Faced by big decisions, the default position of too many in the Labour Party for too long has been to find reasons to work with, rather than to challenge, the status quo. We need the courage to argue for change as working within usually results in absorption. And so it is with the debate on this referendum. ‘We know it’s crap – but there is no alternative’ is a common refrain, while those who argue ‘Another Europe is Possible’ fail to admit that another EU is not.
The EU is firmly in the grip of neo-liberalism with Christian/Social Democracy confined to the margins. Jacques Delors’ gains were 30 years ago, and have not been repeated. Economic austerity rules with constant diktats on competition, privatization, drastic reductions in public spending to centrally determined targets, attacks on collective bargaining and fierce cuts in the social wage.
EU policy continues to be driven by the needs of capital and multi-nationals, with legislation co-written by business lobbyists, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) regularly ruling against unions and workers whenever their interests clash with business.
The Common Agricultural policy (CAP) continues to absorb the largest share of the budget, keeping food prices high, benefiting rich farmers disproportionately and impoverishing the Third World (by restricting imports, especially of value added products, and dumping surpluses, thus destroying their domestic and export markets, causing impoverishment for millions and mass migrations).
We continue to hand over huge amounts of money, over which we lose control, to an EU elite who remain committed to ‘ever closer union’ by mission creep. While remaining, we lose control of our borders, and of the ability to determine how many people come into our country.
The left has been traditionally afraid to tackle these issues for fear of being called racist, but we must recognise the class dimension of uncontrolled immigration. Those who benefit are employers, who use a reserve army of labour to hold down wages and conditions; those who lose are workers of all nationalities, who have their bargaining strength reduced while having to complete for underfunded, and thus scarce, public services.
Individual migrants are not the problem – it’s the scale that causes difficulties. Yet the economic and social planning which could set migration targets, dependent upon sectional and regional needs and capacities, is illegal under EU rules.
And, the crisis of the Euro means that things will only get worse. The currency is inherently unstable and unsustainable and the EU will be forced to seek additional fiscal powers and to increase austerity to keep it afloat. We will inevitably be drawn into the crisis, and the subsequent European recession will damage our own economy.
But ‘what is to be done?’ as someone once said. Overthrowing the present hegemony is simply not possible within the existing EU structures. Unanimous decisions of all 28 governments would be necessary to rewrite those Treaties which enshrine neo-liberalism and the forces of capital. The vested interests supporting the ECJ and its capacity to expand EU competencies in favour of free market solutions are simply too strong to allow a frontal assault.
Even a radical Labour Government would find itself crippled by EU rules. Public ownership of the railways would be ruled inadmissible, as would ending or reversing the privatization of the NHS. And, similarly public ownership for the energy companies would be ruled out. Public economic planning would be subject to rulings of the European Court.
We cannot win from within. Of course, there are risks which come with change. Often exaggerated. Remember the warnings against introducing the NHS, or the National Minimum Wage, or not joining the Euro. But the Left has always stood for change, for hope and aspiration. We need to reject the ‘crap-but’ chorus and TINA.
We need to look forward, not back to the times following the Second World War. We need to look outwards to the world, nor restrict ourselves to the top left-hand corner of Eurasia. Leaving the EU could free us from neo-liberalism and austerity, not inevitably but potentially, whereas remaining in an EU of bankers and multinationals condemns working people to an ever reducing share of National Income. Be Bold – Vote Leave. (And remember, Cameron goes if we win, or get close).
Ian Davidson is the former (Labour) MP for South West Glasgow