Len McCluskey tells Johnson “Stop playing politics with jobs and lives”

Unite’s Len McCluskey tells Boris Johnson “Stop playing politics with peoples jobs and lives.”

Responding to the prime minister’s statement today (Friday 16th October) that the country should ‘get ready’ for the prospect of no trade deal with the EU, Len McCluskey, General Secretary of Unite, the UK’s largest trade union in Britain and Ireland, said:

“The EU is our largest trading partner. The future success of many of our industries depends on getting our new relationship right. 

 “Unite has long campaigned for a Brexit which supports our members’ jobs, sustains the communities in which they live and protects the future investment decisions of businesses. We’ve warned that as the clock ticks down to 31 December a deal on decent terms will not be forthcoming unless the government recognises the impact of a no deal on our manufacturing industries. 

 “Our automotive industry, just one example, relies on 1,100 trucks delivering parts from Europe every day for it to function. Without customs arrangements there will be chaos and delays on our borders and those parts simply won’t get through in time.

 “From car and pharmaceutical production to food processing and warehouse distribution, working people need a deal that keeps our country moving, our shops filled. An Australian-style deal is not that deal.

 “The Prime Minister must stop playing politics with people’s jobs and lives. No deal will be a disaster for an economy already suffering deep harm due to the pandemic. 

 “There is every risk that our country could experience its worst recession in generations and the prime minister’s reckless refusal to do a deal with the EU will only make things far worse for working people.”

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Tony Abbott and the Aussie Car Industry

 Andrew Dettmar President of the AMWU in Australia sent me this about the UK’s new ‘joint president of the Board of Trade’ former Aussie PM Tony Abbott – supposed trade negotiator supreme – dumped by his own party and his constituents – now another addition to ‘Team Johnson’.

Andrew (who has said its ok to publish this) has this to say about  Abbott and the demise of the Australian car industry:

“He simply abandoned Australian car workers. Thanks to our high Australian $$$, imports became temporarily cheaper & Australian made cars couldn’t compete.

Holden (owned by General Motors) applied for some ‘soft loans’ from Tony Abbott & Joe Hockey, (his treasurer).

The senior management of Holden wasn’t even given the courtesy of a phone call when Joe Hockey announced o the Australian parliament the Govenment’s refusal to help.

It gave rise to Joe Hockey’s infamous ‘lifters & leaners’ speech (he described Australian’s as being divided into two groups: “lifters” and “leaners”). The policy pretty much removed all industry support for manufacturing early in Abbott’s mercifully brief reign.

It didn’t affect the support mining, agriculture & the banks received mind you!

This was a disgraceful abandonment of workers and the bipartisan support of advanced manufacturing which Australia had enjoyed since WWII.”

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Labour joins fight to build Royal Navy support ships in UK shipyards

By Amanda Campbell – first published on UNITELive  August 28th, 2020

Following our story in UNITElive earlier this month on the campaign to build the Royal Naval Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships within the UK, the Labour is now backing Unite and the other unions involved, with a new campaign ‘Built in Britain’ and a petition.

On August 14th UNITElive reported that our world-class shipbuilding industries and 40,000 highly skilled jobs were now in jeopardy after the government went back on its word to build Royal Navy fleet support ships in the UK – by sneakily inviting overseas yards into bidding to build three new key ships.

The estimated £1.5bn ministry of defence (MoD) contract to build three Fleet Solid Support (FSS) ships that will help keep the Navy’s new aircraft carriers at sea, provide them with stores including ammunition and food, has been put out to overseas tender.

In effect this would see ‘shovel ready’ work, funded by the UK taxpayer, dished out on a plate to overseas yards, while UK shipbuilding workers lose this significant opportunity to keep their jobs, their futures – and the UK – afloat.

Unite said this move goes against the recommendations of the National Ship Building Strategy, and betrays the nation.

But earlier this week (August 24) the Daily Mirror revealed that Labour is setting a “Built in Britain” test for UK military hardware as it steps up its fight for the bumper defence deal to stay on these shores.

Shadow defence secretary John Healey called on ministers to finally award the £1.5bn contract for three Fleet Solid Support vessels to a British consortium.

The battle comes as a major Whitehall defence and security review is underway and currently a Spanish-led team is bidding for the work to build the Royal Navy supply ships.


“For five years, defence ministers have dithered over this decision when it’s a no-brainer to build these vital new ships in Britain,”said John Healey.

“They are selling Britain short by not putting the work into UK shipyards. No other major military nation has ordered naval support ships from foreign yards.

“What can be built in Britain now, must be built in Britain – and long-term defence and security procurement must also involve plans to develop the UK’s future capacity to build in Britain.

“This is one test by which we will judge the government’s new integrated review of defence and security,”he added.

The 40,000-tonne vessels will resupply Royal Navy aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates with food, ammunition and explosives.

For national security reasons, Royal Navy warships can only be built in the UK. But the government has said the FSS ships as part of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, are not classed as warships – meaning they can be built abroad.

It’s a point strongly rejected by the unions’ campaign group, the Confederation of Shipbuilding and Engineering (CSEU)in which Unite plays a leading role. Labour’s support was very much welcomed by the CSEU.

“We very much welcome the ‘Built in Britain’ test and believe it should be applied to every major industry project that is funded by the taxpayer in order to preserve our skills base and ability to design, build and maintain complex projects,”said CSEU general secretary Ian Waddell.

He continued, “These ships are the cornerstone for the future of the British shipbuilding industry.

“Placing the order in the UK will bridge the gap between the end of the aircraft carrier programme and the next tranche of ships on order which will provide highly-skilled employment for a generation in areas that need it most.

‘Jump at the chance’

“If the Prime Minister is serious about levelling up in the regions he will jump at the chance of building these ships in Britain as a straightforward means to pump investment into our regions and get the economy up and running again after the coronavirus lockdown.”

Initially as we have reported the competition for the contract was offered worldwide, with companies from Italy, Spain, Japan and South Korea shortlisted, along with a UK consortium.

The British team, backed by the Keep Britain Afloatcampaign, includes Babcock, BAE Systems, Cammell Laird and Rolls-Royce.

In November the tendering process was suddenly halted – and hopes were raised the terms could be reset to boost the chances for UK firms.

But earlier this month, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) triggered fresh dismay when foreign firms were invited to take part in early plans to build the ships. The ‘prior information notice’ says the deal is open to “UK and international suppliers or consortiums offering a UK or international ship design, who are capable of either priming, providing a design and/or integrating or building FSS ships.”

This apparent U-turn comes after a government statement just four weeks earlier. Defence secretary Ben Wallace fuelled hopes that the deal might well go to a UK yard.

In a statement to the Commons he said, “British shipbuilding, British yards produce some of the best ships in the world and we should support them as best we can and make sure our Navy get some great British-made kit. In June, a Whitehall spending watchdog said a lack of Navy support vessels will hamper Britain’s two new £6.2bn aircraft carriers.”

An MoD spokesperson said, “We continue work on the procurement strategy for the Fleet Solid Support ships and will provide further details when the current stage is completed.”

“The CSEU has been campaigning hard to protect and support our shipbuilding and ship repair industries,”commented CSEU president and Unite AGS Tony Burke.

“We won the argument to build the FFS ships in UK shipyards and Boris Johnson was quick to promise that they would be built here in the UK before the election. The CSEU and our unions will ensure that we hold him to that promise. So please sign the petition – ask your friends and families to do the same to help save skilled jobs here in the UK.”

‘Shipbuilding – very much part of our future’

Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner for manufacturing welcomed Labour’s support and urged everyone to sign the petition.

He said, “As we have continually maintained, shipbuilding is not a relic, nor our yesterday as a nation. In fact, it can easily be very much part of our future – supporting skilled workers and apprentices, families and local communities as it has for centuries.

“With so many having had their lives put on hold by the cruelty of Covid-19 now being further betrayed by a government that claims to support ‘jobs jobs jobs’ and to be willing to do ‘whatever it takes’ is nothing short of an act of gross industrial vandalism.

“If ever there was a ‘shovel ready’ project, it is FSS – and it’s great to hear that Labour supports that view. It will pump prime £1.3bn into regional economies and protect 40,000 jobs in the supply chain.

“Labour believes in our incredible workforce so why can’t the government? It’s simple – building our Royal Naval Fleet Support Ships here in UK shipyards is essential to maintain both jobs and essential skills between the end of the carrier programme and future naval procurements.

“Without it, this strategically vital industry may not survive as thousands of loyal, world class workers are thrown onto the scrap heap,”Turner added.


By Amanda Campbell @amanda_unite

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When Boris met Tony…

Alseep at the wheel: Gaffe prone ex- Aussie PM is wanted by Boris Johnson to ‘bang the drum’ for the UK on trade.

When one ‘desperate’ PM appoints a ‘gaffe-prone’ ‘misogynist’ ex-PM to preside over the ‘new’ Board of Trade, the weird and unusual just got weirder,

First published on UniteLive, Friday, August 28th, 2020

In what smacks of another act of desperation PM Boris Johnson is preparing to appoint discredited former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott as joint president of the re-launched Board of Trade, (first created in 1622 “to protect merchants’ complaints and protect the national interests”).

Johnson wants Abbott to ‘bang the drum’ and act as ‘a catalyst’ for international trade negotiations.

The gaffe prone former Aussie PM, famous for his  cringe-worthy comments (read  here)  will be ‘joint president’ together with International Trade Secretary Liz Truss – undoubtedly a move designed to elbow out Ms Truss who has failed to deliver much in the way of trade deals – especially the much vaunted US trade deal.

She recently got involved in a row over Stilton cheese in a simple ‘roll over’ from the EU-Japan trade deal after the Japanese insisted the UK could not expect to be as good a deal as the EU deal.

Weird advice

Abbott is seen as a Brextremist, who has favoured no deal from the outset. He has been given to handing out weird advice on Brexit including ignoring favoured nation status, and hoping that the EU will reciprocate with an offer from the UK of no tariffs on EU goods.

Last year Abbott, who was ousted as PM by his own party and dumped by his own constituents in the Aussie general election, wrote a pro-Brexit article in the Spectator based on his experience as Australian PM and their trading relationships with the EU – which is mostly based on agriculture and selling coal, gold and oil seeds to the EU – all involving ships being 25 days at sea.

According to one senior Aussie trade union official who Unite has a good working relationship with, Abbott is loathed even by his own Liberal Party, and on his watch the Australian automotive industry closed. Our source went onto say, “He has no negotiating skills to speak of, is a complete novice on world trade as well as being a climate change denier and a misogynist.”

Labour’s shadow secretary of state for international trade, Emily Thornberry responded to the news saying, “Any way you look at it, this is an absolutely staggering appointment. On a personal level, it is shameful that Boris Johnson thinks this offensive, aggressive, leering, gaffe-prone misogynist is the right person to represent our country overseas.

“And on a professional level, this is someone with no hands-on experience of negotiating trade agreements, who denies the climate change that we believe should be at the heart of our trade policy, and who clearly has no concept of the importance of Britain’s trade with the EU. It’s yet more breath taking incompetence from a government that has turned it into an art-form.”

Another bad Boris blunder?

And as Emily Thornberry refers to Abbott’s views on climate change it could prove to be that Johnson may well have blundered into another badly thought through decision.

In 2021 the UK is hosting the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow. Hiring a man who called climate change “absolute crap”, likened climate action to “killing goats to appease volcano gods” and repealed Australia’s carbon price, looks like another appalling decision.

As my union comrade down under told me, “Abbott should fit right into Johnson and Cummings’ Britain.” I’m sure it won’t take us long to see just how right that view is.

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Call To Arms – Daily Mirror Article On CSEU Proposals To Bring Forward Spending Plans

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Abdullah Öcalan: My Solution for Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds

By Abdullah Öcalan 

Photo courtesy of Firat News Agency.

For over two decades, Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan has been held in the Turkish prison on İmralı Island. In this op-ed for Jacobin, he calls for a “democratic nation project” able to unite citizens of different ethnic backgrounds and cultural traditions.

Capitalist modernity is history’s deadliest and most continuous crisis of civilization. In particular, the general destruction of the last two hundred years has disrupted thousands of evolutionary links in the natural environment. We are probably not yet fully aware of the devastation this has caused the plant and animal worlds. It is, however, clear that, like the atmosphere, both these worlds are steadily emitting SOS signals.

How long can humanity go on enduring this modernity, which has inflicted far-reaching environmental devastation and caused the disintegration of society? How will humanity soothe the pain and agony of war, unemployment, hunger, and poverty?

The claim that the nation-state protects society is a vast illusion. On the contrary, society has been increasingly militarized by the nation-state and fully submerged in a kind of war. I call this war a societycide, imposed in two ways.

First, power and the state apparatus control, oppress, and surveil society.
Second, the information technology (the media monopolies) of the past fifty years has replaced real society with a virtual one. Up against the canons of nationalism, religionism, sexism, scientism, the arts, and the entertainment industry (including sports, soap operas, etc.), with which society is being battered 24/7 by the media, how can society be defended?

It’s become quite clear that nation-statism in the Middle East is, in fact, one of capitalist modernity’s tools of domination. What the Treaty of Versailles was to Europe, the Sykes-Picot Agreement drawn up between the British and the French in 1916 is to the Middle East: “A Peace to End All Peace.”

Today’s nation-states have the same meaning in the region as the Roman Empire’s governors once had, but they are even more collaborationist with capitalist modernity — and stand even further from the region’s cultural traditions. They are at war with their own peoples internally, and with one another externally. The liquidation of traditional society means war against peoples — and maps drawn with a ruler are an invitation for wars between states. None of them are adequate to overcoming the deepening crisis; in fact, their existence further deepens this crisis.

In my view, a third world war is taking place globally, with the Middle East as its center of gravity. In terms of scope and duration, this war is both deeper and longer than the first two world wars. The result is decay and disintegration. And it can end only with the formation of a new regional or global equilibrium. I contend that the fate of capitalist modernity’s third world war will be determined by the developments in Kurdistan. This is manifest in what is happening in Iraq and Syria.

The existence of nation-states is an anomaly in Middle Eastern history — and the insistence on them leads to disasters. The Turkish nation-state believes that with a final genocide of the Kurds, it will make itself eternal — a nation-state now integrated with its own country and nation. Clearly, unless Turkey abandons this paradigm, it will be a mere gravedigger for the region’s peoples and social cultures — including the Turkish people itself. Iran’s future situation, similarly, remains uncertain both for itself and for the region.

But the situation of the Kurds — chopped up into pieces by nation-statism in the Middle East, imposing different forms of annihilation and assimilation upon each of these parts — is a complete catastrophe. Kurds are, as it were, condemned to a long-term, deadly agony.

Kurdish Struggle

However, the conditions have now matured — and the Kurds, through their struggle, can make their way out of the pincer movement of genocide. This is only possible through the project of a democratic nation — one based on free and equal citizens, existing together in solidarity, encompassing all cultural and religious realities. This is, then, a project designed to be forged together with the other peoples in the region. The methodology for achieving that goal is now developing, step-by-step.

Rojava and all of Northern and Eastern Syria — run by an autonomous multiethnic, multi-religion self-administration, based on the freedom of women — is rising like a beacon of freedom. This presents a model solution for both the peoples of the Middle East and the nation-states. The model proposes not the denial of nation-states, but proposes that they be bound to a democratic, constitutional solution. This will ensure the existence and autonomy of both the “state nation” — the nation constructed by the state — and the democratic nation.

The rich heritage of ethnic, religious, and denominational entities and their cultures, in this region can only be held together through this democratic nation mindset — one that fosters peace, equality, freedom, and democracy. Each culture, on the one hand, builds itself as a democratic national group. Then, they can live in a higher level of democratic national union with other cultures that they already live together with.

The democratic nation solution proposed by the Kurds has enabled them to eliminate ISIS — the result of religious monism — on behalf of all humanity. This is no doubt the result of our paradigm based on women’s freedom, making it a role model all over the world.

Fighting for the Future

At present, the developments in Northern and Eastern Syria have reached an important point. The recognition of the Administration of North and East Syria and the local democracy it represents for the Arab, Kurdish, Armenian, Assyrian, and other peoples will be a very important development both for Syria and the wider Middle East. Our call for people to return from Europe, Turkey, and elsewhere will be possible once a Democratic Constitution of Syria is declared.

Our view on the Kurdish-Turkish conflict that has gone on for nearly a century is clear. We’ve been developing a democratic solution of the Kurdish question since 1993. Our stance — as seen in the 2013 talks with the Turkish nation-state, held in İmralı — expressed in the Newroz Declaration, as we entered the dialogue process, is today more important than ever. We reinforced this stance in the seven-point declaration we put forth in 2019. We insist on the need for social reconciliation and a democratic negotiation, to replace the culture of polarization and conflict.

Nowadays, problems can be solved not with physical tools of violence but with soft power. Under favorable conditions, I could set up the moves to eliminate the conflict within a week. As for the Turkish state, it is at a crossroads. It can either continue on its path toward unravelling like other nation-states in the region, or enter into a dignified peace and a meaningful democratic solution.

Ultimately, everything will be determined by the struggle between the parties. The success of the struggle waged by the Kurds through the politics of peace and democratic politics shall determine the end result. And freedom shall prevail.

Abdullah Öcalan is the founder of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), regarded as one of the Kurds’ most important political representatives and a leading strategist. Ever since his abduction from Kenya in 1999 and subsequent trial and death sentence — commuted to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole — he has been held in total isolation on İmralı island. For almost eleven years, he was the sole prisoner there.
Öcalan has written extensively on history, philosophy, and politics, and is regarded as a key figure for a political solution of the Kurdish issue. Since the author has been held totally incommunicado and not been able to consult his lawyers or receive regular visits for many years, this op-ed has been edited from his prison writings and recent statements by his collaborators and sent to Jacobin for publication. His recent works include The Sociology of Freedom (2020) and The Political Thought of Abdullah Öcalan (2017)

Published in The Jacobin August 8th.

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Why Boris Johnson’s Brexit trade deal is not so different to no deal

Businesses have been concentrating on COVID-19, not the UK’s impending exit from the EU.
From Politics EU By Charlie Cooper August 8th

As the days tick away to the end of the post-Brexit transition period in December it’s all starting to feel very 2019.

The U.K. government is preparing for the possibility of miles-long lorry queues in the southeast of England at the start of 2021; truckers heading for continental Europe may need a permit to enter the county of Kent; drug companies have been advised to stockpile six weeks’ worth of supplies in case their imports get caught in the snarl-up.

The reason? Though Boris Johnson averted no-deal last year by securing a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement that covered the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, his proposed economic relationship with the EU really isn’t that different — in terms of the practical potential for short-term disruption — from a clean-break no-deal.

Rod McKenzie, managing director of policy and public affairs at the Road Haulage Association, said the freight industry was “going through a groundhog day moment.”

“The government doesn’t seem to have learned the lessons from what could have been a cliff-edge Brexit in October last year,” he said, referring to the period immediately before the exit deal was agreed with Brussels.

Leaving the EU’s customs union and single market — as the U.K. intends to do in any scenario — means controls on goods traveling in either direction.

Now the government is being explicit that similar preparation will be needed with or without a trade deal.

“Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, there will … be changes for which U.K. businesses trading with the EU need to prepare,” Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said on Monday, setting out new proposals for how to keep traffic moving. “This will be an important moment of change, and there is at least initially a risk of some additional friction at the border.”

The plan is predicated on the possibility of congestion lasting throughout the first half of 2021; a time when the government must also brace for a potential winter resurgence of the coronavirus.

Nevertheless, Johnson and his chief adviser Dominic Cummings have set their face against an extension of the transition period that would spare businesses the short-term Brexit disruption on top of their COVID nightmare. Instead, government officials said, ministers are wargaming scenarios in which the virus surges back — just as the practical impact of Brexit finally makes itself felt.

Take back (border) controls
Leaving the EU’s customs union and single market — as the U.K. intends to do in any scenario — means controls on goods traveling in either direction.
“From a business preparedness point of view, for many companies there is little difference between preparing to exit the transition period with or without a free-trade agreement in place,” said Sam Lowe, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform think tank.

The government has already postponed plans for a fully-functioning set of customs controls for goods entering the U.K. to July 2021. Portrayed as a way to give businesses more time to prepare, it was also an acknowledgment that the border wouldn’t be ready in time and that traffic flow would have to be prioritized to avoid major disruption.

However, much also depends on how well-prepared businesses themselves will be for the limited number of checks that will take place when entering the U.K. — and the far more significant checks planned on the other side of the Channel.

French authorities are expected to “impose full EU customs and controlled goods checks on all goods travelling from GB to the EU’s customs territory at Hauts-de-France,” U.K. government consultation documents — published by Shapps’ Department for Transport this week — make clear.

Ministers had hoped the transition period would give British businesses time to prepare, but COVID-19 has upturned those assumptions. According to a Confederation for British Industry (CBI) survey last week, one in five firms are less prepared for the end of the transition now than they were in January.

Craig Beaumont, chief of external affairs at the Federation of Small Businesses, said that smaller firms were currently focused on simply surviving the impacts of COVID-19. “They are aware that negotiations are happening with the EU, and we do need an ambitious deal that keeps trade easy … but the focus right now remains firmly on COVID,” he said.

The government’s own consultation documents say that — given how much the pandemic has occupied businesses’ time and energy — it would now be “prudent to assume that overall border readiness could be at levels similar to those anticipated for October 2019.” In other words, planning assumptions for Johnson’s Brexit — as far as the border is concerned — are the same as those for last year’s no-deal scenario.

Permit to enter Kent

The details of the plan for Kent (known as Operation Brock) in the Department for Transport’s new consultation document —published on a Monday in August without any fanfare — certainly make for sobering reading for the 245,000 British businesses whose external trade is exclusively with the EU.

Ministers are contemplating radical ideas that could help keep traffic flowing to and from the Channel. The scale of the potential disruption anticipated in the papers came as a disappointment to a freight sector that had been reassured, according to the Logistics UK organization, that “friction would be minimized.”

“In the context of businesses now being even less prepared than they would have been otherwise, an implementation period would be essential” — Sam Lowe, senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform

Under extraordinary proposals, truckers driving on designated roads to Dover and the Eurotunnel at Folkestone will need a digital, 24-hour “Kent access permit” which would be issued to them in advance of travel if they can confirm they have the required paperwork to take their goods across the border.

Chris Yarsley, policy manager for Road Infrastructure at Logistics UK, said the “Kent permit” plan was tantamount to creating an “internal U.K. border.” Drivers who don’t have one would face £300 fines and their lorries could be impounded if they don’t pay.

To what extent and for how long the contingency measures will actually be required is impossible to predict with certainty. Officials expect any “significant congestion” to have ended by “the first half of 2021” but are proposing that the new powers required for enforcement last until October 2021 — just in case.

The government also acknowledges that any potential disruption could affect medicine supplies. In a letter to drug companies, also sent on Monday, the Department of Health and Social Care’s Chief Commercial Officer Steve Oldfield reminded firms of the potential for “reduced traffic flow at the short straits in a reasonable worst-case scenario” and advised they stockpile six weeks’ of supply on U.K. soil.

A U.K. government spokesperson said: “At the end of this year the U.K. will become a fully independent country and take back control of our borders. We have undertaken intensive engagement with industry to get ready for the changes and opportunities at the end of the transition period. This includes helping to ensure that hauliers have all the guidance they need when entering and exiting the U.K.

The spokesperson also pointed to a recent £705 million spending commitment on border infrastructure, technology and staff.

Giving up on the transition extension

Given the array of potential difficulties, it might be surprising that the U.K.’s business lobby is not crying out for an extension to the transition period, something the EU is open to but the U.K. government — determined to deliver on its Brexit timetable — is firmly set against.

That firms are not doing so can be explained partly by the pandemic. With survival at stake, businesses simply don’t have the bandwidth to be thinking in-depth or lobbying on Brexit. The other explanation, business figures said, is that they are convinced the government will not change tack. Johnson and his chief adviser  Cummings have made delivering on their Brexit timetable a matter of faith.

The only hope for firms hoping to be spared the double-whammy of COVID and Brexit disruption this winter is an idea floated by Lowe and others earlier this year: an “implementation period” should a trade deal be struck between the U.K. and the EU.

“In the context of businesses now being even less prepared than they would have been otherwise, an implementation period would be essential,” Lowe has argued. “However, a new implementation period requires there to be a deal.”
And for now, there’s no sign of that.

Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.

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It’s The Media Stupid…Book Review

By Peta Steel

The Media, the 2019 Election and The Aftermath

Edited by Granville Williams

Published by Campaign For Press And Broadcasting Freedom (North)


‘It’s the Media, Stupid’ – The Media, the 2019 Election and the Aftermath’ sounds like an accusation, it is in fact the title of a book skillfully edited by Granville Williams of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom [North], that looks into what’s happened to the media since the election and the run up to it.

Throughout the 2019 election CPBF produced Election Watch, some of the comments included in the book come from those and from a conference held in February. It includes chapters from journalists and luminaries such as the much respected former BBC Industrial and Political correspondent Nick Jones, and Tony Burke, former Deputy General Secretary of the GPMU and now Assistant General Secretary of Unite and former print worker using their experience to try and analyse what happened.

I have worked on both sides covering elections as a reporter for national/local papers and for national radio, and previously as a press officer for Labour during the 1970 election; later quietly working for Labour behind the scenes during campaigns I was reporting.  I have also worked as a TUC press officer and represented journalists as a National Organiser for the NUJ so my feelings about the media have ranged from desperation to frustration. Many of those feelings are mirrored in the book, particularly those in relation to the BBC, formally seen as an independent defender of the truth but now looked on as having compromised its reportage in favour of the establishment.

The book also looks at how the Tory Government treats those critical of them since the election.  The failure by the media to hold the Government to account for the way it has handled the pandemic is already coming under scrutiny.

In his foreword Professor James Curran of Goldsmith University, himself a writer of previous studies on press coverage of politics refers to the British public having lost their trust in the media:  ‘Britain’s Trust in the British press,’ he writes ‘ is now even lower than that of Serbians in their press, while trust in British broadcasting has fallen before the EU average’.  Certainly the Millie Dowling coverage which saw the closure of the News of The World did much to expose how the media, in particular red tops had given up any vestige of decency in attempts to get a quick headliner.  Something that those of us who had ever dealt with Murdoch had known, but the public now had demonstrated to them.

The editor of the Soviet news outlet Pravda once said to me: ‘the problem is that you think you have press freedom, you don’t, your papers are owned by a few with their own interests; we know we haven’t, so we aren’t tricked’.  He was right. The Mail’s publication of the Zinoviev letter in 1924 a few weeks before the General Election which produced the collapse of the Liberal Party and landslide victory of the Tories led to Labour taking steps to distance itself from left socialist leaning policies which could be likened to Communist tendencies. The letter was of course a forgery, but the public believed it.  It was an early indication as to how the right wing press, who would go on to support Mosley and the blackshirts, would treat Labour. And to what depths it would plunge and still will do as has been shown more recently.

Certainly coverage of the Labour Party, and in particular on Corbyn since the 2017 election was even more viscious than those previously conducted. Leaders of the Labour Party have always come under attack from the press. Neil Kinnock was portrayed as a joke Welshman in attacks that at times seemed racist, the attacks on Ed Miliband made by the Mail, were. Harold Wilson was described as a Russian spy and Michael Foot as a tired out old eccentric. Clement Attlee, after whom the English section of the International Brigade was named was seen as fair game before the war, was accused in the 1945 General Election by Winston Churchill as having plans to set up a gestapo. Fortunately the British public knew Attlee and saw through the attempts at vilification.

The difference between Corbyn and his predecessors was that the general public didn’t know much about him, other than what they were told about him by the media. One thing was certain and that was that none of the proprietors were going to accept even the remotest possibility of someone like Corbyn becoming Prime Minister.   No other leader received the level of hits against them that Corbyn received, some 5,000.  It was as Nicholas Jones rightly complains a ‘hatchet job that was the vilest I have witnessed in 50 years of political reporting’.

‘Any semblance of trustworthiness he might have accrued as leader of the opposition was torpedoed in a sea of slurs and smears. A masterclass in character assassination was delivered with shameless superiority.’

As Jones writes: ‘Rarely have editors and columnists of Conservative supporting newspapers been so calculated or so co-ordinated in demolishing the credibility of a British politician.’

We have to deal with the Media that we have got. It’s one that is being reduced as papers are cut back or closed, or go on line.  Particularly vulnerable have been local papers bought up by large paper groups, closed down as circulations fell.  Independent voices covering local politics are being squeezed out. Unions are no longer in a position to shut down a paper for a story they disagree with. In the 70s as television and local radio took on the press; local and national, papers and groups passed into new ownerships.   Ownership is now becoming even more compressed. In 2019, 83% of the market was owned by three groups, giving them more power and influence than they have had before making them even more difficult to make answerable for what they do. Nationals in particular have swung even harder against Labour and the unions. Thatcher, aided by Murdoch and the others right wing owners changed the climate in this country in the 1980s and 90s dumbing down information to that of the celebrity and ‘me’ generation. The Campaign for Press Freedom was set up in 1979 supported by the NUJ and Print unions. It later widened its scope in 1982 to take in broadcasting, a portent of what was to happen as commercial TV quality was sacrificed to raise money to bid for new licenses. The NUJ who represented many of the journalists on the papers which many now themselves no longer respected, realized that there was a professional need to redress the balance against the lies, distortions and vindictive campaigns.  Granville Williams, this books editor was and remains a prominent advocate leading CBPF [North].

Tony Burke, himself a longtime supporter of the campaign and Louisa Bull, a former NATSOPA/SOGAT rep now UNITE National Officer for the Graphical, Paper, Media and IT sector’s chapter take a pragmatic attitude towards detailing the history of papers and the growth of social media, an area which also needs some form of regulation to give standards within the latter, they call for media unions, progressive academics and activists to ‘clarify and campaign for effective, independent, transparent regulation.’

A call that is prescient as the future of newspapers as a provider of news is doubtful. The report just published by Labour Together on the General election says that the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University found that in 2018 on line media, including social ones have become the more important source of news than print for every age group, though social media considered on its own is still less important for those aged 45+.

Union activity in the media is also highlighted by tony Burke and Louisa Bull showing how unions often estranged in the past came together in the early 1990s to form Press For Union Rights set up to the fight deregulation.

Sadly attempts to amalgamate the NUJ and the print union the NGA in the 1980s failed but realisation that a new harder political climate, dealing with media groups controlling all aspects of publishing and broadcast media which would destroy union rights led to others coming together, as has been reflected in UNITE membership.

Interestingly it was his debates on TV which had helped Corbyn to break through barriers to recruit voters to his side when he stood in the leadership election of 2015.  But in many ways it was his performances on TV during the 2019 campaign with the addition of highly biased coverage that had built up over the last few years that were used against him.   Three of the chapters in the book look at the BBC’s performance.  Nicholas Jones portrays how broadcasters instead of leading and taking their own views found themselves increasingly led and following up stances and stories published in red tops. But it was evident from 2017 that the BBC had metamorphized into becoming a commentator and critic of Corbyn. It’s pro brexit coverage in the referendum certainly showed it was willing to take a political line that it had not done in the past. Burke and Bull also refer to how even the slanted newspaper front pages shown on screens for comments from reviewers or on news programmes all subtly added to a negative portrayal of Labour and Corbyn.

We read what paper owners want us to, we do expect an independent, impartial line from our own public broadcasting service. But whilst the BBC may sometimes follow the newspaper lines, that hasn’t stopped it from coming under fire from newspapers. The future of the BBC and its license and independence is now open to question as a hostile Government which shows its contempt for the public looks at what is to become of it.  This book though critical of its failures to show impartiality argues that that the principle of Public Service Broadcasting must be maintained.  It calls for more public participation in making it answerable, and that there should be competition for quality.  Something that is also called for in the commercial television and radio companies.

This book includes illustrations of the front pages used to attack Labour and Corbyn; it also includes chapters that cover antisemitism, the youth vote as well as other aspects of press coverage. It doesn’t shy away from being critical of Labour’s own election campaign nor of the way that Corbyn’s team dealt with the attacks, sometimes taking a defensive role that did far from allaying the disquiet that grew up around him because of past connections and behaviour.  This country is in the midst of the pandemic which is expected to lead to a recession as bad as that of the 1930s, possibly worse, as we look like leaving the EU without any trade deal. Unemployment is now the highest we have experienced. It’s essential that we have a media, social or otherwise which asks the right questions, fights to make sure that one of the worst Governments on record is called to account.  Never more has this country needed a strong media unafraid of taking on the establishment. It’s The Media, Stupid, takes a hard look at what has happened and opens up discussion on what can be done to enable this.

As Granville William writes this book is part of a CBPF (North) initiative ‘to arouse public awareness of the vital importance of diverse, independent media’. This book certainly does this.

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Why the UK needs a national Recovery Plan – Webinar

UK manufacturing must be at the heart of any strategy to #Recover and #Rebuild our economy. Join our live webinar debate with leading opinion formers across industry and politics #ManufacturingMatters Thursday 25th June 11am – 1pm

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