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Jeremy Corbyn's speech on Europe was cleverer than you think

Jeremy Corbyn's difficult balancing act puts the Remain campaign under pressure - but keeps the Labour show on the road.

What do Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron want out of the European Union? The answer is more similar than you might expect: for the issue to go away so they can get back to doing other things.

Neither man is particularly pre-occupied, as Tony Blair was, with being seen as “a good European” by their fellow leaders, although Corbyn has been receiving a better reception from his fellow members of the Party of European Socialists than the Islington North MP ever expected.

Even the likes of Matteo Renzi and Manuel Valls, the continent’s remaining Blairites, like that Corbyn is attempting to change Britain’s social democratic party from within, not attempting to destroy it from without like Podemos, Die Linke or France’s Jean-Luc Mélenchon.

Not since Blair and the early days of the Third Way has a Labour leader been as enthusiastically received by the PES, and that response is part of why, if Britain does remain in Europe, a Labour breakaway to form a new European grouping with the likes of Syriza in the European Parliament is now firmly on the backburner.

In terms of keeping Britain in Europe, however, today’s speech, taken in its entirety, was full of the messages that Britain Stronger In Europe, the cross-party Remain campaign, regard as “unhelpful”. Chief among them was Corbyn’s attack on warnings of dire economic consequences should Britain leave the EU. But in the arenas that decide elections and referendums – the brief newsbreaks on music radio and the muted TV screens in pubs – the message “Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn backs Remain” should, hopefully, be enough.

In any case, the primary role of Corbyn’s interventions on the European issue aren’t to keep Britain in Europe, but to keep Labour intact. Just as Cameron pulled the Conservatives out of the European People’s Party in order to win the votes of Eurosceptic MPs and activists in his leadership election, pro-Europeanism is a non-negotiable as far as leading the present Labour party is concerned.

On that metric, Corbyn’s speech today went very well. He made enough pro-EU noises to make grumbling from Labour’s more committed pro-Europeans look insurrectionist rather than constructive. He chucked a bit of red meat at his core supporters, bashing TTIP – a treaty that is now looks to be dead on arrival in any case -  and re-announcing that a Labour government would renationalise the railways.  And, crucially, he did just enough to hint to those few Labour MPs and activists who are anti-European that he might just possibly remain on their side, really.

Of course, that balancing act puts Britain’s EU membership at risk, by potentially reducing the number of Labour voters who will turn out to vote for “Remain” on 23 June.

But so too does Cameron’s own balancing act on holding the referendum in the first place. And just as the Prime Minister’s skill in holding his party together will be largely underappreciated until after he’s gone, Corbyn’s tightrope-walk is further evidence that he is a better player of the game of Labour politics than many of his opponents might wish.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.