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EU Referendum is really about divisions within Tory/UKIP camp

The issue of Europe certainly makes stange bedfellows, and the cockles of Nigel Farage’s heart will have been warmed by Bob Crow’s statement yesterday:

RMT General Secretary Bob Crow said:

RMT’s position is clear, not only should there be an early in/out referendum but also we are calling unequivocally for British withdrawal.

Across Europe, and specifically in Spain and Greece which are at the eye of the storm, it is the working class who are suffering the most as democracy is ripped apart and the EU and the central bank demand cuts to jobs, wages and pensions and wholesale privatisation of public assets.

RMT will not sit back and allow this debate to be dominated by UKIP and the right wing of the Tory Party. Ministers like Michael Gove are now only raising the issue of withdrawal out of pure political opportunism. He could not care less about the rates of youth unemployment across Europe, the only concern of these Tory “Johnny Come Lately’s” is saving their own political skins.

RMT will continue to set out the left wing, pro-worker case for British withdrawal from the EU that puts jobs, standards of living, democracy and public services centre stage. The truth is that you cannot be pro-EU and anti-austerity when the whole structure of the European project is dominated by the interests of bankers and big business, the driving forces behind the imposition of austerity measures across the Continent.”

It is disingenuous for RMT to believe that a small union, however charismatic their General Secretary, can shape a debate which is being driven by rifts in the Conservative Party. Indeed the headline in Benedict Brogan’s Telegraph blog sums it up well: “The Tory party’s gone crazy over Europe, and it’s Cameron’s fault

Ignore those who boast that at least this time it’s merely about tactics, not policy. They would like you to conclude that because the Tory party at Westminster favours an in/out referendum, the current spat is a mere bagatelle. They are wrong, in the same way that any Tory politician who justifies attacking the leadership in public in the name of ideological rectitude should not be trusted with the electoral spoons. The party is divided on an issue that scarcely one in 10 voters lists as a priority. The electorate will respond accordingly if this continues.

This is exactly right. Labour must not listen to the foolish argments from the right of the party, as argued by Kevin Meagher in Labour Uncut, who think that we need to jump into the same troubled waters. More sensible is Phil at a Very Public Sociologist:

The Tories and [Nigel Farage] just don’t get it. Europe is a second order issue and only has traction with the electorate at large during a second order election. Pitifully few, and I mean pitifully few, will be deciding who to put their cross against in 2015 on the basis of Europe. It is ultimately a rarefied Westminster/media preoccupation that everyone has an opinion on, but then so does X-Factor. But unlike ITV’s ratings monster, Europe matters much less.

The second point is related to the first. Ultimately, UKIP’s rise isn’t about Europe. I’ll say it again. UKIP’s rise isn’t about Europe. UKIP is a right wing variant of us-vs-themism, of populism. Its appeal lies in being a middle finger to an alienating and out-of-touch politics, one seemingly decoupled and remote from the outlook and aspirations of everyday folk. In response, populism offers simple solutions to complex problems. Frightened the family unit is under siege? Ban gay marriage. Uncomfortable hearing a medley of languages around town? Ban immigrants. Worried the country is in interminable decline? Ban the EU. Or something. Marx would have recognised that populism’s appeal lies in a secularisation of religion’s greatest hook, it is akin to “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.” Though in populism’s case, “weary” is probably a better substitute for oppressed.

UKIP speaks to discontent and insecurity. And it offers simple solutions that would, supposedly, dispel it.

The Labour Party needs to hold its nerve, and argue that uncertainty over Europe is bad for jobs, and bad for the economy; and that by  a stoking up a ballyhoo over Europe, David Cameron is addressing the internal divisions in his own party, not governing in the broader national interest.

One Comment

  1. Gerry says:

    The RMT is 100% right: we need a referendum and we need to leave the montrosity that is the EU. Undemocratic, pro-austerity, a federal bureaucracy..just three of its features.

    Most on the left of the party were against the EU right up to the 90s, and the arguments against our membership are even stronger now than they were back then…and dont forget: it was Labour who offered a referendum in 1975, and it would be very bad politics to reject one now, making us seem scared and fearful of the electorate…

    We must wrest back political momentum from Thatcherites like UKIP: it is disastrous that the main opposition to the Con/Lib Dem project is from an even more right wing party like UKIP, but sadly that has been the case all over most of Europe since the financial crisis…

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