In the wake of the ongoing Greek tragedy, the far-left in Britain has finally woken up to the idea that the EU may not be the left-wing dreamland they’d fantasised that it was. George Monbiot has said he might vote No over environmental issues (okay…). Owen Jones is flirting with No as well, mostly as a toys out of pram exercise in response to the EU asking Greece to honour its commitments.
Some pro-Europeans are worried about these developments – if we lose support on the left, given the antipathy on the right, won’t that make it harder for Yes to win? These things are always hard to predict, but I do know this: Owen Jones and Nigel Farage leading the No campaign is a pro-European’s dream. Basically, do you either want to live in Orwell’s Oceania or a libertarian dystopia stripped of all public services? Then vote No. If you’d like things to be a little better but not radically different, vote Yes.
It’s always made a lot more sense to argue against Britain’s membership of the EU from a left perspective than a right-wing one. Socialism has its whole internationalist, collectivist thing going on, but ultimately, the EU is far too free market in both concept, design and function to ever make the true left, i.e. the non-liberal left, happy. Recall in 1975 that it was the Tories who were united in wanting to keep Britain in Europe, while Labour was divided – the left wanting out, the pragmatic centrists arguing to stay in.
It feels like 1975 all over again in lots of other ways. With the far-left finally grasping that the EU might not be all they’d hoped, we see the far-left and far-right coming together to argue for Britain retreating from the continent, just as they did forty years ago. Back then, the centre of both main parties united too, to say we should stay in Europe. As always, the centre held and Britain stayed in the EEC.
Will that happen again? Who knows, but initial signs look good. The great thing about both extremes of left and right being united against Europe, beyond making Eurosceptism appear to be an offshoot of extreme views, is that it makes the argument for leaving even more muddled. So, should we leave the EU because it’s too free market or because it’s too interventionist? Does a post-Brexit Britain look like the 1970s all over again, with three day weeks and rubbish in the streets, or will all of our public services be slashed completely? Either way, no thanks.
However, the biggest thing about the left of Labour inching towards a No position on Europe is that this risks Labour having an internal split on the topic of Europe. If this happens, it would be the stupidest thing any party has done in the last century (and that takes in a lot of stupidity). Europe is the Tories one weak spot, the one thing Labour can unite around and exploit in the hopes of creating real division within the Conservative Party. To split themselves throws this opportunity away completely; possibly the only one they are going to get in the next decade to weaken their rivals. And all because George Monbiot is miffed about the abandonment of the soil framework directive.
Like I say, as a pro-European, please bring on the Owen Jones/Nigel Farage dream team. How annoying would it be for the Tory backbenches were 1975 to happen all over again?