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The Hennessy Lecture 2017: Neil Kinnock in Conversation with Peter Hennessy

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3 October 2017

Time: 7:00 - 9:30pm
Venue: The Great Hall, People's Palace, Queen Mary University of London, 327 Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS

Speaking to Professor Peter Hennessy at the Mile End Institute, Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), he warned that the country may become overwhelmed by the unprecedented complexity of withdrawal from the European Union.

“If we have anything other than a substantial transition to ease this gigantic change in the way in which everything is conducted, after 44 years of engagement in the EU, it will be an unmitigated disaster. [It] will severely further weaken our economy, which has currently got a balance of trade deficit, a gigantic borrowing requirement, a massive national debt, a productivity deficit, a living standards deficit, [and] a public services deficit - all those weaknesses will be exacerbated by crashing out,” said Lord Kinnock.

He said that a longer transition period will make clear to voters the consequences of leaving. He said a lengthy transition provides “...the opportunity for reconsideration of the implications of this fundamental and profound change in our relationship with our nearest neighbours…Unless and until people get the chance, accustomed to the day-to-day bread and butter realities of the prospect of coming out of the European Union, then I don’t really think there’s full comprehension of the consequences.”

Professor Peter Hennessy
Professor Peter Hennessy

He warned that there is no simple way to deal with the decision to leave the EU, which he described as an “awful outcome” for the country.

“[We should] seek to ensure a way of sliding at the most gradual rate into a changed relationship…and in the course of that, giving people another opportunity to examine what it implies for themselves, their families, their community – and the future of their young. These should be the dictating realities on which democracy takes its decisions,” said Lord Kinnock.

A changed Labour party

On the ascendance of the left in the Labour Party, Lord Kinnock said people no longer tend to confuse Momentum with Militant, a Trotskyite group associated with ultra-left politics in the 1980s.

“As a movement, [Momentum] they’ve never been Militant, although there are people who are significant in Momentum who are not unassociated with ultra-leftism and sectarian politics in the Labour Party. They may have a disproportionate effect on the direction of affairs in Momentum, but they are not Momentum,” said Lord Kinnock.

Lord Neil Kinnock
Lord Neil Kinnock

He welcomed the fact that Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum have attracted so many young people to Labour politics, but warned the current leadership against trying to ensure the dominance of a single point-of-view. He expressed concern that so much energy at the Labour Party conference was devoted to “mechanistic changes intended to install one set of opinions.”

“That really disappointed me, not simply because I disagree with them but because it’s such a phenomenal waste of time, energy, effort, and idealism. I say this as someone who got a reputation as a bit of a Stalinist, largely because I inherited a very undisciplined Labour Party. Not the whole lot, not even the majority, but undisciplined people who paid much more attention to their own opinions than to the serious business of trying to secure votes and get elected to power,” said Lord Kinnock.

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