Expert View

Labour MPs must mention EU help for poorer areas after 1997

by Denis MacShane | 17.06.2019

Jeremy Corbyn made a curious speech to his Momentum followers last week. He blasted the 1997-2010 Labour government for what he saw as its failing to address poverty, inequality or investment in social infrastructure. He went on to imply that Labour was responsible for the financial crash of 2008, which was imported from the US and which has cost much of Europe a lost decade during which anti-EU populism gained traction culminating in the Brexit vote.

Furious Labour MPs have riposted, denouncing Corbyn’s attack on his own party’s legacy. Bassetlaw’s Labour MP, John Mann, tweeted: “While Seamus Milne [sic] was slagging off the Labour Government from his plush London pad, every secondary school in Bassetlaw was being built. New.”

Mann and other angry Labour MPs are quite right. But what none of them have mentioned so far is the massive contribution that the EU made to securing an improvement in the lives of people in the poorer regions of the UK.

The EU spent billions to help rebuild infrastructure and free up national expenditure that would be used to rebuild hospitals, schools and upgrade poor-quality social housing that had been left dilapidated at the end of the 1990s.

In 1979, the regional GDP of South Yorkshire was 95% of the EU average. By 1996 it had fallen below 75% following the massive deindustrialisation of the Thatcher era.

July 20th
Park Lane, London

Click here to find out more

This made South Yorkshire eligible for what was called EU Objective 1 funding – normally reserved as a kind of transfer payment from richer EU member states to the poorest regions of the EU.

As a result £34 million was transferred from EU funds to South Yorkshire between 1994 and 1999 and a further £158 million between 2000 and 2006. This allowed new spending in Doncaster and Rotherham, home to at least two Labour MPs – Caroline Flint and Kevin Barron – who are now vehemently pro-Brexit. In the North East region, also home to one or two noisy pro-Brexit Labour MPs, £27 million was transferred via Brussels between 1994 and 1999 and a further £53 million between 2000 and 2006 in the years of Labour’s investment in upgrading social provision and infrastructure.

None of the Labour MPs criticising Corbyn’s attack on his own party’s record have mentioned the support Europe gave to the UK’s poorest regions. Unlike the rest of Europe where EU-funded projects are identified as such with signs indicating EU support, UK government officials especially since 2010 have sought to eradicate any public knowledge that the EU has helped to offset the bias in government spending towards London and the South East.

But as Labour MPs mock Corbyn and list with pride the changes for the better that happened under Tony Blair, they might at the very least acknowledge the solidarity and support from the rest of Europe.

Edited by Luke Lythgoe

6 Responses to “Labour MPs must mention EU help for poorer areas after 1997”

  • I dearly wish that we had a spokesperson for the EU. Right now there is nothing but the negative stories put about by the likes of Farage and Johnson. Where is the spokesperson who can authoritatively set the record right? Is it any wonder that people voted to leave when all they saw was exaggerated amounts of money leaving the UK and nothing coming in return? But the damage is done. After forty years of lies and ignorance, often to the benefit of whatever government was in power, it would take a miracle to convert our Brexiters “who knew exactly what they voted for” to understand what the EU stands for and what it has done for them.
    So where is the EU spokesperson to correct Johnson’s lies and Farage’s fairytales?

  • Yes, it is tragic that support for the EU has been lacking, when the cause is so great. But I speak as a Lib Dem. We mustn’t let “the left” be split and let in the Brexit Party. Tom Watson seems to be the chap to get common sense installed.

    It seems to me also tragic that Jeremy Corbyn takes time to slag off Tony Blair, when the emphasis at the moment should be to look to the future and avoid Brexit.

  • George Brooke is absolutely right( and Denis MacShane as well for the points he makes in his article ). The absence of a EU spokesman was particularly obvious during all the Theresa May negotiations and indeed those conducted previously by David Cameron.. All the English public heard was the government’s side of the argument. There was no one to speak regularly on the side of the EU to explain their position or how they saw the situation. The occasional interventions of Barnier, or the Presidents of the Commission or Council, could not and cannot replace the regular feedback from an EU spokesman.

    As to the lack of information on EU funding to the UK, this is a scandal and once again shows the manipulation of information which goes on in the highest circles and the Press.

  • And so the UK plods on with a multitude of lying politicians in the main parties. It’s like the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and 90’s never happened; straight back to the future.

  • In Spain there are huge billboards telling the public if a building project has been funded by the EU. Also, outside public buildings such as the local ayuntamiento you will see displayed the Spanish national flag, the provincial flag (eg Valenicia), the flag of the local town, AND the EU flag. The latter has been more prominent in the U.K. since the referendum but it is seldom to be seen flying outside public buildings. I now see a lot more Union Jacks flying on flagpoles in private gardens. The British population at large is ignorant about the functioning and purpose of the EU. As said over the previous few days on this website we need to launch a public information campaign to educate those who are anti Europe.

  • I think there is a fundamental difficulty in expecting people to ‘love’ what is a public institution, a bit like expecting people to love their local authority. Putting up placards about EU projects is only going to have limited benefit.

    I think far more important is developing a deeper understanding of European cultures and learning to appreciate and celebrate them. Part of the problem is the inability to understand languages other than English (with the decline in languages teaching contributing to that). Alot of ignorance and prejudice stems from this, alongside the whole insular mindset stemming from being an island. The popular tabloids have reinforced this over decades with frequent anti French, anti German stories, aside from the EU bashing.

    Although you read about some Brexiteers who claim to love Europe, whilst hating the EU, actually a contradiction in terms, the mass of eurosceptics are people who have only had superficial dealings with Europe. Having a natural curiosity and appreciation of other European cultures should lead to a greater empathy with the EU, as it is the means by which interaction with those cultures becomes much easier and practical. The extra spin-off is being able to trade with its large single market.