sexta-feira, 8 de abril de 2016
Corbyn to the rescue in Tories’ Brexit storm
Corbyn to the rescue in Tories’ Brexit storm
Cameron needs the Labour leader to speak convincingly in favor of the EU, despite his Euroskeptic past.
By TOM MCTAGUE 4/8/16, 5:35 AM CET
LONDON — Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn will make a long-awaited intervention in the campaign to keep Britain in the EU next week, amid growing concern in Westminster that angry working-class voters may hand the Leave campaign an unlikely victory following a series of political controversies which have rocked the government.
Corbyn, a lifelong Euroskeptic who voted against British membership in the last referendum in 1975 and rejected both the Maastricht and Lisbon treaties, will deliver his first major speech on Europe on Thursday, senior party sources told POLITICO.
It follows a series of outspoken attacks on the controversial 66-year-old leader from within the Labour Party over his less-than-full-throated support for Britain’s continued membership, despite officially siding with the overwhelming majority of MPs in his party who are campaigning against Brexit.
Pro-European Conservative ministers and Labour MPs are increasingly concerned that a “perfect storm” of events undermining trust in the government threatens to send the U.K. crashing out of the EU.
The government was left reeling last month by the Cabinet resignation of leading Out campaigner Iain Duncan Smith over cuts to disability welfare. Ministers were then caught out during the Easter holidays by Indian company Tata Steel’s decision to close its U.K. operations — sparking accusations that the government had been asleep at the wheel while jobs were lost.
Prime Minister David Cameron’s shock admission on Thursday — after four days of increasing pressure — that he made a £19,000 profit on shares held in his father’s offshore trust have only added further fuel to the fire.
The scandals have left the government scrambling to regain the initiative less than three months before the June 23 referendum, which polls suggest remains on a knife-edge and highly dependent on turnout.
A poll of polls this week found the Remain campaign narrowly in the lead — two points clear on 43 percent — but with one in six voters undecided. Insiders in both the Remain and Leave campaigns acknowledge traditional Labour voters could hold the key.
Speculation is mounting among increasingly concerned Conservative ministers that the government will make a major offer in the run-up to the vote, designed to echo the impact of the controversial “vow” signed by all three Westminster party leaders before the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
The front-page newspaper pledge guaranteeed sweeping new powers for Edinburgh and protections for its budget, and was credited with being decisive by the then-First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond.
But Tom Blenkinsop, the Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland in England’s industrial northeast, said the seeds for working-class Euroskepticism were already sown by the perceived economic abandonment of former industrial areas of Scotland, Wales and the north of England.
Blenkinsop, a former organizer of the Community trade union which represents steelworkers, accused the government of promoting the City of London’s interests above all else and warned those with the least to lose were most likely to vote Out.
“We warned them and warned them and warned them, but they’ve still been caught on the hop,” he said. “While I don’t agree with it, you can understand how people come to the conclusion to vote Out. Core Labour members are very much pro-EU. But Labour voters on [low-income housing] estates think they don’t have anything to lose. If you haven’t got much to lose you can always afford to roll the dice. That was exactly what we saw in the Scottish referendum.”
Blenkinsop said it was now a test of leadership for Corbyn to convince Labour voters to turn out for Remain. “But does he care? That’s open to question,” Blenkinsop said. “It’s all caveat, caveat, caveat. I don’t think he really cares one way or the other.”
‘None of this TTIP rubbish’
It is a common criticism among Labour MPs, but Corbyn’s camp insist there are no votes in being slavishly pro-European. A source close to the leader said next week’s speech could be characterized as “yes, and.”
“If you speak to Labour voters, they are not happy with everything about the EU,” the source said. “It’s right we reflect that.”
Corbyn wants to see more of “social Europe” and is leading the charge against the increasingly controversial free-trade deal between the EU and U.S. known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
Corbyn’s reticence to praise the EU has infuriated Labour MPs.
“I’m no fan of Jeremy’s, but the fact is he is the leader of the Labour party and that is important in all of this,” said one Labour MP. “When he finally gives this speech he has to be unequivocal — none of this TTIP rubbish, because it’s really starting to take hold in the debates I’m listening to among Labour members.”
To support the point, a poll carried out for the Fabian Society last week found Corbyn is easily the most trusted figure in the EU debate for Labour voters. He has a net approval rating of plus 17, well ahead of Labour’s official campaign leader Alan Johnson, who is on minus 10. The poll found that among those very likely to vote, Leave has a 2 percent lead.
Brexit campaigners reacted angrily to the government's massive leaflet drop arguing for staying in the EU
‘There is a real risk of a backlash that expresses itself on the 23rd of June’ — Stephen Kinnock, MP
Douglas Carswell, the U.K. Independence Party’s sole MP, acknowledged that the steel and tax scandals were helping the Out campaign because they increased the level of distrust felt towards the elite.
“I think the government has been incredibly complacent from the beginning,” he said. “The tax revelations reveal the truth that there is a powerful elite that are doing very well, thank you very much. But how can you trust these people?
“The EU is to international relations what FIFA is to football. The truth is coming out,” said Carswell.
Stephen Kinnock, the MP for Port Talbot, where the threatened steelworks is based, spoke of mounting concern that Labour’s success criticising the government over steel and global tax dodging could fuel a vote against Cameron in favor of Brexit.
“It’s always a risk with the referendum that it gets hijacked and it becomes a vote on the popularity of the government, rather than the question on the ballot paper,” he said. “There is a real risk of a backlash that expresses itself on the 23rd of June. But Brexit would be a catastrophe for the whole of our steel industry. An industry that was already struggling would have to pay tariffs to sell to Europe.”
“The likes of [Tory London mayor and Out campaigner] Boris Johnson have suddenly discovered they care about steel but they are just hijacking it for the referendum,” said Kinnock. “I think it’s deeply regrettable.
Exposing the scale of anger among some sections of the country over the Panama Papers scandal, Labour MP Jess Philips wrote an excoriating article accusing the prime minister’s father Ian Cameron of being “utterly disgusting” for running an offshore investment fund. The prime minister and his family had the “best of everything” growing up, while ordinary workers “paid the tab,” she said.
MP Phil Wilson, who chairs Labour’s pro-EU campaign, said he was concerned the level of public anger could spur voters into punishing the government.
“There is always a worry in referendums that people will see it as a chance to kick the government,” Wilson said. “But this is bigger than the Tory government: 50 percent of the steel that’s produced in this country goes to Europe.”
He echoed widespread concern that the most passionate people in the debate were the Outers. “For most people the only thing they can think about in June is the European [football] Championships,” said Wilson.
Conservative minister Robert Buckland admitted the concern was real in government too. “Of course there are worries, but I’m more nervous about the fundamentals like turnout. I’m really concerned that a proportion of Remainers will not vote. What we have to do is to find ways to galvanize people.”
But another Tory minister played down the concern: “The prime minister is our principle voice in the Remain campaign so the last thing we want is for him to be tarnished. But with the PM, he has always had the problem of being the well-heeled child from the Shires…. There is a residual danger that it could affect the Remain campaign, yes. But I don’t think it’s major.”
A source in the Remain campaign also played down the threat, saying it shouldn’t make a big difference despite understandable annoyance at the tax revelations.
“It’s interesting that in focus groups, unprompted, people say they just want the facts. They are not as bothered about the political knockabout in Westminster. Obviously it’s not helpful, but it’s not a game changer.”
One skeptical Westminster insider pointed out that the last time pundits thought the Tories were in trouble over tax dodging and links to the rich was just before the last election, when Labour’s then-leader Ed Miliband made a surprise announcement that he would abolish “non-dom” status, which allows wealthy individuals to pay less tax if they are domiciled elsewhere.
It was a popular pledge and the Tories struggled to find an answer. The speculation is that Cameron’s election supremo Lynton Crosby responded with a “dead cat” strategy, when a senior figure says something outrageous to monopolize headlines. It was Defense Secretary Michael Fallon who did the honors by saying Miliband could not be trusted because he had stabbed his own brother in the back. In the event, it made no difference because the Tories won their first majority since 1992.
Downing Street hopes history will repeat itself this year, with the U.K.’s conservative instincts preserving the status quo. This time, however, Cameron needs 50.1 percent of the vote to win, not the 37 percent which secured him the last election. He also needs to win over parts of the country which have, so far, proved resistant to his charms.
The irony is that to save his own skin, he may need the help of the leader of the opposition — Corbyn, the lifelong Euroskeptic.