Historically, the Labour Party has been anti-EU. They have long eschewed the concentration of power to unelected officials and rejected the philosophy that underpins much of what goes on. It is, therefore, infuriating to see anybody who continues to advocate views on Europe in exactly the same vein as being somehow immoral, in league with the Tory-right or somehow just cretinous and stupid. These are the kinds of comments still coming from those who wanted to remain in the EU within the Labour Party!
By all means, advocate for staying in the EU if you want. But recognise it is not the historic Socialist position. Remain is the position traditionally advocated by liberals and has been backed most fulsomely under the New Labour project that so many claim to dislike so intensely. It is a view that emanates from the free market policies of Thatcherism and was espoused with a plomb under New Labour.
Also recognise that it is not the overwhelming position of the working classes. The working class areas of the North voted overwhelmingly in favour of leaving the EU. Only the metropolitan cities of the North said otherwise. The reaction to the result bears all the hallmarks of liberal sneering at the poor – the very thing the Labour Party historically stood against. But the party that was once run for working people now appears to be overrun with those who hold the poor in contempt.
Dennis Skinner has repeatedly and consistently voted against further integration with the EU (In case you aren’t clear on his exit strategy, he wouldn’t give the EU a penny piece – it is as though he has imbibed the very views of Oldham and delivered them with unerring accuracy).
Then, let’s not forget, Tony Benn outlines the primary issues on the EU. It is worth noting that his argument, like mine, is not nationalistic but democratic. He is firmly in favour of co-operating with Europe and wants to see immigration continue between us, but is concerned about the watering down of democracy. His comments on Scotland were prophetic.
Here, Frank Field makes his case for Labour Brexit:
Here is Michael Foot making his case for rejecting the EU:
Then there is Peter Shore, making his case against the 1975 referendum:
Here is Jeremy Corbyn’s own view on the EU (which lends credence to both Dennis Skinner and Frank Field’s view that he would have joined them in the lobby):
The question here is this, what happened to the left? Essentially, for all the fear of Militant infiltrating and taking over the Labour Party in the 1980s, instead, the Party became overrun with liberals. The reason why it is often so difficult to put a cigarette paper between the Lib Dems and Labour is that they are full of the same kinds of people. At the same time, politics became less framework-based and has become more issue-based. People take ‘stances’ rather than work out policies within a fleshed out political framework. It has become expedient to stand on issues – to signal one’s virtues – rather than to work out what is right within a wider political or moral framework.
If we take the issue of abortion, for example, we see this play out. Without getting into the rights and wrongs of the matter, it is interesting that the overwhelming majority of parliament advocates for abortion but uses an ultra-individualism to make the case. It is an extension of the Thatcherite principle of the individual as über alles. Historically, however, Socialism argued that individual behaviour must at least have an eye on the collective good. The case was usually made in moral terms such that the effect of one’s behaviour morally obligated you to consider your effect on society. The British (particularly Welsh and Scottish) version of this was borne out of the Christian idea that though individuals matter, so too does how their behaviour affects others. But in the abortion debate, not one person made an argument about the collective effect on family, society or others. The entire argument for abortion was predicated solely on the individualistic choice of the woman – an entirely Thatcherite principle and one espoused happily by liberals. Personal autonomy is all.
That is just one example of how Thatcherite individualism has played out. Historically, Labour have stood against this idea. They argued for the importance of individual freedom with an eye on the collective good. Hence, tax-payer funded hospitals and the creation of the welfare state. It is why they repudiate single-payer insurance systems. All of these things were made in moral terms, the good of the collective group. It was never a case of the collective about all, but there was a clear sense in which individual freedom should rightly have an eye on the good of neighbour.
Often, given the higher classes had the money to indulge their personal autonomy, Labour looked for the collective good of the working classes. Incidentally, most liberals were drawn from the higher classes, with these libertarian arguments on personal autonomy espoused by them, because they had the money to indulge their desires and the means to insulate themselves from the more destructive effects. The fact that almost no Labour MP makes arguments from collective principles anymore suggests the extent to which liberals have embedded themselves into the party.
It is this that explains the party move toward pro-EU politics. The wealthier, affluent middle classes have not faced the worst effects of these things. The affluent liberals, who have seen all the benefits of the EU, do not recognise that those same benefits have not been accessed by the working classes. What is more, having handed over their democratic rights to the EU on the grounds that it is financially expedient to do so, they see no problem in telling the working classes who voted to leave that their vote, indeed, was wrong and should be re-run, overturned or ignored altogether.
This was not Labour’s historic position. It is not a position that makes sense within a Socialist political framework. It is closer to a neo-liberal con. What is staggering is that the Labour Party seem happy to buy it.