Monday, 4 July 2016

Unpublished article on EU referendum

This was an article I wrote for Unitelive that did not get published.

An advisor to the last Labour Government who has spent his life fighting on behalf of workers' rights has spoken in favour of Britain voting to stay in the European Union (EU) when the referendum is held on 23 June. 

Lancashire soil scientist Charlie Clutterbuck, who served for many years on the TGWU/UNITE agricultural workers national sector committee, was speaking on Tuesday at the EU Referendum: a spotlight on food and farming seminar in Manchester. This was organised by the Kindling Trust and the Food Ethics Council, who fear that food and farming has barely featured in the debate so far. 

The event took place a day after the National Farmers' Union (NFU) in England and Wales backed Britain remaining in the EU. The decision was a blow to the current farming minister George Eustice who supports the leave campaign. 

Clutterbuck is no NFU fan. He has regularly crossed swords with the organisation including when it successfully opposed plans in 2006 by the EU to introduce a soil framework directive, which had the potential to improve soils. Clutterbuck also condemned the NFU's support for the last coalition government's scrapping of the Agricultural Wages Board that protected farmworkers wages and conditions. 

Clutterbuck's support for remaining in the EU is therefore not because of the NFU's position. 

"Far from it, my concern is for workers' rights and protecting the soil so we can feed ourselves. I feel the British State is not interested in either. The main political forces driving BREXIT in the UK is towards 'freer market capitalism' and 'laissez faire economics'.  I agree with the Tenant Farmers Association who have stated that British Governments of all colours would have taken a much less supportive approach to farming than they have been forced to take as members of the European Union".

However, despite Clutterbuck's desire for Britain to remain in the EU he still wants to see major changes in the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) that currently accounts for 40 per cent of the entire EU budget. Clutterbuck has mapped out the Ribble and Calder Valleys in Lancashire and Yorkshire to highlight how the land there could be used to grow more fruit and vegetables. He has also supported many small, local projects aimed at boosting food production. 

"Much of the £50 billion spent annually on CAP produces no food at all as it goes to large landowners. I want much of the £15 billion available in England under CAP over the following seven years going to local producers who are establishing local food chains to ensure people eat fresher, locally produced, food, which is better for them," said Charlie.

Clutterbuck's critical support for staying in the EU is in line with Len McCluskey's. The Unite general secretary wants to build a Europe based on "solidarity" amongst its 28 member states, stating "leaving will speed up the rush to beggar-my-neighbour economics and anti-refugee brutality. The referendum campaign is an opportunity to make the case for broader and deeper solidarity across our continent." McCluskey said that despite the temptation to undermine David Cameron, whose party is deeply fractured over Europe, "it falls to us in the labour movement to behave in a more statesmanlike way, and look at the bigger issues".

Clutterbuck, who is currently an associate lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University was joined on the platform at the seminar by Peter Ritchie, of Nourish Scotland, who unfavourably compared the low level of debate in the current referendum to what occurred during the Scottish Independence debate in 2014. Agricultural scientist Steve Webster also spoke to say that EU regulations provide a necessary baseline on animal welfare whilst Anne Selby, of Lancashire Wildlife Trust, commented on how EU legislation has helped protect wildlife in some of the battles they have had with major companies. However, like Clutterbuck, Selby expressed concerns over the current workings of CAP and how its support for intensive farming has often worked against the interests of wildlife. 

Over 50 people attended the event.

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