The Cooking the Books column from the September 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
After the EU referendum the Electoral Commission released figures on the funds received by the two sides. They showed that the Leave side spent about £17.6 million and the Remain only £14.3 million. These were not contributions from grass-roots supporters but, on both sides, from individual capitalists. Since staying in the EU, and especially the single market, was in the overall interest of the majority section of the British capitalist class, how come that capitalists gave more to Leave than Remain? In fact, who were the capitalists who funded the Leave campaign, and why?
Among the dozen largest Leave donors were: Peter Hargreaves (£3.2m), Arron Banks (£1.95m plus a loan of £3m), Jeremy Hoskins (£980,000), Lord Edmiston (£600,000), Crispin Odey (£533,000), Jonathan Wood (£500,000), Patrick Barbour (£500,000), Stuart Wheeler (£400,000), and Peter Cruddas (£350,000).
What all these have in common (apart from most of them appearing in the Sunday Times Rich List) is that they are involved in hedge funds and other such financial activities.
Hargreaves, who is literally a billionaire since his pile amounts to over £1,000 million (the others are only multi-millionaires), was a founder of the financial services company Hargreaves-Lansdown. Hoskins set up Marathon Asset Management. Odey runs Odey Asset Management. Wheeler made his money out of a spread betting firm IG Index. Cruddas’s was CMC Markets. Wood’s is JO Hambro Capital Management.
It might seem strange, since the City stands to lose from Brexit, that those who funded the Leave campaign should be financiers (other financiers funded the Remain campaign). But there are financiers and financiers. The City establishment tends to see some hedge fund managers as cowboys engaging in practices it doesn’t regard as entirely above board and which it is prepared to see regulated. It is precisely such regulation that the Brexit financiers wanted to avoid.
One of the Brexit supporters, the Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, let the cat out of the bag when, in an article in the Daily Mail (12 April), he painted a picture of what a Brexit Britain would look like in 2020:
‘London, too, is booming. Eurocrats never had much sympathy for financial services. As their regulations took effect in Frankfurt, Paris and Milan – a financial transactions tax, a ban on short selling, restrictions on clearing, a bonus cap, windfall levies, micro-regulation of funds – waves of young financiers brought their talents to the City instead.’
That was their main aim, then, their manifesto for the referendum: allow all these practices which enhance their profits to continue. To achieve this, they in effect hired politicians, not just lightweights such as Hannan but also national figures like Boris Johnson and Farage, with a remit to go out and get a vote to Leave by any means. They didn’t really care about the NHS or immigration, but left it up to the politicians to deliver. Which, against expectations, they did.
The rest of the capitalist class are furious with them but are going to have to adapt to the result. Most of them will want a deal with the EU that allows them continued free access to the vast tariff-free single market with common standards and its coming extension to services, even if this involves accepting some free movement of labour and a payment to Brussels. Some of the Brexit funders might well be prepared to go along with this as long as there is no regulation of their activities.
The sad thing is that so many workers were led to back this maverick section of the capitalist class in the belief that they were protesting against the ‘elite’, while in fact they were being duped into pulling the chestnuts out of the fire for a part of it.