“Part of what it is to be courageous is to see reality accurately and to respond well in the face of it." ~ Jonathan Lear

22 February 2016

Time to declare on the EU referendum


I have changed my mind on Europe. Or perhaps it’s better to say that I have now properly thought about it, looking not through a lens of vaguely liking ‘Europe’, foreign countries and people but for what the EU is and does as an institution.

This forthcoming referendum on 23rd June is not on ‘Europe’ as a place, but the EU as an institution, one which has great power over Britain and whose 27 other leaders have the power of veto over even quite modest domestic legislation here.

We have just seen the latter point with David Cameron’s watered-down ‘renegotiation’ or ‘deal’ demonstrating in stark terms how our government no longer has the power to decide the country’s future in the interests of its citizens. It is subservient not just to veto from the leaders of France, Greece, Poland, Slovakia, Portugal and others, but also to the diktats of the unelected, virtually unaccountable European Commission and European Court of Justice.

We may like some of those diktats, for example on employment protections. But it perhaps reflects the sorry state of the left that so many of us have been happy to trade our own ability to make such rules, while throwing a tidy €10 billion a year or €31 million a day net into the bargain.

The employment protection point is part of the argument being put forward by Labour and other lefty people that the EU is more ‘progressive’ than the British government. But this is an anti-democratic argument – something its advocates seem to be only dimly-aware of. It’s a preference for the EU as a relatively benign if expensive dictatorship over the contingencies of British democracy, less than a hundred years after we become a full democracy.  

Turn to Labourites in favour of leaving the EU and you find Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart: people who when they speak, you listen, because you know they will not be garbling whatever Labour’s narrowed-down consensus view is. They have actually thought about it for themselves and come to their own conclusions rather than accepting the levelled down generic view of the tribe.

On the Tory side too, MPs who are genuinely worth listening to like Sarah Wollaston and Zac Goldsmith have declared for Leave. There is currently a sport going on from Remainers listing all the unappetising individuals on the leave side. Nigel Farage, George Galloway, Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling may not be attractive bedfellows, but they are no worse than George Osborne, Jeremy Hunt, Phillip Hammond and Michael Fallon on the other side. Throwing mud has a place in politics, but we’re best off sticking to the arguments.

The EU is not all bad and it does facilitate valuable cooperation in many areas. But is that ability to sit in meetings anywhere near worth the extreme expense of it and all the meddling? EU institutions are expert at telling governments and people what they can and can’t do, but have proved themselves completely incapable of dealing with their own problems like the migrants/refugee crisis, the Euro crisis and Greek default.

The restrictions it imposes prevent individual governments and authorities from acting to deal with their own problems. I was watching the Chelsea vs Manchester City FA Cup tie yesterday – a game in which the former put out its first eleven and latter played a bunch of youngsters from its £200 million Academy. Yet only two out of 22 starting players were British, let alone English. Leaving the EU would not solve this problem, but it would make it possible for government and football authorities to try and do something about it.

Football is a microcosm for what has been going on in British economy and society over the past twenty years. We have been importing from abroad rather than nurturing from within; growing by acquisition rather than organically. Leaving the EU would not be a panacea, but again it would give our own authorities more opportunities to intervene and make changes where they see fit. This is about our ability to control our own destiny.

On the other side, looking at arguments from Remain campaigners and you see a consistent theme: of risk, of dangers; but these are the risks and dangers of freedom. Politicians who are afraid of having more power are showing their lack of confidence in themselves and in government, which makes it all the more interesting how liberals and the left have gone this way. It is remarkable how ‘progressives’ have become so conservative.

A BBC News guy who was interviewed on his own channel the other day put it as well as anyone, that those ranged on the Remain side – from the grey leaders of Brussels to President Obama, big business bosses and all the major political parties – have the distinct appearance of a sort of ‘global Establishment stitch-up’.

Remainers have not been backward in throwing more loaded insults at Leavers – Europhobes, xenophobes, anti-Europeans, little Englanders etc. This has mostly been coming from liberal-left In supporters, whose language is remarkably absolutist– as if their position comes from a higher authority and a higher law [EU law?]: conferring morality, knowledge and rationality onto them and immorality, ignorance and irrationality onto their opponents.

This sort of nonsense works both ways: it annoys and alienates those like me who are now genuinely Euro-sceptic, but it also appeals to the tribal, herd instinct of people not wanting to stand out and look stupid in the eyes of their peers. I don’t know which of those tendencies will prove stronger, but it has made me more resolute that I’m for Leave.

3 comments:

  1. Great to have you back.

    I'm for out because it is obvious that the EU is now a front for global big business and everything which comes with that.

    As I have made clear in many posts on here I am profoundly sickened by the cosmopolitans in Labour and on the wider left and now I am at University, I have had identity politics stuff down my throat until I heave.

    Just to piss these people off would be reason enough to vote leave.

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  2. Good post, I've swung the same way (no pun intended) I was pro-EU but have watched it become ever more authoritarian, centralising, pro big business and contemptuous of democracy and will now, with some regret, vote to quit. I'm sick of being told that this country had nothing in the way of rights until the EU came along and I'm also thinking of the Orwell quote about the question of banning the Communist Party at the height of the cold war, he was against on libertarian grounds but also added 'Think of who'd approve' I feel much the same about the referendum, there are many reasons for voting out but I can't pretend that the thought of all the people who'd be furious isn't slightly influencing my vote. I suspect project fear will work and we'll stay, but it's fun to fantasise about the Guardian's front page if we were to quit

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  3. I can well understand the ambivalence felt by many on the left towards the EU referendum when it comes down to a choice between being part of the "Establishment stitch up" or aligning with the "Europhobes, xenophobes and Little Englanders". I also think that the Labour Party has been stung by the experience with Scotland, and is understandably now reluctant to stand shoulder to shoulder with this PM. All I've heard from Labour Remainers has been deafening silence, despite Alan Johnson's best efforts, and it's pretty obvious Corbyn & Mcdonnell aren't founding members of the EU fan club either. This is a shame, because it leaves the heavy-lifting to the PM and the Chancellor, which is more likely to turn people off.
    Funny you should mention football too, as England's last group game (v Slovakia) is just three days before the referendum. I wonder if escaping the group and the feel-good factor it might generate would aid the Yes cause. I think it might.

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