workers of Air Bus and Siemens as their jobs disappear over the Channel. (I doubt Boris has a plan for fixing the massive amount of non-democratic patronage enjoyed by the PM by the way).
So it is time for the EU referendum debate to get real. We need fewer politicians who have other agendas and more captains of industry, trade union leaders and economists on our screens. Let’s see Chief Executives on the TV news outlining that their share holders will expect Boards to receive risk reports on a Brexit and the key factors they will be taking into account. This is not scare mongering – it is sound business planning. We need to see union leaders and managers standing together in the interests of members and staff.
I am old enough to have voted in 1975. At that time we were one of the poorest countries in western Europe and now we are one of the wealthiest. This is because of the European Union, not despite it.
I propose a nightly Mr Roache reality check on the evening news.