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Britain's chances of leaving Europe are higher than you think

The forces of In are in bigger trouble than they realise.

Out of one campaign and straight into another. David Cameron's re-election has effectively kicked off the campaign to keep Britain in the European Union. But it's the forces of Out that have started early. Graeme MacDonald tells the Guardian it would be better to leave the EU rather than stay in an unreformed Union:

I think it would be, because I really don’t think it would make a blind bit of difference to trade with Europe. There has been far too much scaremongering about things like jobs. I don’t think it’s in anyone’s interest to stop trade. I don’t think we or Brussels will put up trade barriers.”

Of course, the overwhelming number of banks and large businesses remain opposed to Britain leaving the European Union. It remains the case that, in so far as you can generalise, the view of British business is "better off in". 

But the Out campaign doesn't need the support of a majority or even close to 50 per cent of British businesses. It needs enough to muddy the waters, to allow its proxies to appear on television and describe the business community as "divided". "One in ten - and it's far more than that - will do," in the words of one senior member of the Out campaign in utero. 

As I've written before, the campaign to leave the European Union has already been quietly assembled. The playbook will be the same as No to AV: Conservative money, a few Labour figureheads, and a wide variety of "apolitical" talking heads and campaigners. The In campaign, however, is still divided. Some believe that the best hope for victory is to make it a referendum on Nigel Farage. Others say that the Better Together operation - a largely passionless focus on the risks of exit - is the one to emulate. 

But there are problems with both approaches. However much the In campaign might wish it, Farage will not be the face of the Out campaign in the country at large. And Better Together had the advantage of a sympathetic media that wrote up the interventions from George Osborne, Gordon Brown, the Bank of England, the big supermarkets and other notable institutions entirely sympathetically. It seems highly unlikely that the In campaign will recieve the same treatment from the Mail and the Sun. 

At time of writing, a tenner on Britain leaving Europe gets you thirty quid. That looks like a depressingly good bet to me.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.

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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.