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On Dave’s EU membership “deal”

Juncker & Cameron with EU flagHistory remembers the last time a Tory prime minister went to Europe and came back waving a piece of paper, but the hungry beast to be appeased now is a coterie of backbench MP’s, a hapless and hopeless crew blinded by stupidity and consumed by petty-minded hobby horses.

Yes, it’s the obligatory EU-renegotiation blog post, seeing as Dave has unveiled a draft deal looking to be the climax of his 2015-16 European tour. And, as absolutely nobody foresaw, the thin gruel he’s come home with is getting talked up as an overgenerous banquet. So the headline grabbers are the minor changes for in-work social security for EU workers, a reduction in the level of child benefit, an exemption of the UK from ever-closer political integration (which no one was forcing on us anyway), and a recognition that Parliaments can club together to change EU rules. The way Dave and his cheerleaders carry on, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the whole show isn’t already run by the Council of Ministers, but I digress.

As someone who thinks the EU is necessary, but is in sore need of democratic reform and restructuring, this isn’t a “good deal”. I don’t think anyone in the labour movement should be in the business of cheering on cuts to social security eligibility, regardless of where the recipients are from. And we should be wary of lending this snake oil salesman any form of political credibility, which I’m glad to see Alan Johnson avoids doing in his comment on Dave’s “achievements”. As this was always a package of negotiations driven by the crisis ripping up the Tory party’s guts as opposed any kind of dysfunctions in Britain’s EU membership. It’s a deal struck to ameliorate Dave’s awkward squad, nothing else.

Supposing it’s all over bar the shouting, what does Dave’s deal mean for politics over the next six months? Despite stressing how much he wants the British people to take a considered view and have plenty of time to mull over the arguments, the received Westminster wisdom is for a June referendum. Dave might be venal, but he’s not stupid. Dragging out the Scottish independence vote allowed the Yes camp time to build up a genuinely popular movement, and one that still imperils the continued existence of the union. Dave knows a relatively short campaign leaves the fractious Leave outfit ill-placed to whip up populist Europhobia of the kind UKIP were once adept at tapping into. He also wants to minimise the damage to the Tories. In the main, as an alliance of the big fractions of British business, there are fundamental contradictions between those for whom European markets are an opportunity, and those for which it is a threat. Like the various families of Labour, if it wasn’t for our electoral system and its steep barrier of entry, then perhaps the Tories would have fragmented long ago. As it stands, Dave has to avoid that eventuality from coming to pass – going early is his best chance of avoiding that fate.

The Europhobic right, however, are unlikely to be mollified by either the sham renegotiation or the short referendum campaign. They are right it changes nothing, and from their standpoint Dave is putting a false prospectus to the country. A referendum premised on endorsing a big lie means it’s unlikely they will accept the result if, one hopes, it doesn’t go their way. For them, they’re being set up and cheated of the full and frank contest they want. If Dave is hoping to treat the running sore that is the Tory party’s obsession with Europe once and for all, someone is set to be disappointed.

There’s also the small matter of this May’s elections in Scotland, Wales, London, and some English councils. Nicola Sturgeon has already made her views clear on the subject, especially as the SNP’s campaign is best served by putting distance between themselves and her pro-EU opponents. While it’s not going to have much of an affect on the return wind of the nationalist hurricane north of the border, party positioning on the EU could affect elections ostensibly fought on local/regional matters. Clarity on the part of the LibDems, Labour, and UKIP might light their chances whereas open intra-party warfare among the Tories might make them look foolish.

Leaving aside the reverberations for politics, once again the EU talks demonstrate Dave’s exceptional luck. While the draft letter doesn’t amount to a great deal in the grand scheme of things, to have 27 other states acquiesce either demonstrates a deftness of touch not shown in domestic politics, or a stunningly fortuitous alignment of the stars. I’m inclined to go for the latter, especially as the EU have much bigger fish to fry – the refugee crisis for one, and the now loud, now quiet stagnation and crisis in the Eurozone. Letting the UK take away a few trifles is a price worth paying for keeping the beleaguered project together. However, back home where he faces his toughest test, Dave’s charmed life could be about to hit the buffers.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid

18 Comments

  1. Jim Denham says:

    As Cameron embarks on his campaign to sell his “reformed” relationship with the EU, the xenophobes have begun their anti-EU campign in earnest. The Sun and Mail are already giving us a taste of what to expect: denunciations of migrants, demands for stricter border controls and thinly-disguised racism.

    It’s time for the left to get real: the anti-EU movement is of necessity nationalist, xenophobic and border-line racist. No matter how much idiots like the Morning Star, the SWP and the Socialist Party try to dress up their anti-EU rhetoric with the word “socialism” and dire warnings about the evils of international capitalism and the “bosses’ Europe” they cannot escape the reactionary logic of their anti-EU stance.

    Yet for decades now most of the British left — and the left in a few other European countries, such as Denmark — has agitated “against the EU”. The agitation has suggested, though rarely said openly, we should welcome and promote every pulling-apart of the EU, up to and including the full re-erection of barriers between nation-states.

    Yet the possibility of a serious unravelling of the patchwork, bureaucratic semi-unification of Europe, slowly developed over the last sixty years, is more real today than ever before. The decisive push for unravelling comes from from the nationalist and populist right.

    And that calls the bluff of a whole swathe of the British left.

    For decades, most of the British left has been “anti-EU” as a matter of faith. In Britain’s 1975 referendum on withdrawing from the EU, almost the whole left, outside AWL’s forerunner Workers’ Fight, campaigned for withdrawal. Since then the left has hesitated explicitly to demand withdrawal. It has limited itself to “no to bosses’ Europe” agitation, implying but not spelling out a demand for the EU to be broken up.

    The agitation has allowed the left to eat its cake and have it. The left can chime in with populist-nationalist “anti-Europe” feeling, which is stronger in Britain than in any other EU country. It can also cover itself by suggesting that it is not really anti-European, but only dislikes the “bosses’” character of the EU.

    As if a confederation of capitalist states could be anything other than capitalist! As if the cross-Europe policy of a collection of neo-liberal governments could be anything other than neo-liberal!

    As if the material force behind neo-liberal cuts has been the relatively flimsy Brussels bureaucracy, rather than the mighty bureaucratic-military-industrial complexes of member states. As if the answer is to oppose confederation and cross-Europeanism as such, rather than the capitalist, neo-liberal, bureaucratic character of both member states and the EU.

    As if the EU is somehow more sharply capitalist, anti-worker, and neo-liberal than the member states. In Britain more than any other country we have seen successive national governments, both Tory and New Labour, repeatedly objecting to EU policy as too soft, too “social”, too likely to entrench too many workers’ rights.

    As if the answer is to pit nations against Europe, rather than workers against bosses and bankers. The anti-EU left loves to gloatingly remind us of the EU leaders’ appalling treatment of Greece and Tsipras’s capitulation – despite the fact that while in Greece and Southern Europe the EU is indeed a force for neoliberal austerity, in the UK no-one can point to a single attack on the working class that has originated with the EU against the will of a British government: indeed the EU has forced reluctant UK governments to enact limited but real pro-worker legislation (despite the Morning Star‘s dishonest claims to the contrary, the EU has been responsible for real pro-working class reforms such as the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations, the Agency Workers Regulations and the Working Time Regulations – none of which are at any immediate risk as a result of Cameron’s “renegotiation”).

    When Socialist Worker, in a Q&A piece, posed itself the question, “wouldn’t things be better for workers if Britain pulled out of the EU?”, it answered itself with a mumbling “yes, but” rather than a ringing “yes”.

    “Socialist Worker is against Britain being part of a bosses’ Europe”. Oh? And against Britain being part of a capitalist world, too?

    Britain would be better off in outer space? Or walled off from the world North-Korea-style? “But withdrawing from the EU wouldn’t guarantee workers’ rights — the Tories remain committed to attacking us”. Indeed. And just as much so as the EU leaders, no?

    A few years ago the Socialist Party threw itself into a electoral coalition called No2EU. Every week in its “Where We Stand” it declaims: “No to the bosses’ neo-liberal European Union!”, though that theme rarely appears in its big headlines.

    Even the demand for withdrawal is a soft-soap, “tactical” gambit. In principle Britain could quit the EU without disrupting much. It could be like Norway, Iceland, Switzerland: pledged to obey all the EU’s “Single Market” rules (i.e. all the neo-liberal stuff) though opting out of a say in deciding the rules; exempt from contributing to the EU budget but also opting out from receiving EU structural and regional funds.

    That is not what the no-to-EU-ers want. They want Britain completely out. They want all the other member-states out too. A speech by RMT president Alex Gordon featured on the No2EU website spells it out: “Imperialist, supranational bodies such as the EU seek to roll back democratic advances achieved in previous centuries… Progressive forces must respond to this threat by defending and restoring national democracy. Ultimately, national independence is required for democracy to flourish…”

    But does the left really want the EU broken up? What would happen?

    The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face disapproval at best.

    There would be a big reduction in the productive capacities of the separate states, cut off from broader economic arenas.

    Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in capitalist world-market competition, and thus would be pushed towards crude cost-cutting, in the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than the bigger employers.

    There would be more slumps and depression, in the same way that the raising of economic barriers between states in the 1930s lengthened and deepened the slump then.

    Nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be “vindicated” and boosted. Democracy would shrink, not expand. The economically-weaker states in Europe, cut off from the EU aid which has helped them narrow the gap a bit, would suffer worst, and probably some would fall to military dictatorships.

    Before long the economic tensions between the different nations competing elbow-to-elbow in Europe’s narrow cockpit would lead to war, as they did repeatedly for centuries, and especially in 1914 and 1939.

    The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neo-liberal European Union, but forward, towards workers’ unity across Europe, a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.

    It’s time for the anti-EU left to get real, face facts and pull back from its disastrous de facto alliance with some of the most reactionary forces in British politics.

  2. David Ellis says:

    All he’s come back with is an attack on poorly paid working people. Any socialist who votes for that needs shooting.

  3. Jim Denham says:

    have put the following motion down to be debated at my next ward meeting.

    OPPOSE EXIT FROM THE EU – ANOTHER EUROPE IS POSSIBLE

    {Ward name} Labour Party believes

    1. That UK withdrawal from the EU would be a victory for the nationalist right and for their campaign against migrants.

    2. That while the EU promotes a neo-liberal agenda, Britain leaving would not change things for the better. Immediately, it would mean a right-wing government continuing that agenda, but with higher barriers between us and our potential allies for change in Europe.

    3. That the labour movement should combine opposing “Brexit” with campaigning to change Europe by linking up across borders to campaign for: an end to austerity and a levelling up of wages, conditions, services and rights across the continent; democratic reform of the EU including a sovereign EU Parliament; freedom of movement and an end to “Fortress Europe”.

    Further believes
    1.That the “Britain Stronger in Europe” campaign, which is dominated by Tories and business people, lauds Cameron’s attempts to “reform” the EU by cutting back workers’ and migrants’ rights. The party was absolutely right to launch its own separate campaign.
    2.That Jeremy Corbyn was right in his recent speech to set out: “In the referendum campaign Labour will be making it clear we stand up for public ownership and accountability,”
    3.We also agree with Jeremy that: “we also want to see progressive reform in Europe: democratisation, stronger workers’ rights, sustainable growth and jobs at the heart of economic policy, and an end to the pressure to privatise and deregulate public services.’
    4.That unfortunately the Labour campaign has not, so far, done enough to stake out this distinctive progressive, labour movement agenda.
    5.That the “Another Europe is Possible” campaign, which is supported by a range of Labour Party figures, is campaigning against exit on roughly the right basis.

    Resolves

    1. To campaign for Britain to stay in the EU on the basis set out above.

    2. To work with AEIP as well as the official party campaign, inviting speakers from both.

    3. To write to {local MP} to ask him/her to lend his/her support to AEIP.

    4. To write to Alan Johnson calling for the Labour campaign to stake out a clear left-wing agenda based on opposing austerity and fighting for public services, workers’ rights and migrants’ rights.

    5. To move a motion at the GC of {constituency} CLP asking for the local Party to support both campaigns.

    1. David Ellis says:

      The Labour right wingers are going to love you.

      1. Danny Nicol says:

        Well said David Ellis. I do wish Left Futures would publish my post analysing the EU constitutional reasons why Another Europe isn’t Possible (save in certain comrades’ imaginations). I will send it to Jon Lansman yet again.

        1. David Ellis says:

          Thank you comrade.

          1. Jim Denham says:

            Wallow in your ignorance, racism and anti-Marxism, Elliis

    2. John P Reid says:

      Yes the far right do want out of the EU as, they can try to take way rights orinally win, by the unions from the 1940’s-1970’s, and if we leave it’ll give them a chance to so it, it’s up to us to argue the reason we should have those rights is the British electorate reject parties who propose it

      But the right also want us to stay in the EU for cheap Eastern European labour, under cutting our workers wages,
      How could not getting rid of a neo liberal agenda not be for the better?

  4. David Ellis says:

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/uk/2016/02/labour-tensions-over-pro-eu-campaign-grow

    From the New Statesman. Anti-EU labour voters who vote Leave likely to switch permanently to UKIP after referendum if Labour backs Cameron. As in Scotland when pro-independence Labour voters switched to the SNP because of Labour’s support for Cameron rendering Scottish Labour a pointless electoral alliance that can never be elected again.

  5. I don’t often recommend the Morning Star, but anyone who thinks ‘Labour Leave’ is anything other than a reactionary front for UKIP within the labour movement should read this:

    http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-6cdb-The-EU-is-never-going-to-be-reformed-just-look-at-whats-happened-in-Greece#.VsJLw7tWKM8

  6. Motion to Unison Conference:

    OPPOSE EXIT FROM THE EU – FIGHT FOR A WORKERS’ EUROPE

    Conference that:
    1. UK withdrawal from the European Union in the upcoming referendum would be a victory for the nationalist right and their vile, racist campaign against migrants, including members – and potential members – of our union.
    2. while the EU promotes privatisation and neoliberalism, the current UK government would press ahead with its attacks on working-class people in or out of the EU, and if the UK leaves the EU, the UK government will step up attacks.
    3. the biggest “In” campaign, Britain Stronger in Europe, is dominated by Tories and business people and cannot possibly act as a voice for working-class interests, workers’ unity across Europe or migrants’ rights. Cameron wants to remain in the EU on the basis of cutting back workers’ rights and attacking migrants, and Britain Stronger in Europe actually trumpets this!
    4. we should respond to the EU by building stronger working-class and socialist links across the continent, organising a united struggle, and pushing forward towards a united Workers’ Europe – not by seeking to re-raise national barriers.

    Notes that the campaign Another Europe is Possible has been set up to organise an anti-austerity, internationalist opposition to withdrawal from the EU; while the Workers’ Europe initiative, which supports AEIP, is developing a specifically working-class and labour movement focus in campaigning. The Labour Party has also launched its own campaign.

    Resolves to
    1. campaign for the UK to stay in the EU,
    2. campaign for an end to austerity, and the levelling *up* of wages, conditions, services, and rights across Europe; for the scrapping of bureaucratic EU structures and for a sovereign, democratic European Parliament; and for freedom of movement and an end to “Fortress Europe”,
    3. support and participate in the Another Europe is Possible campaign, and promote its materials and initiatives, as well as those of Workers’ Europe,
    4. engage in the Labour Party “in” campaign through the labour Link, calling for it to campaign on a pro-working class anti-austerity, internationalist basis, not on the basis of what is “good for business”, terrorism and “getting a seat at the top table”,
    5. put migrants’ rights at the forefront of our campaigning around the referendum – fighting for migrants’ rights in Britain, defending the right of workers from EU countries to come here, and demanding the opening of Europe’s doors to refugees and migrants from outside,

    6. advertise the support and advice UNISON offers to migrant workers

    7. support migrant workers in UNISON in building self-organisation, against nationalist attacks.

  7. Karl Stewart says:

    JimD, your whole argument is essentially: ‘No-one on the left should vote leave because there is a strong right-wing element also arguing to leave’

    One could equally argue: ‘No-one on the left should vote remain because there is a strong right-wing element arguing to remain’.

    Both arguments equally stupid and equally unhelpful in terms of the left moving forward.

    We on the left who are arguing to leave are doing so from a left and internationalist perspective and it is this perspective that people on the left who are for remaining in, need to take on board and debate.

    Similarly, it’s not enough for we ‘lexits’ to simply call you ‘left-remainers’ supporters of Cameron.

    JimD, you really need to try to grasp this. And your brainless and moronic AWL model motion fails on all counts.

  8. Karl Stewart says:

    My argument against the EU is that it is a capitalist organisation that unites the capitalist ruling class of several nations against the interests of working people of those nations.

    To leave this capitalist federation, in my opinion, splits the unity of the ruling classes. The workers’ movements of these nations can unite in solidarity across borders through our own organisations – why on earth do we need the EU for this?

    If workers in Norway are on strike, then they have every right to ask for solidarity from workers everywhere – the UK, France, Brazil, Mexico, Germany and Japan – they wouldn’t seek solidarity through the EU would they?

    We should leave the EU and fight for real and genuine working class internationalism.

    1. James Martin says:

      I agree, we don’t need the EU for workers solidarity and internationalism, although I’m hardly enthused for the leave campaign either. Mark Steel actually summed up my feelings last week when he said watching both campaigns in action was a lot like when Man Utd play Chelsea, you spend the entire time desperately hoping it would be possible to see both sides lose at the same time. Never one for abstaining I’ll still likely vote to leave simply because of what the EU did to Greece (and would do to anyone else who stood up to their austerity and inbuilt lack of democracy), but it will not be with any enthusiasm even so.

  9. Karl Stewart says:

    Yes I think you sum up my feelings on the issue there James. There’s no way I’d want to participate in one single ‘leave’ campaign.

    And like you, it’s the Greek experience that finally convinced me that our friends on the left who argue ‘remain and fight for change’ are mistaken (although I do respect that’s a genuinely held view)

  10. David Ellis says:

    Corbyn has decided to end the Labour Left’s historic opposition to the EU by voting with Cameron to keep Britain in. This is analogous to when the German Social Democrats voted for World War One and it will have fatal consequences for the Labour Party. UKIP only really took off as a result of New Labour in power fully embracing the EU. If the left does too that will be the end of it in England and Wales.

  11. john PReid says:

    unfortunately you’re right,i just hope ,we vote to leave ,and if so then jon Cryer takes over in 2018 ,or Mcdonell ,has a change of heart.

  12. David Ellis says:

    Here is an openly pro-Europe, socialist labour movement leave campaign that pledges never to mix its banners with those of the official `outers’ and political gargoyles like Bojo, Gove, Patel, Hoey, Galloway or Farage. We will fight the disgusting capitulation of the Labour Left to capitulate to the EU, neo-liberalism, austerity and Cameron. This moment of shame will end the Labour Party dangerously before there is a radical left replacement ready to go. That is why our campaign is so important.

    https://www.facebook.com/voteoutreferendum/?ref=hl

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