Friday, 9 December 2011

A Long, Hard Think

Owen Jones writes:

Stop your crowing about Cameron leaving Britain marginalised, lefties. The proposed EU treaty is perhaps the biggest catastrophe to befall the European left since World War II.

Sounds like semi-deranged hyperbole? Consider this. As Paul Mason has written, "by enshrining in national and international law the need for balanced budgets and near-zero structural deficits, the eurozone has outlawed expansionary fiscal policy."

Read that last bit carefully. Left-wing governments of all hues will be effectively banned by this treaty. If the French or German left return to power in the near future (and they are in a good position to do so), it will be illegal for them to respond to the global economic catastrophe with anything but austerity. An economic stimulus is forbidden -- because the treaty has buried Keynesianism.

Cameron opposed the treaty because he feared the effect it would have on the City which, after all, bankrolls his party. But just because he opposed the Treaty, doesn't mean the automatic response of the left should be to be to throw its weight behind it. I proudly marched against the invasion of Iraq; I wasn't deterred by the fact the BNP opposed it, too.

Francois Hollande -- the Socialist candidate for the French Presidency -- has already spoken out against a treaty cooked up by Europe's overwhelmingly right-of-centre governments. If we're going to listen to European leaders, Hollande is a sounder bet than avowed right-wingers like Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel.

After this stitch-up, the left really needs to have a long, hard think about its attitude to the EU as it is currently constructed. There's still a sense that any criticism of the EU puts you in the same box as swivel-eyed UKIP-ers who rant about gypsies in Shire inns. But there's a powerful left critique that needs to be made.

We've already had elected governments in Italy and Greece toppled by the bond markets with the complicity of senior EU figures. Successive treaties (such as the Lisbon Treaty) have enshrined the privatisation of public services. It was EU directive 9/440 that made it a legal requirement for private companies to be able to run train services, and the European Court of Justice has issued judgements that have attacked workers' rights, such as making it possible for individuals to sue unions.

The Treaty is just the latest attack on European democracy -- and against the European left. So let's stop taunting Cameron, and start working out how we can unite with the European labour movement to stop this total disaster in its tracks.

The Attlee Government refused to join the European Coal and Steel Community on the grounds that it was “the blueprint for a federal state” which “the Durham miners would never wear”. Gaitskell rejected European federalism as “the end of a thousand years of history” and liable to destroy the Commonwealth. Most Labour MPs, and one Liberal, voted against Heath’s Treaty of Rome. Labour won the 1974 General Election after Enoch Powell had told his supporters to vote Labour because of Europe.

The Parliamentary Labour Party unanimously opposed Thatcher’s Single European Act. 66 Labour MPs voted against Maastricht, including, in Bryan Gould, the only resignation from either front bench in order to do so, and outnumbering Conservative opponents by three to one. John Prescott and David Blunkett abstained rather than support Maastricht in the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

Every Labour and Liberal Democrat MP, without exception, voted against the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies annually between 1979 and 1997. The 1997 General Election result kept the United Kingdom out of the euro, by making Gordon Brown Chancellor the Exchequer in place of Kenneth Clarke. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were valiant in seeing off those who sought to take Britain into that ill-conceived currency while Tony Blair was Prime Minister.

Half of the French Socialist Party successfully opposed the EU Constitution. Even before the most recent events, the euro was dealt an electoral blow in the Social Democratic heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia. Half of the UKIP vote, based on its geographical distribution, must be Old Labour or Old Liberal rather than Old Tory. The No2EU – Yes to Democracy list at the 2009 European Elections, in London included Peter Shore’s erstwhile agent, and in the North West included the immediate past Leader of the Liberal Party.

Attlee denounced the referendum as “a device of demagogues and dictators”, a view echoed word-for-word by Thatcher as Prime Minister; it is Pythonesque that ostensible defenders of British parliamentary sovereignty and democracy demand the adoption of this foreign and deeply flawed device, rather than demanding that parliamentarians who would not simply say No to any erosion be replaced with parliamentarians who would.

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