The Left needs to find its voice on the EU

26th October, 2011 2:57 pm

The EU is seen as that perennial obsession of the Tory right-wing fringes: the sort of issue that excites only bigoted, Daily-Mail-reading Little Englanders who peer suspiciously out of velvet curtains to rant about gay gypsies scrounging off Incapacity Benefit. When Conservative MPs staged the biggest post-war rebellion over Europe over David Cameron’s refusal to hold a referendum over EU membership, Labour activists gleefully tweeted about a renewed bout of Tory wackiness. It was an issue that helped sink John Major, and now it was back to haunt the Tory leadership.

But there is a real danger in the left abandoning a critique of the EU to the right. It should not only be knuckle-dragging right-wingers who have a problem with the EU as it is currently constituted.

It shouldn’t be forgotten that it was actually Ted Heath’s Tory Government who brought Britain into what was then known as the European Economic Community in 1973. In part, this re-orientation towards Europe was triggered by the collapse of the British Empire as former subject peoples liberated themselves from colonial rule. But it was Labour that was most fiercely divided over the issue. A year after returning to power in 1974, Labour delivered a referendum about British membership; and, acknowledging the divisions within its own ranks, it allowed Cabinet Ministers to campaign on the basis of their conscience. The fear of many of the left was that membership of the Common Market would strip Britain of its economic sovereignty, prohibiting radical, interventionist measures.

Labour’s 1983 manifesto even went as far as to pledge withdrawal. Neil Kinnock may have ended up as a European Commissioner, but he was once a passionate Eurosceptic. It was the traumatising experience of Thatcherism that led to a sharp turnaround on the left. After being battered by the most regressive Government since World War II, it seemed as though the then-European Community was the only hope for progressive legislation. Support for the EU on the left, then, was born of pessimism in the face of the neo-liberal assault.

The story is very different in other parts of Europe. In Scandivanian countries and France, for example, it is the left that is the standard-bearer of opposition to the EU project. It was the French left that led the successful opposition to the European Constitution, for example.

To begin with, Labour activists have to acknowledge that strong hostility to aspects of the EU – if not the entire project – is widespread. It is not confined to the lunatic fringes. A stronger argument would be that – during an economic crisis which is destroying jobs and living standards – voters have far more pressing issues to worry about.

We have to accept that there are real grievances about democracy that have to be addressed. The EU is now a source of huge amounts of unaccountable power in Britain. All real democrats should argue that power is only legitimate when it is accountable. The largely toothless European Parliament can either accept or veto a slate of Commissioners put to it – but their source of power can hardly be said to be the European people, most of whom wouldn’t be able to name a single Commissioner if pressed.

But the EU has also helped to drive forward a neo-liberal agenda here, across Europe, and abroad. Successive EU treaties have enshrined “free competition”, which in practice promotes the privatisation of public services. For example, the Lisbon Treaty includes the following clause: “A European framework law shall establish measures to achieve the liberalisation of a specific service”. And while it was the Tories who privatised our railways, it was EU directive 9/440 that made it a legal requirement for private companies to be able to run train services.

While the Working Time Directive (which, shamefully, the UK secured an opt-out from) sets out a maximum working hour week, a number of attacks on workers’ rights have been introduced through the EU. For example, the European Court of Justice has issued judgements that have directly attacked workers’ rights – making it possible for employers to sue unions, or allowing workers posted to another country to be employed with the same conditions as their EU state of origin, encouraging a “race to the bottom”.

The left needs to be making these arguments about the EU, because they have real implications for working people in this country. Too often, the left has been paralysed on the issue, for fear of being lumped in with the UKIP brigade. But did anti-war activists line up with the BNP just because they too opposed the Iraq war?

As a socialist, I support building ever-stronger links between working people here and abroad – and not just arbitrarily confined to other workers in Europe. Given the globalised nature of capital, this is more important than ever. But the left needs to start to find its voice on the EU – and stop dismissing all critics as bigoted, insular nationalists.

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  • I think every right-minded lefty would agree with Owen, but the problem is UKIP, tory euroskeptics, the BNP, etc… their rationale for “wanting out” is entirely different. If we’re seen to be overly-critical of the EU as well; they could well claim that there’s broad bi-partisan consensus that  against the EU and in a referenda soldily-tip the public perception over the critical 50% mark in favour of pulling out.  It’s an imperfect system that we should be holding to account, but we must be careful how we do that.

    • I don’t think Tory Eurosceptics are ‘sceptics’. After all, a sceptical position is open to doubt, and keeps an open mind depending on evidence. The Tory right are more properly called  ‘zealots’, as they hold a manic obsession with the conspiracy of an  EU superstate, which filters all information to its own confirmation bias, and dismisses anything that doesn’t confirm their view.

      I think of myself as a Eurosceptic. Some things I’m in favour of – other things not (I always opposed a single common currency and preferred the more evolved hard ECU route). I try to keep an open mind.

      You know exactly in advance the Tory Right are going to say; they’re not Eurosceptics but Europhobes. 

      • Anonymous

        The superstate is not a ‘conspiracy’. It is actually the idea. It is the plan. It is the Ever Closer Union.

        • Whose plan? Merkel’s Sarkozy’s? Obviously some have an aspiration to an ‘ever closer union’. But that could be social and economic rather than political. Europhobes have a ‘plan’ to leave the EU. So what? 

          • Anonymous

            The whole edifice of the EU is to create ever closer union which leads inexorably to the single state. It is not one or two people, it is the point of the project and it is pointless to deny this.
            It’s a clumsy process but the ever rising tide of harmonisation, regulation, standardisation and then greater economic control being set at the EU, the EU flag, anthem, the military EuroCorps and foreign service are signs of it.
            We have already seen the massive problems of closer economic union without politics to match.
            Guy Verhofstadt’s ‘United States of Europe ‘ , Jean Monnet when he said “this proposal represents the first concrete step towards a European federation” about the ECSC, Joschka Fischer, the Spinelli Group, MEP Andrew Duff, Jacques Delors  and many more. Federalists are more powerful than your ‘phobics’
            Europe had a very different experience in the 20th century, one that few British understand – i don’t really understand it but I see why they would do it. It left them with a different view of Europe and how it should work.

          • Anonymous

            Political union is in the DNA of the EU and has been right from the start, back in the ECSC. This has always been very clear but it has suited Tory and Labour alike to pretend that it wasn’t true.

            There are plen ty more quotes by various people so I won’t bore us all. But Ever Closer Union means unification.

            ‘We can never sufficiently emphasise that the six Community countries are the forerunners of a broader, united Europe…’ – Jean Monnet, 1978

            “The European states must constitute themselves into a federation…” Jean Monnet,  1943″The enlargement we are talking about [from 15 to 25 EU member states] is not just any enlargement, but rather a decisive step towards the unification of the continent, a change in nature and in scale”Pierre Moscovici, French Minister Delegate for European Affairs,  2000

          • ‘Broader united Europe’ – what’s wrong with that. As for ‘federation’ – you clearly don’t understand that continental meaning of the term, which is the complete opposite of  ‘federalism’ in the US or British sense

        • Does the principle of a superstate have any democratic legitimacy?  I don’t recall any manifesto/referendum questions/parliamentary debates on this topic.

          • Of course there isn’t. There’s an aspiration to a vague ‘ever closer union’, but that could be of  peoples or economies, not states. It’s for Europeans to determine. 

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            “It’s for Europeans to determine.”

            Well, isn’t it a good thing we get asked?  All 3 main parties have made “promises” to do just that in the last decade, but those promises turn out to be invalid.  Other Europeans have been asked, and when they said “no” were invited to vote again until they came up with an acceptable answer.  Or do you mean by “Europeans” the group of unelected and unaccountable Commissioners?  People like Baroness Ashton, whose entire public life has never once involved actually being elected, but rather appointed to positions in back-room deals?

            The EU is about as anti-democratic an institution it is possible to achieve without a full-blown dictatorship.

          • This is nonsense Jaime. For the last three elections you’ve had the option of voting for a party whose primary platform is withdrawal from the EU – UKIP.

             We’re a representative democracy, not a populist one run by referenda and plebiscites. 

            Vote for UKIP if this is such a huge issue for you. 

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            @ Peter Jukes,

            UKIP want to leave the EU.  I don’t, merely to (1) as a matter of democratic principle, have the people of the UK and Northern Ireland consulted on our continued membership of a club that is unrecognisably changed from that we joined in the 1970s and (2) on a practical level renegotiate some of the terms and conditions of membership.

          •  Ask UNASUR. Or CARICOM. Or the Arab League. All of which are in many ways moving towards single policies on many issues.

            Then there’s Russia’s steps via several bodies to form their Eurasian Union… (although several potential members have turned to the EU instead)

            A widespread phobia of supranationalism is a peculiar Little Englander thing, sadly.

          • Anonymous

            That is your opinion, and you are welcome to it.

            However, can you perhaps point me towards the evidence that suggests that a “phobia of supranationalism” belongs only to this pejoratively named minority in England as you suggest?

            Perhaps you can also point to any debates in Europe (after 1949, that is) where voters have determined a positive desire to amalgamate their national entities into a superstate?

          • I can point to the very real movement towards supranationalism, and to the way the British have behaved such that the EU SHOULD throw them out for obstructionism and generally screwing up large parts of the project for everyone else.

            If you think it’s pejorative rather than simply realistic, it’s a sure sign who you’re standing with.

          • Anonymous

            A very real movement, without democratic legitimacy, is at best pointless and at worst an affront to democracy.

            Regarding “Little Englander”: once again, you are welcome to your opinion (even though it’s wrong), and the alternative view I would propose is that is a sure sign that I have a better grasp of idiomatic English than you…

          • Democratic governments working together is not legitimate. I see.

            Well, have fun with your internal world, then.

          • Anonymous

            You presumably agree that the NHS change is democratic, then – it wasn’t in the manifesto but they are democratically elected, which apparently is all they need.

            Odd logic.

          • And what does internal politics have to do with international cooperation? Nothing. You’re simply moving the goalposts because you can’t admit you were wrong.

          • Anonymous

            It took you 2 days to come back with this nonsense?  Pathetic.  You have failed the Turing Test: move on.

          • Take it up with the site owner, I’d prefer NOT to use the name I used on a Total Annihilation gaming site some years ago, but that’s the Disqus login it’s given me with no other options. You’re simply trolling because you can, Tory.

    • Anonymous

      We can’t avoid a fight with the right whatever the circs regarding the EU.

      The EU at the moment, as it is presently constructed and organised, is a hindrance to progressive social policy because it insists, amongst many other regressive things,  that public assets be sold off. That’s the right’s policy.

  • Wow, good balanced article.

    ‘The left needs to find its voice’ full-stop. Not just on the EU.

  • Fine – but the difference is that we start from the position that European co-operation is essentially a good thing. So, our reforms would stress the social value of Europe, and start from a position of wanting to remain members. In other words, Euro-positive, not Euro-sceptic.

  • David Wilkinson, there is a broad bi-partisan consensus that IS against the EU – The last few question times in such right wing hotbeds as Glasgow and Liverpool have all seen the idea of the referendum on the EU cheered to the rafters by the audiences – 51% of Labour voters want a referendum on in or out but as per usual the argument of the socialist elite is that people are just too stupid to understand. Has it occured to you that the British people do understand and conclude that they want out? Labour voters, Tory voters, Daily Mail and Daily Mirror readers.

    • Sm

      And that is exactly the problem in the past week or so we have had the most ludicrous suggestions; everything from the rather arrogant “you just can’t trust the public with this kind of decision” to the highly debatable “the press and polls are all rightwing eurosceptics and in reality no one but the far right is interested in a referendum” to the faintly ridiculous “if we ever left the EU no one would want to trade with us anymore and we might end up at war with someone in europe in the future”. It about time there was a proper debate on the pros and cons of EU membership and the realistic options rather than just misinformed scaremongering and propaganda from either side.

    • Anonymous

      ‘The socialist elite ? The top of the EU doesn’t contain a single socialist, in business, politics, media or anything.

      That’s all in your head. The rest of it I agree with, though.

    • So people going to anti-EU ralleys don’t like the EU. SHOCKER.

  • derek

    Yes, those EEC days? old monies to new monies shilling/decimal pence.
    Imperial measures to metric. Are there really those who would go back to old monies and old measurements?

    I think we’ve missed a wonderful opportunity to shape the EU and it’s competition rules.

    I think I’ve said it somewhere before? if the Euro goes down the swannie, then China will consume us all  alot faster.   

  • Anonymous

    Obviously there’s much that’s wrong with the EU as it’s constituted at present. My understanding is that it was started to create some unity among the European nation-states  with the purpose of avoiding another of the senseless, extremely bloody conflicts that had occurred so many times over the centuries. Obviously the 2 major wars of the 20th century had been horrific.

    At the very least, the EU members have avoided armed conflicts among themselves for the past 50 years, and (to my knowledge) there haven’t even been any overt hostilities that could have resulted in war. That alone seems a very good argument for fixing rather than scrapping the current structure.

  • Anonymous

    “The EU is seen as that perennial obsession of the Tory right-wing fringes: the sort of issue that excites only bigoted, Daily-Mail-reading Little Englanders who peer suspiciously out of velvet curtains to rant about gay gypsies scrounging off Incapacity Benefit”

    A perfect example of how utterly out of touch Labour is with huge parts of the country; rural areas have been opposed to the EU for a very long time. CAP and the EU fishing policy has seen to that. This is not an irrational, hard right matter, it is a matter of real concern for many rural people. 

    I am glad however that at last someone on the Left has admitted the extraordinary democratic deficit that the EU is. This will only get worse. No wonder the Russians are pissing themselves laughing at us – 2 years after we all pranced about hailing the fall of the Eastern Bloc, Europe is turning itself into another Soviet Union, controlled by a vast and impenetrable and ever-growing and ever greedy (5% budget increase for next year) Comintern. 

    • Anonymous

      Many on ‘the left’ have been arguing this since the early 70s. Just because we are continually ignored doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

      Read the Morning Star for example – it is the official paper of the Labour party according to a conference resolution adopted in the 70s. You will find little pro-EU in that. Of course most of the now tiny remnant of the formerly strong Labour left all still oppose the EU as it is currenlty constituted.

      If you really want an effective coalition against the EU, then stop hectoring those whose views you ignore. Many already agree and always have done.

      • Anonymous

        Fair enough – tho’ I have to point out, that down here in the South West, we don’t pay much attention to Labour, and never have done. As you will see from the number of Labour constituencies in the West Country – we don’t like Labour, and certainly don’t trust Labour. 

        There will never be any oppo to the EU from the main parties. That was made clear the other day. So it will require another party to form an effective coalition. However, it may well come down to civil disobedience in the end, as what the EU is amassing to grind you and I into the dirt is unbelievable. You know of the EU Gendarmerie, I am sure? Are you aware of the Indect mass monitoring programme. Check that out. 

        • Anonymous

          Civil disobedience  over the EU,  you must be joking look at the people they are watching cuts, lower wages and reforms nobody asked for, do you see anyone  out on the street, well Ok St Paul’s.

          In my area people know without EU money we be a dam sight worse off.

          • Anonymous

            How much of that ‘EU money’ is just British taxpayers money being sent back to the UK?

          • Anonymous

            It’s not only Wales that get this extra funding Scotland  and many parts of England get it, if you have deprivation you get funding.

            I suspect this will now be cut as the EU looks to bail out countries who have lived well beyond their means.

          • Anonymous

            Again, how much of this EU funding is just UK money coming back in a blue flag with stars on it?

            I seemed to remember tensions over regional funding when the EU expanded. Nations used to getting huge amount of French, German and British money suddenly were told they would get less  as the newer members were poorer.

          • Anonymous

            I do not know if it’s English money  coming back or German or French, it was pretty obvious we’d not get the extra help although I will admit the Welsh Assembly Helped them selves to it and had to pay a chunk back as it was not meant to build the Assembly or buy buildings to knock down because of the View or build a water park.

            But in my small neck of the woods the funding has built homes, built and repaired roads and rail.

            I do not care if the money came from Italy.

          • Anonymous

            Considering how much the UK pays to the EU there is surely a good chance this is just UK cash with the EU taking credit. And a cut for bureaucracy and admin overheads of course as well as expenses and pensions.

            “In total since 1979, Britain has paid in about €260 billion (£228 billion). It has received back  in benefits just €163 billion (£143 billion). The difference of €97 billion (£85 billion at today’s exchange rate) has been Britain’s subsidy to the European project.”
            Read more:

            Do you see the point? This may not be ‘EU money’ but UK money with a wig.

        • Anonymous

          I wonder why you are on a Labour site if you pay no attention to the party.

          I am also in the South West and am aware that I am not the only socialist, by a long shot.

          You can only speak for yourself, surely, not an entire region populated by millions of individuals you mostly don’t know.

          • Anonymous

            Always like to see what the enemy are thinking. I do not speak for myself. What is it? 5? 6? Labour seats in the South West? Frome and Somerton, Labour got about 4% of the vote, and certainly didn’t even bother doorstepping where I live. The fact is that Blair broke Labour, and Brown broke the country. A little peace and quiet from y’all for a while would be most meet. 


          • Anonymous

            Please stop trolling the site. Comment on topic, by all means, but this sort of behaviour is just childish.

  • @george_mich You don’t think that the lack of conflicts within Europe for the last 60 years was anything to do with 45 of those years being a stand off between the Warsaw Pact and NATO then? With the guarantee of total destruction of both sides if a conflict did occur? I note that the one major war there has been in Europe – Yugoslavia, began after that threat faded away, but no I guess you are right it was the EU preventing any potential conflicts not 2 million Soviet soldiers in East Germany.

    • Anonymous

      My point was that there haven’t been any armed conflicts between EU member states; Yugoslavia never was a member state. With regard to the Warsaw Pact armies, it’s speculative to say that they might have prevented any conflicts between Western European states that didn’t involve the Warsaw Pact, and there have been no hostilities between the EU member states since the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact/Soviet Union.

      The facts are: 1) there have been numerous wars between the states that are now EU members; 2) the last two such wars were catastrophic; 3) military technology is now far more lethal than ever; 4) there have been no wars between any EU member states since its inception.

      I doubt the wisdom of returning to the pre-EU days. 

      • Peter Barnard

        @ george_mich,@JeremyPoynton:disqus 

        “I doubt the wisdom of returning to the pre-EU days.”

        I share your doubts, George.

        For the first time in the history of Europe, there are twenty-seven nations and five hundred million people for whom, “when difficulties emerge,” war is not an option.

        That’s the achievment of the entity and the vision that was founded by Jean Monnet, Paul-Henri Spaak and Robert Schuman on 18 April, 1951.

        We ignore the lessons of history at our peril.

        • derek

          @Peter Barnard, you seem to have snatched the words from Merkels mouth quote”If the Euro fails, Europe fails” and we all know what that means, never again? just became never say never again.

      • Anonymous

        The lack of war in Europe has more to do with the USSR and the USA than the EU.  Atomic weapons, threats of invasion, millions of troops – these are what kept the peace for decades.  

        After the collapse of the USSR what was already ‘Europe’ then moved closer together, but always in the shadow of the Cold War enforced peace which gave it the room and reason to start.

        • Peter Barnard

          @ Konrad Baxter,
          The US military kept the tanks of Russia from rolling across the plains of Europe.

          The original “six” came together with the intent of “never again” in Western Europe as Derek Barker refers to above, especially so between Franc and Prussian.

          The US was also an enthusiastic supporter of the Coal and Steel Community and all that followed.

          • Anonymous

            As I said, the military powers of the USA and USSR were what stopped war in Europe after WW Two. What the EU / EC / EEC et al did was always in the shadow and security of that for decades.

            Of course the USA supported the ECSC, they wanted to rearm West Germany and get her economy working again to show that the USSR was not an economic paradise and powerhouse. 

            The USA would also like to pick up one phone to talk to ‘Europe’

          • Anonymous

            I think your talking wars games, the countries which would start a war would be the USA, not the EU, Italy German and France were invaded twice in a hundred years, I think none of the EU would want that to happen again, the people might object and flee across what is open boarders to the UK. Any way it’s Oil right now which gets the yanks and the UK worked up

          • Anonymous

            There is simply no point in Germany trying to take over France and enslave its people.

            German capital can do that without an army.

          • Anonymous

            No wars then

          • Anonymous

            I doubt it.

            None of the competing ruling classes would want to jeopardise the free movement of their wealth.

            That, and maintaining it all in current hands, is the main empahsis of politics.

          • Anonymous

            That’s not right. NATO wargaming showed that it wasn’t possible to stop a Soviet invasion and that was never the plan. It was to hinder an invasion while the USA prepared the nukes.

            The cold war’s history has yet to be properly written, but one thing that should be borne in mind is that it was NATO, not the SU, that had a ‘first use’ policy for nukes and that the SU never had any intention of invading western Europe.

          • GuyM

            No, they were too busy repressing millions of people in eastern Europe.

            Those Soviets were charming chaps really, all the freedoms, high standards of living, no state brutality at all.

            Communism was just so good, one wonders why they all gave it up once they had the chance?

    • Why does it have to be either/or between NATO and the EU? Indeed, the soft power of EU accession, with its emphasis on civil rights, democratic protection aswell as economic reform has transformed the countries of Eastern and Central Europe I regularly visit. When it came to Serbia, desire for EU membership is precisely what drove that country to democratic reforms and to hand over Milosevic, Mladic and Karadzic. 

      As Peter B points out below, countries which benefit from trading with each other are much more unlikely to go to war. NATO might have frame the precondition for security, but the EU actually created the economic ties. 

      • Anonymous

        War comes from crisis in capitalism, not trading relationships. If two trading countries develop an unbalanced trading relationship, as is natural in capitalism, it can lead to tensions. We can see this now, as Greece and Germany’s trading relationships have led to Mrs Merkel reminding us that war was not impossible as a result.

        Let’s deal with reality, not abstract assumptions about things. Wars happen to defend financial and industrial interests, to extend political power and to gain natural resources. None of those imperatives have gone away because of the EU, they have just been chanelled and formalised.

        But that was during the relative good times. Now it is completely different as each state seeks to protect its own national capital formulations at the expense of every one elses’.

    • GuyM

      No war in Europe was almost totally down to Nato, a military alliance with a basic policy of an attack on one is an attack on all, along with  the stationing of hundreds of thousands of American and other Nato troops in Western Europe.

      The notion that an Iron and Coal trading agreement (we didn’t even get a free trade area until much much later) and not a military alliance prevented the Soviet Union marching in, or small inter country disputes turning nasty is just dumb propaganda from the Europhiles.

  • As a bigoted, insular nationalist who is frequently critical of the EU; I salute this new found appreciation that legitimacy in indirect democracy is a product of its representation of, and accountability to, its polity.

    Congratulations comrades, Labour may yet dodge that Iceberg (hereafter to be known as “Electoral Irrelevance”).

  • Anonymous

    Great article – I think it will get easier to build a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with the rest of the EU as the vision and principles of the left come into clearer focus. I’m thinking……

    Move to a much more egalitarian and meritocratic social model
    Taxation of land and property to break up inefficient accumulations and supply new entrepreneurs and the actual wealth producers with lowest cost access
    Move to an equal opportunities education model to unleash talent and remove privilege
    Shift taxes to reward British Manufacturing and away from trading that undermines a high skilled wealth producing economy.
    Tell the money lenders they’ve had their pound of flesh and it’s time they did some real work.


    • Anonymous

      “Tell the money lenders they’ve had their pound of flesh and it’s time they did some real work”.What does this mean? Sending them to the communal farm or the salt mines?

      • DaveCitizen

        I guess if we are short of salt or food they may be able to be of use there. Like the rest of us in difficult times, they’ll need to do something productive.

    • Anonymous

      Hi Dave- did you see that discussion between an academic on the culture of global banking practices and ex trader N.Leeson last night on N’Night?

      Really scary stuff.

      The “gist” seemed to be about an historic lack of regulation and scrutiny; governments not getting ahead of the curve, and being in awe of the power of these institutions.

      All going against what is in the public interest, and we, the punters having to pick up the pieces.

      It was a good piece, and hilighted the aspect of “trust” of banks in a golden era compared to the apparent “free for all” kick started in the 80’s onwards, and the obvious show of conspicuous wealth for a few traders.

      I’m still amazed that governments seem to shy away from robust regulation of the whole industry, and yet public sector workers, for example are seen as legitimate targets for draconian cuts to jobs, pensions and services.

      The lack of balance and inconsistency is staggering.


      • Anonymous

        I don’t think the Robin Hood Tax can be described as a ‘small, simple measure’ given that it would seem to need to implemented worldwide to avoid the experience of Sweden which lost nearly 90% of trades and achieved about 5% of income from the tax. Wikipedia has more details.

        • Anonymous

          OK then, a simple and practical concept, which given some effort and commitment I believe could be easily implemented.

          I’m actually very suspicious of the collective resistance for this, from large and powerful financial institutions globally.

          It looks like they are trying to protect their own interests, and are worlds away from being accountable, transparent and acting in the public interest; paying their fair share.

          I believe it would just take some imaginative application to work out how could be implemented; after all, they are capable of innovation and cutting edge practices when it suits them.

          Cheers,  Jo.

        • Anonymous

          Yet on each and every one of these high frequency trades the traders have no difficulty identifying and separating their profits automatically.

          Why can’t this be done with a tax? It cannot be a technical reason.

          As for Sweden. It is not and does not try to be the leading financial centre in the world. It is not in the least bit comparable to the City of London which is the world’s leading trading centre. Obviously the difference is that the vast majority of traders prefer to work and live in London than Stokholm.

          Why don’t we give it a try? If only a few leave, they will be worth losing. If they all go, well, that wouldn’t be so bad, would it? We could restart an industrially based economy and roll back the Thatcherite spivery.

          • Anonymous

            Technically (i.e. adding a percentage to each transaction ) isn’t the issue.

            There are a number of issues which are best summarised here


            It’s worth a read to understand some of the issues and the complexity involved. Just a couple of headline points:

            – the EU Commission identified that the majority of the burden of an FTT would fall on consumers i.e. the banks pass it on.

            – it’s probably illegal under EU law to implement this in one EU country, has to be them all.

            – the EU commission estimates a reduction in economic activity because of the FTT and substantial dislocation of banks etc to outside of the EU (assuming no FTT elsewhere). The overall impact of an FTT will be to reduce tax revenues.

          • Anonymous

            None of those objections apply only to this tax. They are used against all taxes by those who don’t want to pay their way.

            – The ‘consumers’ of high frequency trading at the margins are who exactly?

            – The tax needs to be levied in areas where there is high volume trading, not places where there isn’t.

            – It is no bad thing if there is less speculation. Let them go if they can’t make money in the real economy. They are no use.

          • Anonymous

            So – less tax revenues is OK then?

          •  My answer is always this – There should be no “roll backs” for HFT errors, if you don’t believe in a Tobin Tax then.

            If they end up doing something no Human would and screwing a massive company over, the response should be “tough”.

            At THAT point they immediately turn regulationist…

          • Sm

            Lol isn’t that a bit like saying “hay that guys bleeding to death, let’s see if it stops on it’s own. If not it’ll be fine just wait till all the bloods gone and fill him up with water instead”! Equally misguided anyway.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            Your views on financial transaction taxes appear to be constructed in the theoretical world, not the real world.  

            Some in the EU are proposing an EU-wide transaction tax.  That won’t happen as it requires under an EU law unanimity to set this up, and there are so far 4 EU countries who have said they will veto or not support the idea:  UK, Denmark, Poland and Slovakia.

            No nation imposing a transaction tax unilaterally would gain money.  Instead, they would lose revenue as financial providers move offshore.  Witness Sweden and Canada.

            60% of the EU’s financial transactions run through the City of London, with Frankfurt, Paris and Milan making up 30%, and other EU countries the final 10%.  If the UK does not impose a tax, but the Eurozone does, it would be to the UK’s net benefit when banks in Frankfurt, Paris and Milan offshore operations to the UK.

            The only way in which a transaction tax could work is with global agreement.  The US and China are strongly opposed, as is the UK.  According to the Economist magazine, those three make up 64% of global financial deals, and all three would gain nationally if other countries do set up such a system.

            Reality in this case is acting as a solid granite wall to your ideas.  Feel free to hit it at whatever speed you like.  Unlike the “unstoppable versus immovable” analogy, it would be like an “immovable versus wounded butterfly” outcome.

          •  Two-level tobin tax then. Punish trades to/from the countries and companies HQ’ed in those countries who don’t have one. Start with the Eurozone. Work outwards.

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            You have ignored reality.  We have a tory government who aren’t go to bring this tax in.  Even if we had a Labour government who enacted the policies you advance, it would be illegal under EU law.  And, back in the real world, nobody in the EU is going to introduce it either.  It doesn’t matter how many politicians talk about it, all of them are safe in the knowledge that it isn’t going to happen so it is safe for them to talk about it.  Like Ed Balls.

            Your “two level” prescription is mathematically and palpably rubbish, as real life and human behaviour would cut it off before it got going.Are you reality-based, or are you simply shouting nonsense into the darkness?  I appreciate that’s a warm feeling for most on the left.

          • Really? Gee, that would be why, if you’d actually read what I said rather than emoting over it, I was saying the EUROZONE could do. Fully legally.

            Your support of the Corperatist line at all costs is typically hard right. Reality never has a chance to establish itself anywhere near you in the first place.

            Oh, and toilets are for the warm feelings.

          • Sm

            Is this Leon? This whole line of argument is pretty pointless as it will simply never happen without international co operation which in turn will never happen.

  • John Forrest

    There is a need for a radical restructuring of the EU, and if it cannot be achieved then we should hold a referendum on continued membership – with the proviso that if we vote for withdrawal the government is empowered to call for a new looser and more democratic federation of European Nations who sign up to a written treaty that allows mutual cooperation within a minimum framework. driven by national governments and NGOs not centralised bureaucracies.

    If we want progressive legislation on workers rights, civil liberties, and basic human diginity we need to build a Labour Movement capable of delivering it.

    I also think we should be the ones calling for a British ‘Bill of Rights’ not the Tories who only want to use it as an excuse to scoop the decent stuff out of the European Convention.

    Practical steps we can take here and now?

    Work to build a genuinely and closely united European Labour Movement that plays an active role globally as well.

    Work to build a British Labour Movement that can put a decent, strong, and courageous Labour government in power.

  • Anonymous

    Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), Rosie Cooper
    (Lancashire West), Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North), Jon Cruddas
    (Dagenham & Rainham), John Cryer (Leyton & Wanstead), Ian
    Davidson (Glasgow South West), Natascha Engel (Derbyshire North East),
    Frank Field (Birkenhead), Roger Godsiff (Birmingham Hall Green), Kate
    Hoey (Vauxhall), Kelvin Hopkins (Luton North), Steve McCabe (Birmingham
    Selly Oak), John McDonnell (Hayes & Harlington), Austin Mitchell
    (Great Grimsby), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover), Andrew Smith (Oxford East),
    Graham Stringer (Blackley & Broughton), Gisela Stuart (Birmingham
    Edgbaston), Mike Wood (Batley & Spen)

    A few real lefties on that lot.

    They voted with the Tories.

  • I’d also argue that while the EU may on balance have been good for the UK, the UK has been catastrophic for the EU with first the Tories and then the Blairites taking the lead in introducing the alien poison of neoliberalism into Europe.

    So on purely utilitarian grounds I used to support not British withdrawal but our expulsion from the EU as we were clearly not fit to share a federal union with proper social and christian democrats. 

    But now that the EU has expanded way beyond any rational ability to integrate ever more disparate nations into itself we’re no longer the only bad apple poisoning the barrel.  

    • Anonymous

      But we didn’t join for a ‘federal union’, were not told that was what was wanted and don’t want that daydream.

      The mass expansion of the EU certainly has made deeper integration far harder in many ways.  

      • Now you get it Konrad

        British interests mean that we have to be involved in Continental Europe (see the last 500 years of history) but to avoid any one state dominating. From Napoleon until WWI it was ‘balance of powers’ game, making sure that France/Germany/Austria/Russia were always pitted against each other. Then it was the Cold War balancing act, and after 1989, widening Europe to make sure there was no Franco-German domination.

        With the host of accession countries, we’d done a good job. The failure of the Euro means that deepening will not happen for the foreseeable future. 

        We’ve won. 

        Let’s stop carping about withdrawal now. We look stupid and irrational 

        • Anonymous

          I’ve always ‘got it’ thanks.

          If all parties had been honest about the European project we’d be in a different boat. Sadly none have been. Blair had a great opportunity but lost it.

          There is still and always will be Franco-German domination. It is a top table of two and there are no more chairs.

          So as the Euro has failed (your words) we should stay in the club no matter what the economic and financial costs? Interesting point of view.

          The people – you know them, the voters – seem to want to have a say on the issue and keep carping on about this.  It’s not a major concern like health or jobs but it is still a concern that does not go away and saying ‘there will never be a debate, shut up you xenophobic lot’ does nothing to advance the European cause.  

        • Anonymous

          No, Peter, we haven’t won.

          This crisis is going to lead to a closer fiscal union, with nation states’s budgets subject to approval from the commission.

          In strategic terms, teh interests of the British ruling class have evidently switched from maintaining a balance of power in Europe to maintaining their ability to shift their wealth around the world freely.

          We have lost much more democracy and accountability to the freedom of capital than we have to the EU.

        •  On the contrary, we’re headed for a far more tightly integrated Eurozone, and the UK being one of the “outsiders”. You talk the good talk about inevitability of the Euro’s fall, ignoring the fact that it would turn us into another Greece if it DID happen, without it actually happening

          Roger’s right, we’re the dog who has been peeing into the corner.

          • Anonymous

            ignoring the fact that it would turn us into another Greece if it DID happen…

            You mean our weather would improve, and we’d start finding mosaics at the bottom of the garden?  Nice.

            For what it’s worth, here is my take on the likely knock on effects of the Euro collapsing:

            1. UK plc would suffer increased costs to change their systems to cope with rapidly fluctuating exchange rates across the continent, from which many would undoubtedly take significant losses.  Painful, but manageable for most large companies.  More damaging for smaller businesses.  Dreadful for the banks.
            2. Meanwhile EU trade partners would suffer as spooked foreign capital dries up and continent markets reduce in size: continental recession reduces order book for UK plc.
            3. Meanwhile the same “spooked” foreign capital, looking for safer havens, would be converted into, amongst other things, traditional “second tier” assets (amongst which GBP and CHF feature heavily), increasing the value of sterling relative to most world currencies, and reducing the competitiveness of UK plc further.  The speed with which Euro countries could re-establish their currencies would be critical here.
            4. The government and BoE, noting #3, would be forced to move quickly to devalue sterling either by promising “unlimited” action (like Switzerland did recently) or other fiscal measures.  How effective these would be against the wall of liquidity coming out of Europe is unclear.
            5. Knock on impacts would then depend much on the effectiveness of #4: if successful, then UK gov would lead significant trade-based diplomacy missions to expand UK plc’s markets within individual “safe” post-EU countries but more heavily outside the EU: Africa would be a likely candidate given the potential for growth there.  If unsuccessful, we enter an horrific spiral of stagflation requiring such unpleasant effects as massively increased unemployment until the markets become convinced that we are dead broke, allowing us to devalue our increased debts and start over…

          • If it collapses we get a massive recession and quite likely end up as thoroughly third-world. We cannot take ANY shocks thanks to austerity, and trying to convince yourself that we’d not be screwed if the city left the UK is amusing but unrealistic.

            The Greeks are probably in a better position, yes, because nobody will bail the UK out. It’s thoroughly unlikeable and has no friends. Because of how it behaves.

          • Anonymous

            Re: the first sentence – clearly you have never been to the third world, otherwise you would see how offensive that is.  However I can assure you that overnight our roads would not unseal and our rural areas would not unelectrify.

            Re: your second sentence – your translation algorithm appears to be malfunctioning, since that’s is not what I say.  Please re-read and come back to me.

            Re: your final sentence – well gosh, since you have no interest in the UK, it is surprising you want to play such an active interest in her politics.  I recommend a firmware upgrade.

          • It’s called reality. We’re *screwed*. They’re digging up roads in America, soon here, and power is becoming far too expensive for the poor.

            And it’s PRECISELY what you said. 

            Thanks for saying I’m not British though, that’s entirely typical of your kind.

          • Anonymous

            Nice try, but I never said you weren’t British, I simply observed your apparent hatred for the UK.

            Meanwhile, riddle me this:

            “For what it’s worth, here is my take on the likely knock on effects of the Euro collapsing:

            “1. UK plc would suffer…
            “If [government attempt to avoid further pain are] unsuccessful, we enter an horrific spiral of stagflation requiring
            such unpleasant effects as massively increased unemployment…”


            “[That you are]…trying to convince yourself that we’d not be screwed if the city left the UK is amusing but unrealistic”

            “…it’s PRECISELY what you said.”

            Please can you parse these two apparently completely unrelated sentences for me???

          •  Not only did you say I’m not British, now you’re making out being realistic is hating this country.

            And if you want riddles, shops sell books of them cheap. I’m interested in reality, not your mind-games.

            That’s all that’s going on here, as usual. Denial, etc.

          • Anonymous

            My words are unchanged above: if you could provide me with any quotations which support your laughable assertions, I would have a modicum of respect for your views?  As it is I see you as an odd trolling character, and I see no reason to engage with you further.

    • GuyM

      Very happy to never be in any “federal union” with any of Europe thanks

  • If the Euro fails, the EU falls and we’ll be seeing things which make China (which has economic issues of it’s own) look like a casual daydream, in terms of problems.

  • derek

    Because of Cameron and Osborne’s negativity to engage in the bail out process of Europe, it now looks like Britain will be lumped with a debt trade deficit for twice as long as Europe?

  • Meg

    I am on the left myself, and was completely unaware that we dismissed all critics of the EU as bigoted, insular nationalists. I was under the impression that the left are as critical of the EU as the right, only in different ways. Have you read any on Maurice Glasman’s stuff?

  • Anonymous

    I agree that ‘the left’ generally must change its message on the EU, not because it is tactically helpful, but because it is absolutely right.

    Jacque Delors did a salesman’s job at the TUC who were desperate to believe what he said to them.

    The trouble is, that over 20 years later we are still tied up in laws with some of the worst employment rights in the EU, if not the worst. The EU/TUC/Labour policy has not worked in workers’ interests. This loss of rights, combined with harsh and inflexible welfare policy, has made life miserable for low-paid and vulnerable workers. They can be sacked without good reason and then thrown into chaos in an unfriendly and complacent benefits system. We should be fighting that and if that means taking the fight to the unaccountable law-makers, then so be it.

    We need to reclain national sovereignty as a means of reclaiming the power of democracy and the state. What good is a state that abnegates its right to legislate? What good is a democracy that cannot hold the real legislators to account? What hope for social progress when the distant, unaccountable law-makers are all ideologically committed to the free market right?

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  • Anonymous

    Excellent article Owen.

    I wasn’t aware there was so much dissent over ties with Europe historically on the Left? 

    I think we need voices from all sides of the debate, not simply “for or against.”
    Pragmatism and realism; even non partisan approaches.

    I agree the current backlash from Tory backbenchers appears regressive and being argued along the wrong lines; it comes across more as “anti Europe” and advocating  “little Englanders”
    and isolationist position. It’s a knee jerk reaction which seems to feed into
    the type of prejudice we read in the right wing tabloids, and along the lines of the TP movement.

    I think the Left need to take up the mantle on many issues, not just this.

    We are allowing the neo liberal conservatives to set the agenda in simply reacting to everything.

    The party needs to make a fresh start and reshape its arguments/identity.


  • Anonymous

    There was also a piece written by S.Richards in the Indy,
    of which I only saw the opening paragraph as skimming through.

    The implication of title though was that the recent rebellion
    was not so much about the European issue, as underlying dynamics
    within the party, and within the coalition set up/balance of power?

    Perhaps more about tensions with the leadership.

    But it does reveal much also about some of the “unreconstructed” Tories,
    who we saw and heard so much from during the 80’s and 90’s- a bit like deja vous!

    Maybe a warning signal to anyone planning to vote Tory at the next election….

    • You make a valid point, Jo.  I wonder, however, whether there is a slight danger to Labour on the flip side of that coin: being seen as a united pro-EU integration party could turn an election into the referendum the public never had, and current polls (whether they are accurate or not being another question entirely) suggest that this could damage our electoral hopes significantly…

  • David Lindsay

    Calling the referendum “a device of demagogues and dictators” was Thatcher’s only ever favourable quotation of a Labour Prime Minister. Yet to those who worship at Thatcher’s altar while wholly ignoring her record on this and so much else, the demand for that deeply flawed and wholly foreign device has become a nervous tick. They honestly cannot see how Pythonesque it is to demand a referendum in the cause of defending parliamentary sovereignty. The Lisbon Treaty is self-amending, so there can never be another treaty. What is needed is an amendment suggesting legislation with five simple clauses.

    First, the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and its use to repatriate agricultural policy and to restore our historic fishing rights in accordance with international law. Secondly, the requirement that, in order to have any effect in the United Kingdom, all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them. Thirdly, the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard. Fourthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights (or of the Supreme Court) unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons.

    And fifthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons. Thus, we would no longer subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, neoconservatives such as now run France and Germany, people who believe the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, or Dutch ultra-Calvinists who will not have women candidates. Soon to be joined by Turkey’s Islamists, secular ultranationalists, and violent Kurdish Marxist separatists.

    This calls for a Labour three-line whip in favour of it and the public warning that the Whip would be withdrawn from any remaining Blairite ultra who failed to comply. The Liberal Democrats set great store by decentralisation, transparency and democracy, and they represent many areas badly affected by the Common Fisheries Policy. The Liberals were staunch free traders who were as opposed the Soviet Bloc as they were to Far Right regimes in Latin America and Southern Africa, while the SDP’s reasons for secession from Labour included both calls for protectionism and the rise of antidemocratic extremism. (Both the Liberal Party and, on a much smaller scale, the SDP still exist, and both are now highly critical of the EU.)

    The SDLP takes the Labour Whip, the Alliance Party is allied to the Lib Dems, the Greens are staunchly anti-EU, so is the DUP, and the one other Unionist is close to Labour. The SNP and Plaid Cymru can hardly believe in independence for Scotland, greater autonomy for Wales, yet vote against the return to Westminster of the powers that they wish to transfer thence to Edinburgh or Cardiff; the SNP also has the fishing issue to consider. Even any remaining Conservatives who wanted to certify the European People’s Party as politically acceptable might be brought on board.

    Leaving those fabled creatures, backbench Tory Eurosceptics. It is high time that their bluff was called. This is how to do it.

    Ed Miliband, over to you.

  • Anonymous

    Is that meant to be a response to what I wrote?

    I was somewhat involved with Nato wargaming, though I can’t be specific, of course.

  • So basically withdrawing from the EU, telling them they’re inferior Humans and spitting in their face repeatedly.  Sure, that’s going to help when we crawl back and ask for free trade zone access after the economic collapse.

    Typical Little Englander xenophobia, the members of who ignoring the echo of their calls in the far-right movements across the world.

    • Anonymous

      This kind of hilarious reply is why the debate on the EU is so crippled.

      • Yes, absolutely, your kind of fear-driven isolationism is the problem and always has been.

  • Ah yes, America then.

  • Owem

  • derek

    Heavens above! Cameron has put us all behind the black-ball in Europe and now seems hell bent on the restoration of some kind of Imperial Britain.

    It really was comical watching his speech from Australia, everything the man touches turns to stone.

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  • David Ellis

    If there was a referendum, and the left should not oppose such a thing (can’t believe New Labour propped up this coalition by voting for Cameron’s three line whip), the left would be obliged to vote for withdrawal because the founding and other fundamental treaties of the EU make socialism basically illegal. Of course, unlike the little englanders of the tory party or the social chauvinists in the labour movement we are not in principle opposed to the EU but we do want the EU to be renegotiated in accordance with socialist principles of co-operation and economic planning as opposed to mutual ruination and capitalist anarchy which currently underpins this alliance. Not No 2 EU but Yes to a Socialist EU.

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  • Really. So the Eurozone dosn’t cooperate. Nice to know you’re still detached from reality.

    And I’m Newsbot 9.

  • “Please Log In”

    Non-pay walled article?

  • I support a federal Europe and the dissolution of the notion of the nation-state.  But I accept that this a long term goal.

    In the meantime, I will support almost any institution that will keep the peace in Europe.  It could be argued that the cold war played a role in the general peace in Europe since 1945, but in fact I think the EU and it’s earlier versions have been the more important cause. (And yes, I know about ETA, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo – for all that the last 66 years have been an almost miraculous achievement).

    If the EU were to fall, we would be back to a nation-state system, and that would lead to renewed war – i.e. the usual state of Europe for the past 1500 years.

    I am all for make the EU more accountable and democratic, but in the meantime analyses on the left which ignore the most fundamental achievement of the EU – peace – mean nothing to me.

    • Peter Jukes

      Thanks Paul. You’ve expressed my sentiments better than I have

      Peter Jukes

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  • This comment has nothing to do with the EU.  It is about the mechanics of the discussion software now used by LabourList.

    This article is still rated as one of the most “popular” even though there has been no additional comment for a week, and most of the comments were two weeks ago.

    I admit there were some problems with the old system, but seriously, does anyone find the Disqus version better?
    As far as I can see, apart from the ease of logging in if you have a Facebook account, there are fewer comments, and fewer reasons to engage.

    This is an upgrade which is in fact a degradation.

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