Over in The First Post, Neil Clark writes:
Ed Miliband has said it's important for the Labour party to listen to the people more if it is to regain power and topple the coalition at the next general election. But there’s one important issue on which the public are expressing their opinions loud and clear - and where Miliband and the Labour hierarchy are clearly not listening: Europe.
Earlier this year, a YouGov poll of 2,436 voters, ahead of the launch of the cross-party People’s Pledge campaign, found that 61 per cent wanted a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU. Another poll, in December 2010, found almost 50 per cent of people in favour of withdrawal. In March, the Daily Express delivered a petition to 10 Downing Street backed by 373,000 of the newspaper's readers calling for Britain to leave the EU. The Daily Mail is another mass circulation paper backing the call for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Yet a constituent who asked Miliband if he supported a referendum received the reply: "Mr Miliband does not believe that a referendum on UK membership of the EU is appropriate at this time." By siding with the government on this issue, Miliband is making a colossal error. Given the widespread and growing opposition to the EU in Britain, there are enormous political gains to be had for the first of the big three parties to break ranks and adopt an unequivocally Euro-sceptic position. And for Miliband, committing to an EU referendum wouldn't just be smart politics - it would also be promoting a progressive agenda.
While the Right claim that the EU is a sinister Soviet-style socialist bureaucracy, in fact it’s a body that no self-respecting socialist or social democrat should have anything to do with. The EU has been imposing, regardless of public opinion, capital-friendly, neo-liberal policies on its member states and, in the name of 'increasing competition', prohibiting state subsidies and other forms of government intervention in the economy. Although the right-wing case against Europe is the one we hear most often, the left-wing case - that the EU is an undemocratic block on socialism - is actually much stronger. These were the arguments that used to be made so eloquently by intelligent Labour Party opponents of the EEC/EU such as Tony Benn and the late Peter Shore, a former minister of trade in the 1970s and a strong supporter of a planned economy.
I corresponded with Shore when I was teaching economics in Switzerland in the early 1990s and he sent me lots of material on why a single European currency - and the moves towards greater economic integration within the EU - would only end in tears.
Shore was a man who knew what he was talking about; as his Times obituary stated, he was "one of the few MPs who had read all of the Rome and Maastricht treaties and could quote from them at will". In a parliamentary debate on economic and monetary union in January 1991, Shore claimed, in relation to a EU Commission paper on monetary union, "Never in my life have I read a document that gave bankers more power over economic, national and Community life".
In a debate on the European Communities Bill in March 1993, the committed Keynesian drew attention to the "deflationary heart" of the Maastricht treaty. "The issues of democracy, prosperity and self-government in the nation states of Europe will not go away", he said in a letter to me in December of that year. Everything that Peter Shore predicted about the impact of the Maastricht Treaty - how its inbuilt monetarist bias would lead to economic decline and mass unemployment throughout the continent - has come to pass.
But Labour, instead of following Shore's sagacious left-wing Euro-scepticism, has instead decided to support an organisation which puts the interests of the global financial and corporate elite above the interests of ordinary working people.
Miliband may be inhibited by a fear that he’ll be labeled a 'little Englander' by the Europhile establishment. But if he's smart he will set out a non-xenophobic, anti-EU case which is both patriotic and progressive, winning support of disillusioned Conservatives, potential UKIP voters and leftists alike. What on earth is he waiting for?
Not only would the negotiations necessary in order to leave the EU drag on for years and years, but calling the referendum “a device of demagogues and dictators” was Thatcher’s only ever favourable quotation of a Labour Prime Minister. Yet to those who worship at Thatcher’s altar while wholly ignoring her record on this and so much else, the demand for that deeply flawed and wholly foreign device has become a nervous tick. They honestly cannot see how Pythonesque it is to demand a referendum in the cause of defending parliamentary sovereignty. The Lisbon Treaty is self-amending, so there can never be another treaty. What is needed is legislation with five simple clauses.
First, the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and its use to repatriate agricultural policy and to restore our historic fishing rights in accordance with international law. Secondly, the requirement that, in order to have any effect in the United Kingdom, all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them. Thirdly, the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard. Fourthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights (or of the “Supreme Court”) unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons.
And fifthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons, so that we were no longer subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, neoconservatives such as now run France and Germany, people who believe the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, or Dutch ultra-Calvinists who refuse to have women as candidates. Soon to be joined by Turkish Islamists, secular ultranationalists, and violent Kurdish Marxist separatists.
This calls for a Labour three-line whip in favour, with the public warning that the Whip would be withdrawn from any remaining Blairite ultra who failed to comply. The Liberal Democrats set great store by decentralisation, transparency and democracy, and represent many areas badly affected by the Common Fisheries Policy. The Liberals were staunch free traders who were as opposed to the Soviet Bloc as they were to Far Right regimes in Latin America and Southern Africa. The SDP’s reasons for secession from Labour included both calls for protectionism and the rise of antidemocratic extremism. (Both the Liberal Party and, on a much smaller scale, the SDP still exist, and both are now highly critical of the EU.)
The SDLP takes the Labour Whip, the Alliance Party is allied to the Lib Dems, the Greens are staunchly anti-EU, so is the DUP, and the one other Unionist is close to Labour. The SNP and Plaid Cymru can hardly believe in independence for Scotland, greater autonomy for Wales, yet vote against the return to Westminster of the powers that they wish to transfer thence to Edinburgh or Cardiff; the SNP also has the fishing issue to consider. Even any remaining Conservatives who wanted to certify the European People’s Party as politically acceptable might be brought on board.
Leaving those fabled creatures, backbench Tory Eurosceptics. It is high time that their bluff was called. This is how to do it.