Mon | Nov 18, 2019

UPDATED | Anthony Gifford | UK election: a clash of values which Corbyn will win

Published:Friday | November 8, 2019 | 12:19 AM
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On December 12, in rain, snow or sunshine, the British people will vote in a general election. I have not known a British election to embody such a stark clash of values. The outcome will have consequences for Britain, Jamaica and the world. I urge Jamaicans to follow the campaign closely and to dialogue with friends and relatives who have the right to vote. Let us look at the history, the parties involved, and the issues at stake.

By the end of 2019, Britain will have had three general elections and a referendum in under five years. In the first, in May 2015, David Cameron obtained an overall majority of 12 seats. He introduced the European Union (EU) Referendum Bill, a disastrous decision which has dominated, and poisoned, British politics ever since.

People were simply asked: “Should the UK remain in the EU or should the UK leave the EU?”

They did not know on what terms the withdrawal would take place, the economic consequences, the money which the United Kingdom (UK) would have to pay (between £33 and £39 billion as it turned out). Or the massive complexities involved in leaving a 28-member union which over 50 years had created unity where there had been war, and provided for effective co-operation in business, manufacturing, the arts, policing, the climate and the development of its poorer regions.

What the voters did know was that the EU guaranteed free movement of its citizens and the right to seek work throughout the 28 states. All the statistics say that this free movement has benefited the UK’s economy, whether it is more doctors in the National Health Service (NHS) or more fruit pickers in the orchards. Millions of British retirees have gone to the sunshine of the Costa Brava in Spain. Students can get on a train and be in Paris in less than three hours.

But the threat of mass migration was exploited in a racist series of posters and broadcasts falsely stating that Turkey was going to join the EU. The popular MP Jo Cox was stabbed to death and shot during the campaign by a man who said, “This is for Britain” and “Britain first” with each blow.

I firmly believe that the tipping point which led to the 51.9 per cent vote to leave the EU was racial and xenophobic prejudice, fuelled by the far right, operating on the resentment and depression felt by so many people in the former industrial heartlands of north and middle England, now neglected and left to rot in the age of austerity.

THEN CAME MAY

Cameron resigned and Theresa May became Conservative leader. She wanted a bigger majority, called an election in June 2017 and did worse than Cameron. She had no overall majority and had to make a deal with the Northern Ireland Unionists to stay in power. The negotiations with Europe followed, but Parliament refused to approve the agreement which she made.

The stumbling block was the border between Ireland (an EU member) and Northern Ireland (part of the UK) – a border which, under the Good Friday Agreement made in 1988, was to remain open and unguarded. So she too resigned, in July 2019.

Enter Boris Johnson, darling of the right wing Brexiteers in the Conservative Party. He proclaimed that the UK would leave the EU on 31 October, deal or no deal, or he “would rather die in a ditch”. In early October 2019, he ordered the minting of three million 50-pence coins to celebrate the day of “liberation” from Europe. But he was thwarted by the British Parliament.

The House of Commons passed a law which required him to ask for a further extension of time from the EU. Those voting against Johnson included some of the most respected names in the Conservative Party.

The day has passed, Britain is still in the EU, and the coins are to be melted away. A general election was called, and the EU has given Britain until the end of January 2020, when the new Government will decide what to do.

If Johnson wins, he will press on with his Brexit plan. If Jeremy Corbyn wins, he will hold a second referendum, at which it is likely that the previous vote will be reversed.

If there is a hung Parliament, we need to look at the smaller parties who will play a key role. The Scottish Nationalists (now with 35 seats) and the Liberal Democrats (20) are strongly in favour of Britain remaining in the EU. They could well take seats from the Conservatives. The Brexit party, led by Nigel Farage, thinks that Johnson’s proposed deal is too soft, and will either field candidates in every seat or do a deal with him.

TRUMP TRYING TO INFLUENCE OUTCOME

US President Donald Trump is already trying to influence the outcome. Interviewed by Farage on his radio programme, Trump said that Johnson was “a fantastic man” and that Corbyn would “take you into some bad places”.

My hope is that this endorsement will backfire. Do the British people really want to be taken on a road to friendship with Trump and an open door to US intervention, including in the NHS? For behind the whole Brexit story there is a collection of billionaire business who want to prise the UK away from Europe and make money for themselves.

Leading the way towards a totally different future is Jeremy Corbyn. Readers will know that I am Corbyn’s friend and supporter. When he was elected leader of the Labour Party, I described him as a man of principle and courage. In the 2017 election, he ran on a manifesto of transformation of Britain’s public services which, for years, have been starved of funds, causing poverty, homelessness and despair.

He nearly won. Since then he has gained in confidence and has already started a vigorous campaign which will restore the hope of decent and caring people that another Britain is possible.

Corbyn is a friend of Jamaica and passionately against racism and inequality. Recently, he called for British schools to teach the truth about empire and enslavement in their history classes. His colleague Dawn Butler has spoken about reparation. Dianne Abbott, the shadow home secretary and a daughter of Jamaica, chaired a historic meeting where Sir Hilary Beckles spoke about the need for reparation on behalf of the whole Caribbean.

On this and many other issues, Corbyn and the Labour Party express the values which reflect the better side of the British people. In a world where dictators and populists are increasing their influence, we should be glad that there is a leader of integrity stepping into the fray in Britain.

Anthony Gifford QC is an attorney-at-law and a citizen of UK and Jamaica. Email feedback to anthonymgifford@gmail.com and columns@gleanerjm.com

 

(EDITOR'S NOTE: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the election would take place on December 19.)