In the splendour of Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall two of Labour’s big beasts orchestrated a strong case for remaining in the European Union, allied with a powerful onslaught on the Brexit argument.
It was an impassioned high octane performance from Neil Kinnock and Gordon Brown at the Rally to Remain. Opening with a few well aimed swipes at the psychodrama being played out by David Cameron and Boris “Trump”, we heard Kinnock – the former adversary of Militant Tendency – set out the case for remaining in the European Union. Gone was the over-elaborate oratory of a younger Kinnock. Instead the audience of 150 heard how the EU offered a cohesion that would secure the political and economic wellbeing of the United Kingdom. Creating the world’s largest market the EU had gained protections for consumers, workers and the environment. Kinnock argued that a market place of 500 million had supported 4.2 million jobs in the UK along with employment rights that had a direct positive effect on everyone’s lives; leaving the EU and joining the World Trade Organisation posed huge risks with a lasting price to pay, including increased prices of consumer goods.
Kinnock was scathing about the fairy-tale mirage of the Brexit case in which he accused Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Iain Duncan Smith and Nigel Farage of having never previously supported public service investment, workers’ rights and he claimed they would squeeze, slice and strangle the NHS in the face of further austerity. “By their deeds shall you know them”, summed up how Kinnock felt about the superficial quartet.
In dismissing the Brexit campaigns’ focus on immigration Kinnock said those coming into the country were young, fit and here to work, and contributed £2.5bn in taxes. The controversial immigration control based on the Australian points system, proposed by Brexit supporters would double immigration, he said. An ageing population requires an increase in tax revenues and immigration is part of the solution to this increasingly relevant scenario.
Striding across the stage Gordon Brown is a revelation in comparison to his television image. He is relaxed and funny, with a delivery spiced up with good anecdotes, particularly the one about Mrs Thatcher and her pronunciation of Cowdenbeath. All of this adds power to the message Brown is putting across which is that globalisation has changed everything. From the movement of capital, services and communications he states that co-operation is imperative. Neither pollution nor terrorism recognises borders and it is only through co-operation that these world-wide concerns can be addressed. In the case of terrorism and in the context of the Middle East, Brown was adamant that this should be seen through EU policy as the United States was too far away, the UK could not achieve much on its own and NATO offered only a military perspective.
On the question of tax havens, only the EU working together could deal with this problem and the Brexit campaign offered no answers. The former prime minister reiterated those principles of the European Community, democracy, human rights and the rule of law all underpinning the safety net and insurance policy offered by our neighbours along with the European Convention of Human Rights which the UK helped to form.
Brown used the event, organised by Labour Movement for Europe – Scotland, to reel off a list of areas requiring co-operation which included climate change, poverty, inequality, refugee camps and echoing Neil Kinnock stressed that the EU takes measures where Conservatives fail.
Dialogue, discussion and debate had replaced conflict in Europe with interdependence working for the common good, as Brown made reference to President Kennedy’s inaugural speech. Neil Kinnock received a warm reception; on hearing the kind words directed at him he quipped, “I thought I was dead”, but this veteran Welsh dragon roared, generating some real fire power with two weeks to go until polling day.
Ronnie McGowan is a Labour supporter and a former teacher.