Last Saturday, activists on the left bloc at the People’s Vote march dropped banners from the balcony of hedge fund investment firm Odey Capital reading “Brexit = disaster capitalism” and “Brexit is a billionaire con”. Founding partner Crispin Odey was a major sponsor of Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign, as well as a top donor to the 2016 Leave campaign. The activists who organised this action are spot on: Brexit is being used as a weapon of class war by the rich against working-class people.
It is absolutely the case that a number of hedge funds have supported Brexit and are betting on the pound falling in the event of a disruptive Brexit, with Johnson’s much threatened no deal being the most disruptive of all. Many also have deep roots in the Tory Party. In the case of Odey, he donated £10,000 to Johnson’s Conservative leadership campaign earlier in the year, and has given close to £900,000 to pro-Brexit campaigns. He has also bet against the pound as the Tories have blundered on with Brexit, raising the prospect that the UK may crash out of the EU without a deal.
He has done this before. Following the vote to leave the EU in June 2016, it is estimated he made around £220m in just one day when sterling slumped, although this was lost within weeks as markets recovered confidence. Although Odey has recently denied influencing No. 10’s Brexit strategy, clearly hedge fund managers donate to the Tory Party and their right-wing leaders for a reason. The interests of the Tories and the most exploitative capitalists have always been aligned; hedge funds are to the Tories, in many ways, what the trade union movement is to Labour. And as Jeremy Corbyn has said, Boris Johnson’s deal is “good for hedge fund managers, bad for communities”.
Of course Odey isn’t alone. Paul Marshall and Ian Wace of Marshall Wace are among other hedge fund managers up to no good, short-selling and encouraging a swift exit. These mega-wealthy opportunists ultimately want to cash in on a bargain basement, race to the bottom Britain, with lower taxes, lower regulations and even greater inequalities than we have at present. They want a deal with Trump’s United States in order to toss out workers’ rights, environmental protections and decent standards. They want a post-Brexit Britain to fall behind the EU in terms of these rights and protections; a hyper-neoliberal Singapore-on-Thames, the speculator’s post-Brexit, Thatcherite dream.
This is exactly what the left bloc was drawing attention to last Saturday. Although the wealthy were split between Leave and Remain in 2016, just like the working class, it is now crystal clear that Johnson’s Brexit serves only to benefit the very few at the top. The shifting of environmental protections and workers’ rights over from the legally binding withdrawal agreement to the political declaration only underlines this. If Brexit goes ahead, exiting the EU could mark the beginning of a long process of progressive gains being rapidly rolled back, with the Tories using it as cover. Why would any Labour MP even consider supporting this hard-right project for disaster capitalism?
Labour needs to take this argument out into the country and twin it with policies that will shift wealth and power in the direction of working class people: a real living wage, a socialist Green New Deal, the scrapping of prescription charges, public ownership of rail, mail and water, and many, many more transformative policies. This way, we can demonstrate to the electorate that there is a radical alternative that can make their lives better, and start shifting political discourse away from the nasty scapegoating and bitter nationalism that Brexit has inflated over the past three years.
Never mind Odey and the hard Brexit hedge fund managers! Whenever the election comes, Labour can push out Johnson and his chums in the city who have brought our country to the verge of Brexit-inspired ruin.
This Sunday, the organisers of the left bloc, Another Europe is Possible, are hosting a live podcast and party in London.