Nicholas Jones - Blog and Archive Website

“Don’t panic” is the advice to car workers from Len McCluskey, the Unite union general secretary, as Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt step up their Brexit No Deal preparations, amid further evidence of the precarious nature of the British automotive industry.

In response to questioning on the Andrew Marr Show (30.6.2019) about warnings that jobs and investment in the car industry could take a 20 per cent hit in the event of the UK leaving the EU without an agreement on October 30, Mr McCluskey insisted six times that there was no need for car workers to panic.

But when Marr pointed to a YouGov opinion poll of trade union members that showed that 65 per cent of Unite members wanted to remain, Mr McCluskey denied that was the case.

While post-Brexit job losses continue to mount in the wake of the accelerating downsizing of the British car industry, the workforce lacks the support of a coherent or cohesive voice speaking up on their behalf.

Motor manufacturing is just one of many industrial sectors where employees are being let down by the failure of the labour and trade union movement to mount a vigorous campaign to safeguard future employment.

Instead of a jointly agreed strategy identifying where jobs are being lost – and then explaining how they might be protected – the largest unions seem to have coalesced around the fallback position of simply rejecting a no deal exit rather than facing head on the impact of Leave or Remain.

Uncertainty about the UK’s future relationship with the European Union is without doubt the greatest current threat to job prospects in the automotive sector and a wide range of other industries.

Unlike the breakaway SDP of the early 1980s, the Independent Group of former Labour and Conservative MPs has an unparalleled chance to campaign in a way that might well prevent them being squeezed to extinction by the UK’s all-powerful two-party electoral system.

Traditional party loyalties have been well and truly shattered by the European Referendum. The trauma of Brexit has left the support of millions of voters up for grabs.

By announcing their departure six weeks before the March 29 date for the UK’s exit from the EU, the Labour Gang of Seven (now eight), together with three former Conservative MPs, have engineered an ideal opportunity from which to present their demand for a People’s Vote.

The sight of Labour MPs from former mining constituencies expressing a readiness to accept cash for their localities in return for a vote in favour of Brexit is a haunting reminder of how easily the Conservatives bought off miners in the past.

Offers of ever-higher redundancy payments enticed many miners back to work during the 1984-85 pit strike, and finally it was these cash incentives that helped secure Margaret Thatcher the victory she craved.

Almost a decade later, when Michael Heseltine pushed through the massive 1992 pit closure programme, he was convinced the £1 billion he had secured for redundancy pay-offs would again prove irresistible – and he was proved correct.

Once again, we see how the offer of Conservative cash – this time for investment within their constituencies – is again proving all-too tempting.

John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, in Nottinghamshire – a constituency that he says was “devastated pit closures” – is the most vocal supporter of Theresa May’s ploy of offering cash investment opportunities to former mining areas in recognition of Labour MPs voting in favour of her EU withdrawal agreement.

David Cameron’s 2010 pre-election pledge to cut immigration by the “tens of thousands” had the unintended, but perhaps inevitable, long-term consequence of stiffening opposition to the European Union within the Conservative Party, and of supercharging the Leave vote in the 2016 EU Referendum.

By putting a figure on his promise, Cameron created a yardstick against which he would be held to account, and which would give Tory-supporting newspapers a ready-made stick with which to beat his government.

Cameron’s target proved to be undeliverable, but he had succeeded in unleashing an unprecedented popular press campaign that would reinforce the link between the Conservative-brand and hostility to immigrants.

Immigration scare stories were already regular newspaper fare and they would become the weapon of choice for the tabloid press during the rise of UKIP, and then the referendum campaign.

The more Nigel Farage thrived on his ability to exploit an anti-immigration platform, the more appealing it subsequently became to leading Conservative Brexiteers who had no hesitation in encouraging and manipulating tabloid headlines warning of the dangers of ineffective controls.