Richard North, 27/02/2018  

What struck me most about the Corbyn speech, and not in any laudatory sense, was the short section on Mini production. Said Corbyn:
A Mini will cross the Channel three times in a 2,000-mile journey before the finished car rolls off the production line. Starting in Oxford it will be shipped to France to be fitted for key components before being brought back to BMW's Hams Hall plant in Warwickshire where it is drilled and milled into shape. Once this process is complete the Mini will be sent to Munich to be fitted with its engine, before ending its journey back at the Mini plant in Oxford for final assembly.

If that car is to be sold on the continent then many of its components will have crossed the Channel four times. The sheer complexity of these issues demand that we are practical and serious about this next stage.
Now compare this with the real world. In the case of the Mini, assembly is carried out at the BMW plant in Oxford. The plant at Swindon produces body pressings and sub-assemblies and the plant at Hams Hall near Birmingham makes the engines, which it has done since 2006.

As regards engine production, most of BMW aluminium block and head castings are made at Landshut near Munich. Some of the machining is carried out at Steyr in Austria, mainly cylinder heads. But that plant also makes crankcases, crankshafts and con-rods for BMW cars, including the Mini. Some BMW engine machining was also carried out by the PSA Peugeot Citroen factory in Douvrin, France, but it does not handle Mini engines.

In fact, since the upgrade of the plant in 2013, most of the machining of parts and the main assembly of the Mini engines is undertaken at Hams Hall. When complete, the engines are mated with front suspensions and steering units, and fitted to the cars as single sub-assemblies in the Oxford plant.

The real point about the passage in the speech, though, is that it is gibberish. Cars, invariably, are assembled in one plant, with all the components brought together in one vast, orchestrated enterprise which has completed vehicles rolling off the line ready for sale. The idea of partially completed cars being shipped across Europe for assembly (and to be fitted with engines) is technically illiterate. The idea of a car being "drilled and milled into shape" is comedic.

Thus, no one with any feel for the subject could ever speak out loud the words in the sequence which Corbyn used, at least, not without cringing in embarrassment. And presuming the opposition leader approves his own speeches, one can only assume that he knows nothing of car production. But then, neither do his speech writers – nor any of the people who might have been asked to vet the completed speech.

As it turns out, the piece from the speech may have been lifted from the Evening Standard from July 2017. It is there that "award-winning" journalist Anthony Hilton has Mini crankshafts crossing the Channel three times. That story, in turn, may have been lifted from a piece in the Guardian written by Graham Ruddick and Philip Oltermann in March 2017.

Thus, the Corbyn team not only doesn't do its own research but, when it lifts a story from the print media, it gets the details badly wrong – incidentally talking down the magnificent achievements of British automotive engineering. And you would trust this lot with government?

The ultimate irony, though, is that even the original Guardian story is wrong, with an additional error from Hilton who describes a crankshaft as "the bit which transmits the power of the engine to the wheels" – evidently confusing it with a driveshaft.

The Guardian offers the story as "just one anecdote that succinctly sums up the problems that Brexit and the threat of tariffs pose to the UK car industry". Interestingly, all three writers have the crankshaft being made in France – which has to be Douvrin as the only French factory which has handled BMW engine business. But, currently, this plant has no foundry. Since 2005, PSA has produced its crankshafts in Mulhouse in eastern France - but not for BMW.

For Minis, the sequence is clear: the crankshafts are made in the Steyr plant in Austria. They are then shipped straight to the UK where they are machined on a new, dedicated line at Hams Hall - in place since 2013. There, they are fitted directly to the engines which are sent to Oxford for assembly into the cars. Only one move across the Channel is required, from Austria to the UK.

In almost every respect, therefore, Corbyn's little anecdote is wrong. But, for him, detail hardly matters. He isn't in the business of conveying information or educating his listeners. His speech was the process of speaking words, an empty, sterile process of making sounds in a defined order, without the first idea of what he was actually saying. They could just as well have been spoken in a foreign language, the meaning of which had not been revealed to him.

And that applied not only to the section on the Mini, but to the totality of his references to the European Union, the customs union and the Single Market. They came merely from a man who was engaged in the speaking of words. "Labour", he said, when he finally got round to talking about the EU in a speech that went on for 4,376 words:
… would seek a final deal that gives full access to European markets and maintains the benefits of the single market and the customs union as the Brexit Secretary, David Davis promised in the House of Commons, with no new impediments to trade and no reduction in rights, standards and protections.
That much puts Corbyn in exactly the same "have your cake and eat it" territory as the Conservatives – except that he has an entirely different means of achieving this magical state. He tells us:
We have long argued that a customs union is a viable option for the final deal. So Labour would seek to negotiate a new comprehensive UK-EU customs union to ensure that there are no tariffs with Europe and to help avoid any need for a hard border in Northern Ireland.
The two paragraphs cited and consecutive and need to be taken together. Mr Corbyn is effectively suggesting that we enter into a customs union with the EU in order to give us full access to European markets and maintain the benefits of the single market and the customs union.

And that really is gibberish. Even if it was technically possible, which it isn't, it would be a political non-starter. The EU has said any number of times that the UK is not going to get full EU benefits once it has left – whatever mechanism is chosen.

Then, what follows is equally absurd. Corbyn argues for a new customs union with the EU which would "ensure the UK has a say in future trade deals". He doesn't understand that customs union doesn't actually prevent a member doing deals with third countries. Instead, he proposes that the UK should continue to partake in the EU's existing trade deals and should be able to be part of ongoing trade negotiations, then benefiting from new agreements.

If that man had said that he wanted to be part of the Lunar Federation, but only on condition that we had equal stakes in the green cheese quota, he might have made more sense. And, doubtless, had he said precisely that, we would have had a dead-pan Laura Kuenssberg blathering about the political advantage it had given the Labour Party.

But that is a key part of the story. We have an opposition leader standing up to utter the most outlandish gibberish and the media takes him seriously. Even when Corbyn told us that Labour "would negotiate a new and strong relationship with the single market…", they didn't fall about laughing and wonder whether this was a spoof, with a double hired to play the part of the Labour leader.

Then, this is par for the course. Few journalists have bothered to acquaint themselves with the issues and, like the politicians they serve, are content to feed the public with a diet of ill-researched tosh – anything that will serve their purpose.

In this particular speech, though, we have the irony of Corbyn using material lifted from the media which in itself is wrong, mangling it to add further errors and then feeding it back to the media which doesn't even recognise that it is being treated to a farrago of misinformation.

In a way that is entirely fitting and symbolises the entire politico-media nexus. Trash shall be fed unto trash, endlessly recycled until it ceases to have any bearing with reality, by which time it is ready to be turned into a political speech for publish consumption.

Thank you Mr Corbyn. Don't call us …

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