The real problem with the Euro referendum for us in the Labour party is not just the mind numbing boredom of the so called debate, not just the carefully packaged statistical lies from both sides, not just the appallingly second rate nature of the patronising prime movers – it’s the Blue on Blue nature of it all. You’re probably with me in finding Cameron nauseatingly arrogant and glib, and Osborne repulsively and self importantly slimy. Osborne’s comment that by 2030 “GDP would be over 6% smaller and Britain would be worse off by £4,300 per household if we leave” is beyond parody. It’s absurd. He knows it. The Treasury knows it. The commentariat knows it. Indeed an economics professor whose article I was just reading stated that Osborne’s: “cost estimate suffers from myriad failings that place it in the same category as tooth fairies, worldly visitations of Christian saints and (the concept of) compassionate Conservatism.”
So could that be a vote for Out then?
Nope, it couldn’t. How can anyone vote for the bunch running the Leave campaign. Let’s leave Farage completely out of this. He is disgusting, but let’s not forget that Boris is dangerously right wing, Michael Gove was recently described by a journalist as looking “increasingly like a gerbil on mescaline”, and that cruel liar, Ian Duncan Smith, is right there in the thick of it.
No, so far as I am concerned the only politician who has told the truth about the EU and this referendum has been Jeremy Corbyn, and all the media, from left to right (not that there is much on the left), have excoriated him for it. I don’t know if anyone saw him on Channel 4’s The Last Leg on Friday 10th, but he was really good. When asked, on a scale of one to ten, where he put the EU, he said he’d give it a seven, maybe seven and a half – which is fair comment. Cameron would have given it eleven (thanks to his renegotiation) and Johnson minus one. And now, thank God, the whole shadow cabinet is out on the road talking about the social issues not the economic.
The framing of this Blue on Blue referendum debate, it’s very nature, its position within the massive austerity con that’s been thrown at us by this government, is both false and deeply dishonest. What have we ended up with in this country? A government which, judged on more objective standards than are currently in evidence in the mass media, is from the hard right. If you haven’t read Owen Jones’ book, The Establishment, it’s really worth a look. It reminds us how, within the last forty years, what had been previously a minor, academic, economic theory became main stream thinking. What we now call neo liberalism was invented by Hayek at the LSE, streamlined with Friedman in Chicago, tried out in the real world by the ghastly Dictator Pinochet on the backs of his army tanks in Chile, promoted by the hugely wealthy sponsors of think tanks in the UK like the Adam Smith Institute and the Institute for Economic Affairs, and then worshipped by Thatcher and Reagan.
It has led directly to where we are now. The destruction of the post war consensus, Thatcher’s much vaunted rolling back of the state, the privatisations, the continuing wholesale demolition of unionised work forces, the loading of more and more burdens on to the narrow shoulders of those already weighed down beneath low salaries, reduced benefits, job insecurity and the likelihood of minimal pensions – all this in the fifth richest economy in the world – in a country where top CEOs, not just in the City but in supposedly public service corporations like the BBC, “reward” themselves with vastly inflated salaries whilst maintaining beneath them a precariat of ill paid, frightened employees on temporary contracts. In Mike Ashley, the repulsive, barrage balloon owner of Sports Direct, we see a shining example of what our country has become.
This is the frame within which we have been obliged to study the In / Out debate. The EU did not cause the UK’s austerity. Osborne and Cameron did. The EU did not cause the massive homeless problem in London, Boris Johnson did. The EU did not cut benefits to the UK’s poor and disabled. Ian Duncan Smith did. The EU did not attempt the commercialisation of our education system and promote the building of for-profit Academy chains in the UK, Michael Gove did. The EU did not attempt to destroy the NHS, Andrew Lansley and Jeremy Hunt did.
Now, forgive me, please, for a brief romp through the history of the EU. It was founded in the 1950s initially to ensure a cartel for coal and steel designed originally to stop further arms races. France, of course, in the 1950s, had thousands of small farmers and wanted protection for them from overseas food suppliers so the Common Agricultural Policy was invented to subsidise their structural inefficiencies. But what many people don’t realise is the key role played by the USA in all of this. Initially, after the war, the USA wanted Germany to become a pastoral economy in order to stop any build up of armaments once and for all. But they couldn’t maintain this. Why not? Because of the USA’s position as the world’s biggest economy. The world’s economic structure is, obviously, based on a balance between surpluses and deficits. Those countries with a surplus need those countries with deficits to invest in and buy goods from. So as, in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, the USA was the world’s dominant economy, the Marshall plan was not some kind of beneficent largesse thrown at Europe. It was a way of guaranteeing a super puppet state of Europe which would create economic happiness for the USA by guaranteeing that the dollar remained the key world currency on their terms. After the Bretton Woods agreement in 1944, the value of gold was fixed against the dollar – at $35 to the ounce. This could not be changed.
Anyway, Germany was never going to be a pastoral economy, not with all that steel and coal on the Ruhr. So by the mid ‘60s we saw the fully fledged German Economic Miracle and funnily enough we also saw General de Gaul sending his finance minister, Valery Giscard-Destaing to Germany to propose a new pan-European currency. This was de Gaulle – of all people – proposing an early version of the Euro. His idea was, of course, to try and stop American world financial domination and, of course, the Germans turned it down! Why on earth would they want to tie their booming export based economy into a finance structure, alongside an economy as dodgy as France’s? So onwards and upwards. In 1971 President Nixon was manouevred by his advisers into removing the fixed relationship between gold and the dollar. They told him that America was buying too much from outside and the surplus / deficit balance was teetering. This act plunged Europe into crisis. In 1973, France finally had to agree to let Britain join what had become the EEC and everyone hoped against hope that, despite the OPEC oil price rise, some kind of potentially stable economic structure had been created in which we could all benefit from a closed European market with high external tariffs. And it was stable-ish – until the arrival of Jacques Delors, first as French Finance Minister, and then in the ‘80s, as president of the European Commission and, what had been an economic relationship, now strayed into the dangerous grounds of social engineering and the start of the attempt to create an ever closer union. What Delors did, as France’s finance minister, was to convince the French president (Mitterand) that his country’s massive problems with their anti-austerity programme should be shifted from the shoulders of the French electorate to the shoulders of the whole EEC. And there you go – increasing European integration meant that, almost at a stroke, you could start blaming outsiders for all your internal economic woes.
And all this time the once minor economic theory became mainstream and the economic world gradually became more and more right wing and more and more self interested and self satisfied with their “success”. Those of us who lived through the Thatcher years were actually relieved when the most right wing Labour government ever came to power in 1997, but by then neo liberalism had taken hold of the economics departments of all the world’s major universities, inequality was as widely accepted as the ridiculous concept of the “trickle down” benefits of extreme wealth at the top of society. And inequality grew and grew and still grows and for the 99%, wages, in real terms, have scarcely risen since the 1970s.
So, apologies for that very superficial romp, but I did it because it is important to realise that today, the economic arguments over the EU Referendum have only been stated in these neo liberal terms, the terms of the Tories’ right wing, ideological commitment to deregulation and the freedom for globalised finance to do whatever it wants wherever it wants – but no freedom of movement, of course, for cowed workers. All these neo liberals want is the removal of any barriers to trade and flows of capital, and the permanent weakening of social and employment protection, where the 1% thrive and the 99% are grateful for whatever scraps they can pick up.
This, therefore, can be summed up as the Tory Remain position. Less and less commitment to the EU as a socially cohesive entity and more and more commitment to unfettered access to it as the world’s largest market.
And of course my opening comment about the referendum being a being a Blue on Blue row returns because the Tory Brexit campaign shares exactly the same ideology as the Remainers. And as all that seems to matter to both sides is a row about a disgustingly unequal economic future, what the hell are they fighting about? Those of us in the Labour movement who believe in a managed economy which looks after the interests of working people and offers decent social protection, but who also think of ourselves as part of Europe, have, until now, been excluded from the “mainstream” economic debate. And this is why Jeremy Corbyn’s job has been so difficult, and this I why it is only now, when the emptiness of the economic arguments have been revealed, that we are seeing Labour coming to dominate the closing days of the campaign.
But of course you can see why Cameron and Osborne have continued to put on their silly hard hats and Hi Vis jackets in various factories and focus constantly on fear and negativity. It’s because while they are voting to remain In, they oppose all the aspects of the European Union that serve the interests of the 99% and so fear and loathing are the only arguments they have left. They are just telling big business and the City of London that the Tories may be for remaining in the EU but they will also be continuing their implacable opposition to the rights of workers. The Tory government seeks an EU in which capital dominates and protection of workers’ rights is non-existent.
So the current position is relatively simple and clear. If we stay in, and the Tories stay in power, we are going to become increasingly marginalised within the EU because of Cameron’s joke “renegotiation” and if we leave, it is almost certain that the pound will sink and for an indeterminate time – maybe not more than for a couple of years – the economy will struggle. Worse still, thanks to Cameron, we are currently aligned with the far right within Europe and aligned with Boris Johnson’s anti-immigrant, xenophobic little England gibberish if we leave.
So by now you may be wondering where I’m going with all this. After all I’m saying we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Well I’m already damned. I have a postal vote and last week I voted… to Stay In.
Why? You may… or may not, ask.
Because, actually, I have beliefs! And NOT beliefs – I do not believe there is such a thing as the third way. I do not believe that we should be happy with people becoming filthy rich. I DO believe in social equality, justice, public service for ALL the people and I do believe that a Labour Government under the likes of Jeremy Corbyn is the only chance we will ever have of achieving these aims, and where better to try and achieve them than from within the European Union.
If we vote Out now we know it will never happen.
So finally just a few positives about the EU among the many negatives that it is foolish to deny exist.
Between 2014 and 2020 a total of €351.8 billion in EU regeneration and structural investment and €16.4 billion of that will find its way to some of the most deprived areas in the UK.
And the social chapter and other directives from Europe has already delivered… to:
- Over 26 million workers in Britain who benefit from being entitled to 28 days of paid leave and a limit to how many hours they can be forced to work;
- To over eight million part-time workers (over six million of whom are women) who have equal rights with full-time colleagues;
- To over one million temporary workers who have the same rights as permanent workers;
- To 340,000 women every year who have guaranteed rights to take maternity leave.
These are genuine reasons that any member of the Labour party would want to quote to voters to stay in. It’s pretty nearly impossible to argue the case for immigration. As we have seen from the blatant lies of our own MP the issue is too clouded with myth and counter myth. All we can say is that in North Somerset the impact of immigration has been and will be negligible. And thanks to Paul Dunn and Angela for their (unpublished) letters to the local paper correcting Liam Fox’s lies. If anyone wants to take on this fight they could do a lot worse than read these letters and use them when dealing with voters.
So, what I feel is, if we got Out we would be following a type of Victorian self satisfaction, the warped belief that white imperial Britain does best when left to its own devices, to its own values and to its own identity. This would lead Britain into what feels to be both a familiar and a wholly new territory of rabid nationalism of the type which generated two world wars and a host of developing world conflicts.
None of us want this. However imperfect we may think Europe is, and it most certainly is, its ideals far outshine the prevailing UK ideology and we should vote to stay in it to change it for the better.
Steve Timmins is on the Executive Committee of North Somerset Constituency Labour Party and is proud to be one of the many, many new Labour supporters in the constituency fighting for a Labour victory in 2020 under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn
In our earlier version of this post we incorrectly stated that:
“Between 2014 and 2020 a total of £351.8 billion in EU regeneration and structural investment will find its way to some of the most deprived areas in the UK.”
It has been brought to our attention that there are 2 errors in this statement: First of all the £351.8 billion figure should be €351.8 billion – Euros not Pounds Sterling. Secondly, the €351.8 billion figure is actually the Regional Development budget for the whole of the EU – see http://bit.ly/EURegionalBudget2014-2020 (pdf) – and we should have stated that only some of these funds will find their way to the UK,
In fact the total allocation of EU funds to the UK (via the European Structural and Investment Funds which are the vehicle for delivering Regional Policy) is €16,417,082,032 – see http://bit.ly/28QnrIj
Though an error in transcription and interpretation from source documents, it is clearly significant and we should have identified it earlier. Though we apologise sincerely for providing misleading information, our overarching argument still stands, that crucial funds are distributed broadly across some of the most deprived areas in the UK and across the continent.