Jeremy Corbyn – We need to ‘look very carefully’ at any future EU trade relationship
As the Labour party conference in Brighton gets underway, Jeremy Corbyn put in an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show. Of particular interest, was Labour’s position on the single market – particularly whether the Labour leader was prepared to change his mind after pressure from party members and senior Labour figures:
AM: 66 per cent of your party members want to stay inside the single market. Will you listen to them?
JC: Of course I will listen to them. What I would say is that the important priority is to ensure that we have a tariff free trade access to the European market. Half of all our trade is with Europe… We need to look very carefully at the terms of any trade relationship, because at the moment we are part of the single market, obviously. That has within it restrictions on state aid and state spending. That has pressures on it, through the European Union to privatise rail, for example, and other services. I think we have to be quite careful about the powers we need as national governments.
AM: You’ve said in the past we can’t be members of the single market because that’s part of the EU and we are leaving the EU. But from what you say you want to be absolutely close to the single market. There is a big choice now in front of the country. Do we stay inside the magnetic field of the EU? Do we stay close to the single market and maximise our trade with that and accept what that means, or do we turn outside to America?
JC: Indeed… I don’t want use to become some kind of offshore tax haven on the shores of Europe. I don’t want us to do some sweetheart deal with Donald Trump, which means that you lower environmental, consumer and working conditions in the USA, then you lower them in Britain in order to meet the USA, and they go down further and further, race to the bottom… What I want is us to have an economy that develops and grows, an investment led economy, high wage, high activity economy. You do that by an effective trading relationship with Europe. Every one of our manufacturing industries has a massive supply chain… You can’t cut that off and break it.
AM: But to preserve that and to ensure that it carries on reasonably friction free, that means making sure that our regulations and our rules are very very close indeed to those of the EU for a long period to come. It probably means virtually free access to EU citizens coming into this country and ours to there. It may even mean paying a little bit in and accepting some of the European Court of Justice.
JC: We made it very clear throughout the referendum campaign and the general election campaign, that we wanted to protect consumer, worker and environmental conditions. We want after Brexit to be part of a number of European agencies… There has to be some judicial process of settlement of any dispute, and indeed Theresa May finally has come round to that position in her Florence speech.
When Marr asked about a large majority of Labour members wanting to retain free movement between the UK and the continent, Corbyn replied ‘I understand what they’re saying and I understand the points they’re making… but I also understand that there is abuse of free movement by some employers.. that has to stop. But we have to recognise that… there’s going to be a lot of movement.’
Corbyn – A Labour government will repeal the Trade Union Act
Marr and Corbyn also discussed the likelihood of public sector strikes during the winter. Corbyn refused to condemn comments by the leader of the Unite union, Len McCluskey, about ignoring the Trade Union Act’s requirement of a 50 per cent turnout threshold for workers to take industrial action, calling the law ‘unfair’.
AM: This Conservative government is not going to give all public sector workers a 5 per cent pay increase… There is going to be a lot of argument and a lot of dispute this winter over that issue. What we also know is that the government have changed the law so that you have to have a 50 per cent threshold to have a strike on these matters. Do you agree with Len McCluskey that in these circumstances, trade unions should defy that law and go on strike anyway?
JC: Trade unions represent their members. Trade unions are there to negotiate on behalf of their members and they will be making protest actions over the winter. So instead of turning the blame on unions… why can’t we instead look at the way in which this government has exploited public sector workers over the past 7 years…
AM: I’m not putting the blame on anybody…
JC: Well, you seem to be putting the whole emphasis on the unions, who are representing their members, rather than the government which is the cause of this problem… This new law is something that is really unfair. No MP, or very few MPs get more than 50 per cent of their electorate voting for them. Indeed, I think I’m one of the very few who does.
AM: Len McCluskey says: ‘I don’t know if I’m going to jail. The reality is that the law is wrong and it has to be resisted… The truth is, when a law is wrong… it is our duty to resist. Do you agree with him?
JC: The point Len is making is that that governments try to control what unions can do they get into a mess…
AM: I must press you on this. Do you agree with him that it is the duty of socialists and trade unionists to defy this law?
JC: I suggest the way to deal with this now is for the government to recognise their problems they created by making public sector workers pay the price of the chaos created by the bankers… A Labour government will repeal this act and bring in fairness and justice at the workplace. Elsewhere in the interview, Corbyn told Marr ‘We need at least two terms of a Labour government to start to address issues of poverty and injustice and inequality in Britain and to build the houses we need in this country.’
Andy Burnham – Labour conference ‘is too London centric’
The Mayor of Greater Manchester, who has been denied a slot to address Labour party members in the main hall in Brighton, has criticised the conference for being too focused on London and for not giving a sufficient voice to the party’s senior figures in the North. Appearing on the Sunday Politics, he spoke to Sarah Smith about what he saw as an institutional problem:
— Daily&SundayPolitics (@daily_politics) September 24, 2017
AB: I’m not speaking here at the conference this year… It’s not about me having a divine right to speak at conference, but it disappoints me that there is no prominent northern voice from one of the cities speaking to balance Sadiq Khan who’s speaking, which is absolutely right as well [but] where is the Northern voice? This is not a Jeremy criticism by the way, it’s institutional. Under Ed, Gordon and Tony, I said the same thing – the party is too London centric. I get laughed at for saying it but I’ll keep on saying it until they change because [Labour] isn’t thinking enough about getting a strong message to those voters in the North.
SS: If you look at the Shadow Cabinet, not only does Jeremy Corbyn represent a North London seat but some of the biggest names in the Shadow Cabinet have practically adjacent constituencies in London. Do you think it means they’re not really designing polices that will appeal to voters in places like the North of England?
AB: Well, of course, alongside them you have Angela Rayner, who’s just a fantastic authentic voice from Greater Manchester. Andrew Gwynne again doing great things. Debbie Abrahams. I mean, the voices are there, but what troubles me is, we’ve got the mayor of London speaking, but not the mayor of Liverpool city region Steve Rotheram, and not the leader of Newcastle city council Nick Forbes. Why haven’t we got balance here in terms of the message?
SS: Is that because Labour isn’t really committed to devolution in the English regions?
AB: Well, that’s the worry isn’t it? Not just about the personality side of it, or the Northern voice. What does it say about the party’s commitment to devolution. It could suggest that it’s half-hearted.
John McDonnell – Uber ‘is a disgrace’
Robert Peston returned this week to interview the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell. Peston asked McDonnell about another thorny industrial issue for Labour, namely the question of the private taxi company Uber, which had its licence revoked by Transport for London on Friday. McDonnell’s response was short and to the point:
RP: What do you think about the revoking of [Uber’s] licence?
JM: The company’s a disgrace. You have to abide by the law, as simple as that. If TfL have made – they’re the regulating body, they’ve made a decision on this, the company’s outside the law – what could TfL do? If they didn’t do this, they’d be criticised anyway, So I think the company’s at fault here. And they’ve had warnings you know. 4 months ago they were told to get their act together and they still didn’t.
McDonnell also defended Labour from criticism that the party would need a ‘magic money tree’ for its policies, joking that if you wanted one you could ‘contact Philip Hammond because [the Conservatives] found it when they wanted to pay a billion to the DUP, didn’t they?
David Davis – ‘My car’s only got two seats’
Brexit Secretary David Davis has insisted that Boris Johnson did not influence Theresa May’s speech in Florence this Friday with his Daily Telegraph column only a week before. Instead, he told Andrew Marr that much of the Prime Minister’s speech had been a long time in the making. Davis added that Boris’ intervention was ‘fine’, but stopped short of saying it was ‘helpful’:
AM: [Boris’] people are saying his now famous essay in the Telegraph helped change the tone for this debate, and he’s had a big influence on it.
DD: Well, I have to say that the policy in the Prime Minister’s speech have been coming for a long time. Some of them – the transition we were designing right back at the beginning of the year. Some of it we’ve been designing months ago. I don’t think there’s been any change of policy in the last few weeks.
AM: Did you like Amber Rudd look at this piece and think, ‘Aha! A bit of backseat driving!’ Did you think this was a helpful intervention in the debate?
DD: My car’s only got two seats!
AM: Yeah, but did you think this was a helpful intervention?
DD: It’s fine. It was on your programme wasn’t it? It was a very good interview.
AM: So you agree with her? It was back seat driving?
DD: I said it was a good interview.
Marr also asked Davis where he was on the question of staying within the EU’s ‘magnetic forcefield’ and maintaining the current links as closely as possible, as opposed to looking out to the rest of the word. Davis responded ‘I’m bang in the middle I should think… Of course we will diverge [from the EU]. We will do things our own way.’ He also predicted that the cabinet would hold together over Europe, despite the recent differences of opinion.