Tuesday 17 March 2015

Goodbye to Austin, by John Mills

            It has been a huge privilege to work with Austin over the last 35 years. 35 years! I have lost count of how many pamphlets, bulletins and tracts we have written together – always with a few problems about Austin’s jokes – but never with any disagreement about what their policy thrust should be. On the major issues with which we have been concerned – economic policy and what is now the European Union – we have moved in unison throughout the years.

            Has anyone been listening to us? Some of the time, it seemed not. However sure we were that basically we were right in what we were advocating, what we had to say was not usually very fashionable and mostly went against the grain of conventional wisdom. But there were some victories, especially when viewed in retrospect. We campaigned against the Labour Party supporting monetarist policies in the 1980s and they duly fell out of fashion at least in their more extreme form. We fought against Britain joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism and we were surely proved right when we were summarily ejected in 1992. We steadfastly opposed Britain getting further embroiled with the European Union as successive treaties bound us more and more closely to “ever closer union”. We campaigned against the UK joining the euro in the 2000s and maybe the arguments we advanced at the time contributed to our not becoming part of the Single Currency. Since the crash we have opposed the austerity policies which have led to no increase in living standards for most people now for eight years – from 2007 to 2015.

                        Getting all this done required teamwork. Generally, it was my role to do donkey work, digging out the statistics and producing the drafts. It was Austin’s role, as an MP, to do whatever he could to bring them to parliamentary attention. Our vehicles for getting publications produced were a whole series of campaigning organisations which we set up – starting with the Labour Common Market Safeguards Committee which morphed into the Labour Euro-Safeguards Campaign.  Then there was the Labour Economic Policy Group. This was followed by the People’s Pledge and the Pound Campaign. Somewhere in the middle was the Exchange Rate Reform Group. All had the same characteristics – a restless determination, however, unfashionable, either to try to find ways to get the economy to perform better or to get our relationship with the EU on a more even keel – or both!

            But now, Austin is leaving us. A very loyal and steadfast friend will no longer be in the House to push ideas forward. Luckily, we do have some other really good people in parliament who I am sure will help to keep the flag flying, so all is not lost. But some of the fun will go – not least those jokes which I always tried tactfully to edit out but which Austin enjoyed so much that he insisted on them staying in. An era is passing and it will never be quite the same again.

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