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Revisiting No2EU

muehvsIf it wasn’t for UKIP, it’s fair to say most people wouldn’t know European elections are in the offing. Yet while the media buzzes about Farage’s one-man party and what the mainstream are doing about it, the ballot paper is littered with anti-EU also rans. Here in the West Mids there’s the BNP and English Democrats fare. We are also blessed with sitting ex-UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire for We Demand a Referendum and Mike Natrass – another former ‘kipper – for the naughtily-titled An Independence from Europe – UK Independence Now list. Hopefully, this Little England gang bang will see them take a few UKIP votes and cost them a seat. After this quivering mass, there is one other slate. I am talking about the only leftist participant who was prepared to toss its keys into the salad bowl: No2EU. Or, to give its full title, No2EU – Yes to Workers Rights.

Yes, it’s back to provide a left Eurosceptic option for those who do not read the ballot paper properly and put their cross next to No2EU instead of UKIP. Again, just like 2009 it is a cobbled-together slate of the rail union RMT, the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain (CPB) and the Socialist Party (SP). And no doubt the folks involved will be looking to get a better vote than last time. Five years back No2EU polled 153,236 votes – one per cent of the total cast. That’s at the bottom of the 1-2% range far left challenges can typically expect at election time. Nonetheless it was a disappointing outcome for those of us who worked hard in that campaign. A cheeky cameo from Tony Benn in the party election broadcast, the endorsement of former Labour MP Alice Mahon and the hearty backing of Bob Crow did naff all. Even the name, which you might expect to be an asset among Eurosceptic naifs who don’t follow politics, proved to be nothing of the sort.

Also, No2EU got a barracking from within the labour movement. Its vote share in the North West was greater than the difference separating Nick Griffin and the Greens’ Peter Cranie. No2EU was made the whipping boy, the reason why the BNP won a seat. A case, in other words, of voting far left and getting the far right. That argument doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny, though it’s an easy enough supposition to make. It was also criticised by others on the left for its opportunism, its fossilised programme, its lack of seriousness. Remember, these elections came after the brouhaha of MPs’ expenses. Perhaps the sharpest arrow in No2EU’s quiver was ex-Labour Militant Tendency MP Dave Nellist, who won wide recognition in the 80s for refusing an MP’s full salary and taking only the average wage of a skilled worker. Instead of running with something like ‘a worker’s MP on a worker’s wage’, No2EU pledged not to take up any seats in the European Parliament in the unlikely event of their winning. A bizarre own goal that fought shy of the public imagination.

Given the low vote, what was the point? At that time I was an enthusiastic and active SP member. For instance, here’s me putting a brave face on the results. Nevertheless, there was a certain logic to No2EU from where I was then standing. The SP’s immediate strategic objective remains the foundation of a new workers’ party to replace Labour. This will come about not by cobbling together “the sects” but via trade unions breaking with and moving into independent electoral activity. Therefore, when the RMT and CPB approached the SP about standing with them on an anti-Labour, anti-EU slate the SP’s exec jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to influence the country’s most militant union, deepen its break with Labour and demonstrate to other labour movement activists that an independent political existence was possible. The questions surrounding No2EU’s politics (in all essentials no different from the official Communist Party’s platform circa 1974) were spun by the SP as “not ideal” but the party was prepared to accept them as its participation was asked for “at a late stage”.

The election came and went. A “marker was put down”, “new layers of workers saw No2EU material”, and it was “a step toward a new party”. But how did the SP’s perspectives bear out? There was immediate excited talk of a new project involving the SP’s partners and other trade unions. If memory serves, these mysterious organisations were the FBU, POA and (leading SP members in) the PCS. However, very quickly the fading CPB dropped out and union backing did not materialise. So by the time the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition launched in January 2010 all that remained was the SP, Bob Crow with some leading RMT’ers, and a few senior people in the POA. Since then there has been progress of sorts. The RMT and SWP have formally affiliated, the coalition has contested quite a few elections – including a seminal beating by Elvis Loves Pets in the Eastleigh by-election – and, um. that’s it. Also, TUSC are making a big effort at this year’s local elections, but more about that once the votes have been counted.

In all essentials, No2EU fulfilled its objectives. It cemented a good relationship between the RMT, CPB and SP. It nicely slots into the SP’s narrative of unions breaking from Labour, and paved the way for a successor organisation. So why is it getting another outing after five years of accumulating mothballs? Consulting my former comrades is no use. You could be forgiven for thinking the SP have forgotten they’re affiliated. TUSC is everywhere on their website. No2EU, on the contrary, is conspicuous by its absence. There is no article justifying its existence. No explanation why it is just as provisional and amateurish as last time, despite having five years to prepare. Deputy general secretary Hannah Sell has served some warm-ups on the EU, but there is no linking of No2EU with an overall strategy, apart from a desire to “exit from the EU on the basis of socialist policies“. But when No2EU’s site can’t be bothered to list its own candidates, why should anyone expect its affiliate to take up the slack?

Needless to say, I think it’s all a waste of time. But if you’re going to challenge Labour, at least be serious about it. As local council elections are taking place on the same day as the Europeans, every party has the opportunity to benefit from “double-ticketing”. For instance, as UKIP are projected to do well they have stood as many council candidates as they can. They know people who will vote for them for Europe are likely to vote for them in the locals too. They are using one to leverage the other. And this, of course, is common practice. The splitting of the far left ticket into No2EU for the Europeans and TUSC for the locals won’t make much of a difference to the usual poor results, but betrays a basic amateurism, if not incompetence. If you’re the proletarian vanguard you do yourself no favours being seen to lag behind the “bourgeois parties” on political ABCs.

To be fair to the SP though, this is a matter of positioning rather than sound politics. There are some in the RMT leadership who, unlike most leading trade union tops, detest the EU. While the scepticism and critique of the EU’s constitutionally embedded neoliberalism is widespread in the labour movement, there are leading RMT comrades who combine this with a left Little Englandism. This is reflected in No2EU’s points on the repatriation of powers independent economic policies, unequal trade agreements, etc. As the SP historically has comparatively little to say about constitutional matters, and think stuff like sovereignty is so much flim-flammery (socialism is always the answer to such things), it is quite prepared to indulge their partners’ proclivities to keep the show on the road. Since the sad passing of Bob Crow there is a fear the RMT might withdraw its formal backing from TUSC in the absence of good results. If carrying on with No2EU is a price to pay for continued good relations and influence, the SP will do what it takes.

There is a whiff of groundhog day about all this. But I suppose I ought to be grateful for No2EU. Despite the furious spin I gave it at the time, the experience did focus my mind on the problems of socialist strategy in Britain, and the relationship between Labour and the labour movement. It led me to conclude there is no political room for a mkII Labour Party. It also eventually dawned that Trotskyism and revolutionary politics are not just ill-suited to an advanced capitalist society like ours, but absolutely incompatible with a socialist strategy appropriate to it. If there are SP activists who get disillusioned because of No2EU’s poor results, I hope they find alternative ways of building the labour movement rather than retreat into private life.

Image credit: No2EU Facebook page. This article first appeared at All that is Solid


  1. David Ellis says:

    NO2EU is a steaming pile of Stalinist shit and you have the cheek to have a go at Trotskyism. You are funny.

    As for the SP they are nothing more than the left wing of the trade union bureaucracy operating like a little mafia that will back your efforts to escape the drudgery of work for some trade union facility time and some all expenses beanos so long as you back them. It’s a club for wannabe bureaucrats where they learn to talk left and act right.

  2. James Martin says:

    New political parties are born of actual mass struggles rather than attempts at ideological purity, which has characterised the history of the British left for a century or more. Furthermore, often the real problem underlying most avowed Trotskyist grouplets is that they are almost always highly middle class in composition (this has been true outside of the UK too, with one or two exceptions like the Sri Lankan LSSP when it was still a mass party in the years either side of WWII), and with the exception of Militant in the 1980s have often given up on the working class and trade unions in favour of student politics and whatever transitory movements/campaigns are in favour with the middle class radicals at any given time.

    So what we are constantly left with is miniscule groups with no real influence who either use electoralism as part of the keeping the members busy strategy, or who in effect are guilty of meaningless propagandism (waving little red flags as Lenin put it) by standing candidates that get less votes than the official monster raving loonies and the like.

    However the issue of the EU is very real, and very dangerous (as both Greek and Ukrainian workers have found recently to their cost). Much of the left has little more than a liberal view on the EU that confuses it with international workers unity (in the same way as some have confused the UK Parliament with actual working class unity in the Scottish independence debate, and which has little to do with state institutions of the ruling class).

    And the failure to build a socialist opposition to the EU has allowed UKIP to fill a void where it looks set to take quite a few working class votes from the Labour Party this week.

  3. With No2EU not standing in the North East (Brian Denney was terribly apologetic to me on the phone, but apparently Bob took many of his fundraising tricks to the grave), and with three soundly anti-TTIP candidates out of three on the Labour list, I shall be voting Labour in a European Election for the first time ever.

    The core of the Labour Movement is absolutely opposed in principle to any free trade agreement between the EU and the US, and at least 100 Labour MPs would certainly vote against any such thing no matter what, while the Leadership is not exactly keen, and would undoubtedly lead the public opposition to any threat to the National Health Service.

    Whereas the only critics of the EU who are ever allowed on television are away with the “Anglosphere” fairies, are sometimes on the ALEC payroll, are obsessed with the drivelling referendum distraction, and exist so far apart from British culture that they honestly believe that everyone hates the NHS as much as they do.

    As for those claiming that MEPs will have the final say, not only does this week mark a 2010 or a 2015-style clearout of the Blairite old guard, but the Westminster Leadership, being the Party Leadership, can and does simply move to the bottom of the list any MEP who steps out of line; that was why Tony Blair introduced party lists for the European Parliament, purging numerous of his critics when he did so.

    In any case, the Commons vote would and will happen long before anything went before the European Parliament, forced by Labour and with every Labour MP voting against massively increased powers for the EU institutions in the service of American corporations, while most (not quite all) of the fabled “Tory Eurosceptics” voted in favour.

    The Greens have had a good campaign, however ignored they have been by the media, based on opposing the TTIP that has been a core Lib Dem aim for as long as that party has existed. If you would have voted Conservative in Scotland, Wales or the North, then vote for UKIP in order to deprive the Conservatives of all of their seats in Scotland, Wales and the North. But if you would have voted Lib Dem anywhere, then vote for the Greens in order to deprive the Lib Dems of all of their seats everywhere.

    Nothing like the NHS exists either in the United States, or (contrary to what is often imagined in Britain) in any other member-state of the European Union.

    But, although there has been some move away from it in New Zealand in recent years, it is very much still in place in Canada and in Australia.

    Therefore, while what are always the allied forces of American domination and European federalism are combining to destroy the NHS by means of the TTIP, the patriotically British and the pro-Commonwealth approach is, as it always is, that of the strongest possible support for the National Health Service.

    UKIP, Daniel Hannan and their fellow-travellers in the Conservative Party and its press fail that test, although An Independence from Europe passes it.

    That failure will be exposed when the House of Commons divides on the TTIP.

    It will then become abundantly clear, once and for all, which is the patriotic party against all comers. And which is not.

    Interestingly, the two regions where the majority still identifies specifically as British, albeit for what might appear to be the most diametrically opposed of reasons, are London and Northern Ireland, which are the two regions least likely to return a UKIP MEP.

    Ponder these things, brethren.

    Ponder these things.

    And in the North East, Vote Labour.

  4. CharlesParx says:

    The danger of the EU is clear, and the Party of the European Left are realising it, and while No2EU has been poorly put together, it is in essence a good idea. It should show people that the left doesn’t all have to be about sectarianism and who can be more “revolutionary” but look beyond and try to argue for principles, i.e. not accepting the capitalist bosses club that is the EU with a almost powerless parliament. Socialism is about improving people’s lives and democracy so the EU in pushing Austerity are one of the problems that we need to address and not shy way from by an idea that by being part of the EU we’re being ‘internationalist’, the same principle goes for NATO as well.

    1. David Ellis says:

      `It should show people that the left doesn’t all have to be about sectarianism…’

      It doesn’t get much more sectarian than NO2EU. Reminds one of the old headlines: Fog in the channel, continent cut off. And as we know sectarianism is a form of opportunism as this stalinist mash up tries to jump on the Farage band wagon.

      1. CharlesParx says:

        Or it’s the continuation of the anti-capitalist club principle that the left fought against, which the Tories supported, back in the 1970s. Who wants to cut the continent off? Europe is better off without the EU (as the statement I posted, from many European political parties, shows) I’m looking at people working together for principles but maybe we’ve got a different meaning of sectarianism. You’re sounding like the sort of old ‘blame the (insert group here)’ which is sectarianism btw, and the sort of thing that holds the left back from offering a challenge to current politics. Criticise No2EU for its real aims, don’t just make them up to criticise or shout ‘SECTARIAN!’ or ‘OPPORTUNISM!’ it not political debate, sorry.

  5. Ric Euteneuer says:

    No2EU has no presence outside the groupscules that support it, and is a huge amount of wasted effort for all concerned, as the 1 or so per cent that it will receive from the ignorant or the ultraideological will make no difference at all.

  6. Steve Barker says:

    The Labour leadership has done little to challenge the myths of UKIP, or present popular progressive policies (apparently 71% of UKIP voters favour rail nationalisation). Hence, on Thursday I’ll be voting Green to encourage a Labour improvement, if not even a change of leader.

  7. swatantra says:

    Not to be confused with the NotoHS2, or am I just being a NIMBY?

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