In the first part of a candid two-part interview, the Green activist - and brother of US presidential candidate Bernie Sanders - outlines his views on Brexit.
In the next few days, we’ll find out whether Larry Sanders – a Green Party activist, former councillor…and brother of a US presidential candidate – has been chosen to stand for the European elections.
Sanders is humble about his chances, expecting to come around ‘middle’ on the list of 10 places. There were 22 candidates for the South East region the Oxford resident is standing in.
The Brooklyn-born campaigner is the elder brother of Bernie (Larry is 83), moving to the UK in the late 1960s. He became a lecturer at the University of West London, before later working at the University of Oxford’s department of social administration.
Larry Sanders left the Labour Party under Tony Blair in 2001, joining the Greens and becoming a councillor in Oxford four years later. In 2016 he was appointed the party’s health spokesperson – and has grow in prominence in the Greens ever since.
Now he has spoken out about Brexit and his activism in an exclusive interview with Left Foot Forward. Part 2 of this interview (covering US politics, Change UK and the Labour Party) will be published on Friday.
Larry Sanders is understandably downbeat about UK politics. “Our democracy doesn’t work very well but we don’t have many alternatives,” he tells me, believing Green ideas are ‘essential in a hard and dangerous time.’
Josiah Mortimer: You’ve been highly critical of the PM and her handling of Brexit. What’s your current take?
Larry Sanders: I haven’t followed the details – it’s been too depressing. It’s obviously been handled appallingly. We’ve drifted for years now without any clarity.
I’m not crazy about the EU. It’s got a lot of flaws. Coming out will be very painful for this country, in almost any format. So we have to try to stay in. on the one hand we’ve got austerity – linked to class warfare – in Europe, and that’s one reason why there’s so many problems in Europe as in Britain. The idea that it was not possible to have the things most people need because there’s ‘not enough money’. It’s the secret of why the Brexit referendum was lost. In addition to the usual suspects, we had a large number of working class people who’d been kicked around for decades and expressed their anger.
What would you say are the flaws of the EU?
The main flaws have to do with the enormous influence of the German idea that you have to run surpluses, going into debt is the worst thing in the world. Countries in the Eurozone have been badly affected, Germany has been in terms of much lower than expected income for most people. The lack of growth in income for most people has been clear for years now. Greece is the worst example obviously. The idea there must never be a deficit – as a result of that you’ve got services slashed, low growth leading to low wages and so on.
Do you think we’ll stay in?
I haven’t got a clue [if we can stay in]. The crucial thing seems to be the Labour party – they don’t know what they want. Which is understandable: staying in the EU will create an immense anger among millions of people who voted for Brexit.
I think it’s the right thing [to stay in] but it will be very painful. It will strengthen the politics of the right. But coming out will be a disaster and eventually strengthen the right. There are no big wins and Corbyn has been trapped in that. But I think he should have made a clear decision early on, instead of trying to straddle the two.
So you don’t think we can Revoke Article 50?
We certainly couldn’t obliterate Brexit by a vote of politicians. The anger would be enormous. It’s the business of democracy to win an argument. The reason for not having a referendum would be that you can’t trust the people to come up with the right solution. Which is true – people come up with stupid votes. But we don’t have a real choice – if we can’t carry the public then we can’t carry on in the EU. So for practical reasons – moral and political – we have to have a referendum if we’re not going to have Brexit.
I think it would be a mistake [to revoke A50]: the result would be very bad. We have to take our chance. Having a campaign – public and out in the air – is the only hope for bringing the country somewhat together.
How will the Greens fare in these elections?
I think we should do better than we did. We didn’t do particularly well last time and a lot of our issues are popular. The polls seem to show we’ve got a greater percentage. I don’t know how that translates into seats. i hope we’ll be able to get beyond discussing Brexit. It’s very important but it’s not the deepest issue: the main issue is the climate and inequality. Massive issues of our time, and we’re failing on both, and we need to succeed on both.
The Green New Deal concept incorporates the two excellently: to green our economy and create millions of well-paying jobs, and strengthen our welfare state.
Take health and social care – there are two million people In that industry. If we paid those well, every part of the country would have a boost. It would be an enormous boost to the economy – win, win.
Those are the issues I hope we’ll discuss. Brexit has destroyed the politics of this country and the issues we discuss for so long now.
Part 2 of this interview – covering Bernie Sanders, Change UK, and the Labour Party, will be published on Friday.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
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