Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

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In Guest Feature on June 23, 2016 at 12:17 pm


On June 23rd, Clarion readers will have the opportunity to have their say on Europe. Tory PM David Cameron went off both to Brussels and on a parallel peregrination around Europe to negotiate a series of “reforms” that would enable him to recommend that Britain votes to remain in the European Union (EU). Now he’s telling us all that if we don’t vote to “Remain” Britain will be bankrupt, friendless and impotent with the world facing a new world war. One wonders when someone will point out to him that he was solely responsible for getting the UK into this mess, when as part of a squalid deal with Tory fundamentalists he gambled the country’s future for the rabid right’s votes for the Tory leadership.


There is bad news and good news for those on the left. The bad news is that Cameron was asking for the wrong (and reactionary) reforms. But the good news is that most of what he got was window dressing, not worth the paper it wasn’t written on – although the few real things he did get are dangerous. The Tories got a totally meaningless opt-out on an “ever closer union” as an EU objective and a verbal promise that the other 27 member states would turn a blind eye to discrimination against their citizens as regards to in and out of work benefits when living in the UK. A provision that he knows all too well will be promptly and rightly ruled illegal and overturned as soon as the first case taken by an aggrieved EU citizen reaches the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. Nevertheless it’s a convenient fiction until well after the votes in the referendum are cast and counted.


However, Cameron did get a promise on “better regulation” at EU level. One does wonder who was supposedly in favour of “worse regulation”? It rather depends on what you mean – for Cameron and the Tory Government “better regulation” are in reality weasel words for less regulation protecting workers and consumers from the gentle ministrations of capital determined to maximise profit and minimise costs. It’s less regulation controlling the bankers and Hedge Funds as they continue to grow like a cancer at the heart of the British economy, and in reward throw their millions in small change into Tory Party coffers. It’s less regulation of Britain’s tax havens as canny millionaire fathers squirrel away the money for Eton education at the expense of public services for the poor and needy. All hardly designed to drive voters out in their droves to support “Remain”, even if “Leave” would in contrast put Dracula in charge of the blood bank with all the EU restraint on their savaging of public services and the poor removed.


But that’s the wrong answer to the wrong question. The Left and Labour’s argument for voting to “remain” is not because of Cameron but despite him. Our argument is not the “red Tory” one of the Scottish Referendum when Labour was suckered into endorsing the Tory case for Union. In an increasingly global economy the future lies together not separately. The EU is currently bigger and richer than the US. The EU can set global standards – whether social or political – on trade and on the environment, human rights and equality, in a way no medium sized nation state could ever contemplate. We want to stay in Europe to change it, but in entirely the opposite direction from where Cameron wants to take us.


We need a European Economic Strategy that rejects the neo-liberal austerity programme, a commitment to fighting climate change and a rapid drive towards a “green economy”, a trade policy that puts people first, paralleled by a foreign policy underpinned by multilateralism, human rights and democracy accompanied by security and defence policy that has the EU prepared to tackle today’s – and tomorrow’s – threats rather than yesterday’s.

Today’s Europe wears its social democratic cloth all too lightly, all progressives would agree. Yet while it would be wonderful if we could build Socialism in one country, if it was ever possible it isn’t any more. What miracle of English exceptionalism, what fantasy, allows us to think we can go it alone when our Socialist sister parties across Europe whether in Italy or Germany or France, all believe their future is inside the Union? The Greek Left, despite all the harsh indignities visited upon it by the World and Europe’s Bankers know that their best future is in Europe – and the Euro – not outside.

The Marx and Spencer of the “Leave” campaign – Groucho and Frank that is Boris and Farage – offer nothing that we want. These “Dell Boys” of politics are selling xenophobic right-wing populism wrapped up in a flag of St. George and a nostalgia for a past that never was for Britain’s poor and needy. Another Europe is possible but the only way to get there is to vote to “remain” on June 23rd – despite Cameron not because of him – and go on from there.


Glyn is the editor (with Julian Priestley) of a collection of essays, “Our Europe, Not Theirs”; a second edition of which has been published by Lawrence and Wishart.