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With Brits to vote on whether to leave or stay in the European Union in just over a week and many reportedly still undecided, both sides of the argument have been aggressively setting out their stalls as the June 23 referendum looms.
But for veteran left-winger Ken Loach, the so-called Brexit debate has been taken over by the ruling class. He said the choice was simply “between two elements of those who wish to exploit workers.”
Speaking at the Sheffield Doc/Fest following a screening of Versus: The Life and Films of Ken Loach, Louise Osmond’s funny and revealing documentary about the acclaimed director as he approaches his 80th birthday, Loach outlined what the Brits were being asked to decide between.
“Can you exploit workers better by being in the European Union, which is there to privatize, to humiliate any country that steps outside — look what they did to Greece, how they forced them to take mass unemployment, forced them to take a loan that they can’t ever pay back, forcing them to sell off every national asset they have — or can you exploit them better under Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, who will then destroy every vestige of protection that workers have, will remove the working regulations such as they are and will give no environmental protections?”
Former London mayor Johnson and minister of justice Gove are at the forefront of the “leave” campaign, two hardline members of the Conservative Party who Loach says will push the U.K. further to the right should they gain victory, hence his “tactical” decision to vote to remain in the EU.
“We’re already in the hardcore of Thatcherite period of policies, but we’ll exacerbate it further,” he said. “Which is the better to exploit people with? And that’s the debate we’re being forced to have. You couldn’t have a clearer example of where the power lies.”
Loach was the star guest at the festival, a factor only underlined by his recent Palme d’Or win (his second). And while politics was always going to be front and center of the conversation, the documentary about his career — something the notedly humble and self-effacing director said he had to watch “through my fingers” — offered an intriguing look into a period of embarrassment for the filmmaker.
In 1990, during a lean period after several documentaries were axed for their seemingly controversial elements, Loach made a commercial for McDonald’s. “It sits badly on my conscience,” says Loach in Versus, while one of his sons said that it was “either that or we had to move house,” joking that he was “forbidden” from talking about it.
Asked in the Q&A session whether he was more embarrassed by the commercial or the revelation that he voted for the Conservative Party in a school mock election, Loach was quick to answer. “Oh, the McDonald’s advert by far.”
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