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Editorial: Our future is either a high wage, high value planned economy — or none at all

“GET Brexit done” was an election-winning slogan for Boris Johnson, and it sank Labour’s bid to make its progressive industrial and social agenda the centrepiece of the election.

Labour’s divisions — and the running sore its volte-face on Jeremy Corbyn’s original pledge to honour the referendum result opened up in Labour’s heartlands — are not healed.

And, given the studied passivity of official Labour in the face of the contradictions opened up in the negotiations with the EU, there is not going to be a swift resolution to the problems this poses for the party’s recovery as a winning electoral force.

Parliamentary elections are a long way off — that is, if the government sticks to the official timetable — and it looks like Labour’s leadership hopes that something, anything, will turn up.

This Panglossian mindset they share with those innocents for whom the second referendum campaign was more about remaining in the EU rather than destabilising Corbyn’s leadership.

That this was not the decisive faction in the fissiparous big-business-funded outfit running Remain is evidenced by the virtual abandonment of this project now that Corbyn is out of the leadership. 

Michel Barnier’s visit to discuss trade with the government’s chief Brexit negotiator David Frost is presented as an episode in brinkmanship, and it is true that much of their rhetoric suggests this is the last-chance saloon — gunfight at high noon and bodies on the Brussels boulevards — should the talks fail.

But the point about negotiations is that until they end, they continue. And the decisive forces within the EU, not just the bureaucracy but the key governments, have a big interest in getting a deal done.

Where Labour might gain some traction, find a way of talking to its lost voters in the industrial heartland and open up an already existing fissure in the ruling class — and possibly find an echo among Tory MPs whose material interests are bound up in British manufacturing — lies in voicing a comprehensive industrial development policy.

Yesterday the Financial Times carried a piece in which the guy who, seven years ago, set up Britain’s state-owned development bank called on the government to provide more support for crucial industries and regional growth.

Massive state aid to support industrial development where the government becomes a key investor in precisely those parts of the economy that require substantial capital investment, draw upon and enhance pools of highly skilled labour and result in a high-value technologically advanced economy. What’s not to like?

It evokes the rousing verse in Red Fly the Banners Oh, sung at many a union conference: “Five for the years of the Five Year Plan, and four for the four years taken.”

No-one thinks that a Tory government pledging state aid to buttress capitalist industry is building the foundation of a socialist economy. But even the most insipid of Labour’s present leadership surely can see the utility of a real-life effort to modernise Britain’s industry in the face of a marked reluctance by private capital to do so except whenever the returns rival City speculation and bond dealing.

The rally organised by Unite for an extension to the furlough scheme in strategic vehicle and aviation industries emphasises just how important a skilled workforce is for a modern economy.

Britain doesn’t have much of a future unless it is transformed into a high-wage, high-value planned economy in which a highly educated workforce is a principal asset.

But Michel Barnier’s brief includes compelling acceptance by Britain’s negotiators of the single-market rules that circumscribe state aid to industry as part of a deal.


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