Brussels and the Left’s delusionary Brexit strategy

The In (Britain Stronger in Europe or Remain) campaign has got off to a poor start. Stuart Rose, its chairman and a Tory peer, supposedly turned M&S around but is proving to be a mediocre politician.

He’s surrounded by an Old EU Guard (Ken Clarke, Mandy, Sir Danny Alexander) that ran the pro-euro campaign some 20 years ago and, more recently, presided over British Influence – another outfit sponsored by David Sainsbury (Labour peer/grocery scion).

It should have a lot going for it: Cameron and Osborne want on balance to stay In the EU; so, too, do the Lib Dems; and large swaths of business; plus hundreds of scientists; and, not least, the SNP and Plaid Cymru; and, finally, but not at any price, most if not all of the EU-27.

But it’s already been dubbed Project Fear Mark 2. And SNP politicians, understandably if wrong-headedly, are therefore giving the official campaign a wide berth – here and here. They’re promising an upbeat, passionate, grassroots campaign of their own – like ‘Yes’; Hope over Fear Mark 2 more like.

There is already a serious risk of the UK drifting towards the #Brexit door with polls sending mixed messages and this division won’t help matters. What’s even worse, large sections of the Left are lining up to denounce the EU and flirt with an exit strategy – “start dipping our toes in the water” (Owen Jones here). Even though that might put them on the same side as assorted xenophobes, Islamophobes, racists, little Englanders (or Scots), Nigel, Marine and Geert. Chapeau camérades!

They refute this. The argument – put forward last week by the prolific post-capitalist Paul Mason – is that the EU has become what he (falsely) calls a “semi-superstate” where “force matters more than law” and a “semi-democracy” that responds only to “large corporations, banks and elites.” (His usual rigorous accuracy deserted him). In other words, as Jeremy Corbyn and the Left argued in the mid-1970s – not least in the columns of the communist Morning Star, still home to his weekly column – what was the then EEC was and remains “a capitalist plot.” (And Ian Paisley labeled it “the Roman whore”)

The brief intermission in the Left’s disengagement with “Brussels” – the golden age of Jacques Delors when he wooed the TUC (and enraged Thatcher) with social Europe and this dribbled away finally in the 2007-08 crisis  – ended definitively last summer on the streets of Athens. Never mind the economic and political self-harm inflicted by Syriza, Tsipras and Varoufakis, the “neo-liberals” led by Germany “forced them to destroy their own economy and are now systematically stripping Greece of its assets”.

So much of this argument is valid – as Social Europe (which I edit) has consistently argued; its most-read piece this year so far has come from Joe Stiglitz on “Europe’s attack on Greek democracy” closely followed by one of many from Yanis Varoufakis himself. (I weighed in with a Germanophile’s Herzschrei that caused waves in the Federal Republic.)

Just as the anti-EU Right fondly believes that #Brexit will enable an independent/wholly sovereign UK liberated from the shackles of “Brussels” to trade freely and generate Chinese-style levels of growth and untold plenitude so the Left is beset by the delusion that it can usher in a modern version of “socialism in one country” if the UK quits and/or work with other enlightened forces “on the continent” to effect change from the outside (“the threat of Brexit will help” Syriza/Podemos asserts Owen J loftily). This is simply a bigger version of the SNP’s sovereignty delusion. (The forces of darkness do not recognize national boundaries for starters.)

There’s a huge lot wrong with the EU-28 and, perhaps even more so, with the Eurozone-19: misguided austerity politics, the primacy of “structural reforms” (removal of collective bargaining rights), democratic deficit, a “project” swamped by bureaucratic and political inertia…But it is only by working with like-minded forces inside the EU and its member countries to change the direction of policy and shape of institutional architecture that we, whether as Brits or Scots, can have any influence whatsoever on the reforms that do urgently need to be undertaken. Outside the EU lies the desert – aka Russia or Venezuela.

It’s infantilist wishful thinking to imagine that the rest of the European Left is hanging on its British or Scottish equivalent leading it to a new Europe. Equally, the SNP, if it’s serious about collaborating with other like-minded forces to change the EU from within should start working with them rather than adopt a go-it-alone campaign that accentuates division and leads down a blind alley.

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