Wednesday, 3 February 2016

The Left's Irrelevance in the EU Referendum

Nobody seems to like David Cameron's proposals for staying in Europe. For once the Tory leadership is getting a bit of a hard time from the press, which is nice. But Cameron's position is, in deed if not in word, clear enough: he wants Britain to remain no matter what.

That is more concise than the Left's position, which is slowly congealing, from centre to radical fringe, around remaining in the EU. The British Left has, in its typically storied way, come to the same conclusions as Cameron, though from very different principles and with the usual array of caveats. 

The radical and socialist Left, such as it is, has always disliked the EU. But it has always disliked the Eurosceptic Tory right more. Needless to say, it reserves a special hatred for Ukip. Although the EU is anti-democratic (after all, it's an accumulation of trade deals with an admin structure plonked on top, not a convincing model for a state-like government), it is less onerous in practice than the thuggish Victoriana envisioned by British free marketeers as its substitute. 

The Left's argument on the referendum is complex and full of qualifications. It opts for the better of two terrible options without offering an immediate alternative. I know this very well, because it's a position I share. It takes just a little too long - too long for snappy sound bites - to explain that, while the EU is anti-democratic, its disintegration could summon far darker forces. The only thing worse than financial globalisation is cut-throat global competition. Any old Leninist can tell you how that worked out last time: inter-imperial competition created conditions that led to a cycle of unprecedented violence from the 1910s to the 1940s.

Of course, we want a social Europe. But a government of the Left is at least four years away in Britain (likely far more) and unforeseeable in the likes of Germany. And you can't reform the EU through street demos. Which means we are probably doomed to irrelevance. Liberalism and nationalism will carve up the debate between them.