Hello, my name is Ben Cobley. On this blog I hope to share some of my better thoughts on politics, philosophy, society, and the Left, in addition to some other interesting stuff.
The name A Free Left Blog comes from a concern that the political and cultural Left is dominated by forms of ‘group think’ which shut down free thinking rather than encourage it. I want to challenge this while promoting a Left which is genuinely liberal but rooted in time and place.
“Part of what it is to be courageous is to see reality accurately and to respond well in the face of it." ~ Jonathan Lear
I was proposing the motion alongside Dr Gerard Lyons (economic adviser to the Mayor of London), with journalist Hugo Dixon and
Professor of Political Theory Katrin Flikschuh on the other side arguing against.
Each panellist had seven minutes to speak, followed by questions from the other
side and then questions from the audience.
Dr Gerard Lyons making his case for leaving the EU.
[This is an amalgam of what I had planned to say in my speech and what
I did say – so I missed out some of this in actual delivery while adding some ‘umms’
and ‘errs’ and various other stuff]
The whole debate is now available to listen via a podcast here.
I want to start off by emphasising that I’m actually a
pro-European. I always have been. I even like an idea of the EU (as an idea, albeit
not the idea).
But on the balance I think we should leave the EU. I’m
probably about 80-20 or 70-30 in favour, but this is the political choice I’ve
There are a lot of aspects to this debate but the one I’m
going to focus on as probably the most important is borders and citizenship.
It’s surely fundamental to any nation and nation-state
that it has control over who can come to live, work and own land within its
borders. But Britain does not have this in the EU. You can see where
accountability lies from David Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’. Whether you agree
with it or not, he had a proposal which he put to the people in a manifesto to
restrict EU migrant in-work benefits. But he went off to Brussels and 27 other
leaders said ‘no way’, so he couldn’t do it. This shows how accountability
is working for us in our democracy at the moment: Cameron isn’t accountable to
the British people but to these other EU leaders.
Britain is actually a pretty small and crowded piece of
land but it is open to pretty much unlimited population growth as we stand in
the EU. England is where almost all migrants come to settle and is now the most
crowded country in Europe.
In a narrow sense the booming housing market this creates
is good for people with assets and for the Exchequer in bringing in tax
receipts from all the buying and selling. But for people who are not so
fortunate, who are not asset owners and do not earn big wages, the chance of
living in the place where you grew up and where your family and friends live is
passing out of reach.
A lot of people especially on the liberal-left are in
denial about this link, but it’s one of the most basic laws of economics –
increased demand puts upward pressure on prices. There’s no way around it.
But it also costs us all, for this throws more and more
people on to the mercy of the state. The housing benefit bill in particular has
been ballooning recently. In 2015 it hit £25 billion. The places it has been
increasing most are here in London and towns like Cambridge, Oxford,
Bournemouth and Milton Keynes where population growth has been most pronounced.
This lack of control adds to the character of our politics
as something that is done to us, that happens to us without any involvement on
our part. It contributes to a general malaise in politics and democracy in
which many people cannot be bothered to vote, and there is some reason for
that, for what the political parties are dealing with are relatively marginal
For me, the environment is very important. But continual
mass immigration means continual expansion into our environment, treating our
land as a resource to try and meet the needs of the growing population and
economy: for more housing, more roads, more schools, more everything.
The Green and Pleasant Land is becoming progressively less
green and more cramped. We are progressively losing the luxury of space and
submitting ourselves to a world of urban sprawl, noise, congestion and
Now leaving the EU will
not solve these problems. But it will give us and the people we elect the ability to do something about them.
This is a crucial point about leaving. It does not commit us to a type of
politics. It simply re-asserts the primacy of the relationship between electors
and elected which being in the EU dilutes. This will make our politics and our
democracy more meaningful. It would bring back essential political questions to
us and to people we elect.
But if we’re going to do anything about these issues, I’m
afraid we have to leave the EU.
Also, there is the cost. For ceding control of all this
and more through the European Court of Justice and the European Commission, we
pay £250 million a week, which breaks down to £480 per household per year. This
is not a small amount and could prove useful at home.
Probably the best argument of those who want us to stay is that
Britain will lose influence in the world. There is some truth in this, in that
Britain’s elites and their allies like in America will have less influence on
what the rest of Europe thinks and does. We have a 28th share or
perhaps to be more generous and realistic an eighth or maybe even a fifth of a
share of influence at the European ‘top table’.
So I think it might be right to call this referendum a
choice between having control over our own country or our elites having a share
of control over others.
Many thanks to the
LSE Forum for Philosophy for the invite.