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?
Adrian B says
“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.”
Philip Hall says
One doesn’t have to be Owen Jones or a toy thrower from prams to see that the EU’s policy on Greece cannot simply be characterised as asking Greece to honour its commitments. The austerity policy fails on its own terms in that it has made Greece’s debt problem worse (debt-to-GDP has risen because the economy has suffered a 30s-style depression caused by the very austerity intended to make the debt serviceable.).
Yes, Greece has suffered from bad governance and poor tax collection for decades, its public sector is inefficient and its pensions are too generous. For all this, Greece must undertake structural reforms as any sensible and reasonable person can see.
But successful country rescues also need (I) devaluation (impossible while Greece is in the euro) and (ii) debt relief. Greece desperately needs debt relief to allow its economy to grow again in order to service the very debts about which Europe agonises. Even the IMF – hardly an ‘Owen Jones’ institution – is now arguing as much.
The EU must bear some responsibility for the Greek tragedy for pushing strongly for Greece to adopt the euro at the wrong rate (though Greeks’ insistence on retaining the euro is equally misplaced) while private sector banks indulged irresponsible lending because the eurozone created a latter-day version of moral hazard (the large majority of the ‘bailout’ money has not gone anywhere near Greece itself, but to French and German private banks, while the [much larger] public debt remains unrelieved. The German taxpayer is not so much subsidising Greece as funding EU-banks’ balance sheet provisions.
The whole EU project continues to suffer from a lack of democratic legitimacy. No country has ever explicitly voted in favour of euro adoption, but multiple countries nevertheless have it. Many – Spain, Portugal, Italy and even France (to say nothing of Greece) – exhibit classic signs of an overvalued exchange rate but are locked into an inflexible currency arrangement without having voted for it. MEPs cannot initiate legislation. TTIP (which most people haven’t even heard of) is being negotiated in secret and constitutes a serious threat to national sovereignty. Treaties have been validated by legislatures but often lack broad popular support (e.g. rejection of the EU constitution by French and Dutch voters in referenda).
In short, there are plenty of mainstream reasons to be deeply concerned about the European project. A currency union without full political and fiscal union looks ultimately unworkable for a significant part of the continent and these pressures are inexorably exerting themselves..
Nick, a good piece. EU policy on Greece is a shambles, though, and will I suspect they’ll regret not following through on Grexit’s logic.
But Owen and Nige ( & potentially Corbyn?) If In can’t win then it really is game over….
Love the tipping point where in the so called as you put it – far right – meet far left – always of play.
On this point – love to know you solution – end!
John R says
It’s great to read something that’s both enjoyable and provides pragamtisdc solutions.
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