Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Anthony Gifford | Corbyn can, and must, win

Published:Sunday | April 23, 2017 | 4:00 AM
Anthony Gifford

For the first time since I settled in Jamaica in 1991, I really miss not being in Britain and being involved in political action.

It has been widely reported that Theresa May's decision to call a snap election on June 8 is a smart move that will secure her a large majority and give her the authority to complete the UK's exit from the European Union on whatever terms are offered. I do not agree.

I am urging all my friends in the UK to get out and campaign for the removal of this reactionary Conservative government, and to put in its place a government whether Labour or a coalition, that will bring back social justice and allow a second referendum on the terms of Brexit when these are known.

This is a momentous election for the UK for two main reasons. First, there is a clash of values that we have not seen since the days of Margaret Thatcher. Private-sector corporations enjoy unprecedented power and wealth while the mass of the British people suffer neglect and deterioration in the public services that they need. The National Health Service is in crisis. Education standards for the majority have fallen.

Legal aid, care of the elderly, affordable housing, employment rights have all been cut back. The door has been closed on Syrian children who were promised refuge in Britain. Development aid, which had been shielded from the austerity programme, is now being called into question.

May's leadership is encouraging a nastiness in British politics I have not known. the Daily Mail, one of a number of right-wing newspapers, called the judges "enemies of the people" after their decision that Brexit required a vote of Parliament. 'Crush the saboteurs' was its leader on the day after the election was announced. It is in that climate that racial attacks have increased and a member of parliament murdered during the Brexit referendum campaign. As a Labour MP, Clive Lewis, put it, May "does not look like someone intending to lead a one-nation party so much as a one-party nation".

 

RETURN OF SOCIAL JUSTICE

 

Against this, the Labour leader, my friend Jeremy Corbyn, will offer a manifesto that can lead to the return of social justice. He is a leader who has cared all his life for the welfare of people - in Britain and abroad. Judge him not on his parliamentary clashes with May, but on his policies, which are popular, and by his integrity, which is the best guarantee that he will deliver on what he promises.

He got off to a fine start at a rousing rally in Westminster last week. He is a good friend of Jamaica, where he did voluntary service as a young man.

The second huge issue is the future of Britain in the European Union. I am a passionate believer in the importance of the EU as a means of securing peace and justice in an area that has known bitter wars over centuries. The freedom to travel, study, work, and trade in Europe has been valued by millions of Britons, from retirees in sunny Spain to students able to take a train, cross the Channel, and have access to 27 fascinating countries. The economic fallout from Brexit will be horrendous, with large corporations already planning to relocate their headquarters and access to the single market likely to be denied. Many who voted to leave are questioning whether the promise of 'national sovereignty' was not a dangerous illusion.

I was concerned that Corbyn did not see that one could be a passionate pro-European and a passionate social reformer at the same time. But now, the Labour party has set out six tests that will have to be met if Brexit is to be finally approved. Their shadow minister on this issue is a brilliant and progressive lawyer, Keir Starmer, whom I know and much admire. I hope he can persuade Corbyn to keep open the option of a second referendum if the tests are not met.

There are other parties that should be part of the coalition needed to defeat May on these two issues: the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Nationalists, the Greens. Gina Miller, who was the claimant in the Brexit case before the Supreme Court, has taken another brave initiative to encourage tactical voting so that candidates with the best positions on the European issue get elected. She will be vilified by the Daily Mail, but the decent majority should support her gutsy and principled stand.

So do not despair, good people in my country of origin. May is not invincible. Brexit is not inevitable. Corbyn and his allies can, and must, win. Unite and campaign! I wish I were with you!

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