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The long fall-out from the referendum vote

To the innocent outsider it may seem odd or eccentric that the Tory party can so regularly self-destruct over Europe. Yes, there’s plenty wrong with the EU – not least a sovereign debt crisis and a Eurozone economic structure which is currently untenable, but also a democratic deficit and genuine problems arising from the free movement of labour. But what is really at stake here is not Europe as such at all, it’s rather the kind of society and economy that people want.

The far Right of the Tory party and UKIP, who are the ideological backbone of the anti-EU movement, want the removal of almost all regulations from finance and commerce so that wealth and power can achieve unfettered domination, a low tax and preferably flat tax system (i.e. no higher rate), and an employment system that allows ‘flexible’ (i.e. unregulated) hire and fire with minimalist constraints so that labour is firmly under control as a mere component of production. Normally they keep quiet about their real objectives, but the referendum vote exposed it – and a lot more.

It exposed how extreme and unbalanced the Tory parliamentary party now is. With 81 Tory MPs defying their own government and a further 15 abstaining, Cameron had the support of less than half his back-benchers. This is on an issue which an Ipsos Mori opinion poll has just announced that, when asked which was the most important issue facing the country today, 50% of members of the public said the economy and only 1% said the EU or the euro. This is the tip of the tail trying to wag the dog.

Certainly it’s true that a large majority of the population want a referendum on EU membership and a (much smaller) majority say they would vote to withdraw. But it is also true that in 2001 an ICM poll found that by 68% to 19% the public overwhelmingly favoured Britain remaining in the EU. In other words, when the economy’s booming, stick with Europe; when it’s stagnating, give Europe a kicking because that’s the only thing on offer to show our hurt and anger. Since Europe is not an in-out yo-yo to besport Britain’s emotions every decade or so, differential polling at the various ups and downs of the UK economy is not a way to run a government.

What is needed more than anything else now on Europe is some guts, a readiness to talk about the governance of Europe in a principled, sane, open, and balanced manner. The real issue for the Tory Far Right is the removal of all restraints on the operation of unfettered neoliberal capitalism, and the EU is but a sideshow of the centrepiece drama. After 30 years of Thatcherism and Blairism, it is time now the Labour Party stopped tweaking the edges and took this central issue head-on.


  1. Graham says:

    As a Lib Dem, I’m not normally a fan of Michael Meacher but on this topic his analysis is spot-on.

  2. Jim Denham says:

    I agree with all of the above. The problem is that sections of the “left” (eg the Morning Star, the CPB and others influenced by them), seem to think they can latch onto the thoroughly reactionary anti-EU bandwagon, and give it some sort of “progressive” twist. Nonsense! The anti-EU campaign is by definition reactionary, nationalist and often racist.

    The left should have no truck with the “get out of the EU” campaign in its various forms. in fact, we should be championing a United Europe. And if the capitalists bring it about on their terms – well, we’ll not try to turn the clock back.

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