• A New Start for Britain and for Europe

    For over 45 years, and based on my early involvement with the issue in the Foreign Office, I have contested the issue of Britain’s membership of what was the Common Market and then grew into the EU, and I have always been on the losing side.  It could be argued that my own political career, and my bid to lead the Labour Party, were adversely affected by what was often seen as an odd aberration.   I argued over this whole period that the EU is not Europe and that the actual and very particular arrangement we were offered was not only inimical to Britain’s interests but was not the way to build a better and more lasting European cooperation and identity.

    It is amazing and wonderful that ordinary people have at this late stage – after 43 years of membership – refused to be bullied and patronised by their supposed betters, by so-called experts and powerful financial interests, into betraying their own experience and judgment.  The result is a new start for both Britain and Europe and a new and better prospect for both.

    It is important now, for the left in British politics, that all those good and decent people on the left who wanted to stay in the EU accept that there always was an equally good and decent argument on the left for leaving.   That argument received virtually no coverage during the referendum campaign, and was submerged in the insistence in much of the media and in the mouths of our leaders that the decision was essentially a contest between a disreputably racist focus on immigration and the superior moral and rational perspective of the people who naturally knew better and whose views had always prevailed.

    But we should have taken, and did take, courage from the lessons of experience.  Similar arguments led us to join the European Monetary System, which proved disastrous, and were then repeated in respect of the euro.  Most people in Britain will offer daily thanks that we had the courage to reject those arguments and to stay out of the euro, and there is no reason to suppose that they should have had any greater weight now.  Our trading partners in Europe need us at least as much as we are said to need them, as post-Brexit negotiations will surely demonstrate.

    In any case, a decision in favour of Brexit does not mean, as is so often alleged, turning our backs on Europe.  It will signal instead the opening of a new agenda, aimed at developing a better and more constructive Europe, and one with a greater chance of success.

    A new Europe would not operate, as it has done since its inception, as a living manifestation of free-market capitalism, serving the interests of big business rather than those of ordinary people.  It would not impose a policy of austerity in thrall to neo-classical economic doctrine.  It would not run a hugely diverse economy in terms of a monetary policy that suits Germany but no one else.  It would not impose a political structure decided by a small elite, but would allow the pace of cooperation and perhaps eventually integration to be decided by the people of Europe as they and we became more comfortable with the concept of a European identity.

    If we have the courage, we could, in other words, not only benefit ourselves but help the development of a Europe that truly does serve the people of Europe.  That is surely a project to attract even the most enlightened of bien pensants.

    The Labour party, in terms of domestic politics, has clearly missed a major opportunity.  Analysis of the voting pattern will surely show that a majority of Labour voters were in favour of leaving.  The Labour leadership had the chance, not only to reflect and lead that preference, rather than distance themselves from it, but also to place itself at the head of that majority who were fed up with the obvious, serious and growing deficiencies of the EU as a model for European integration.  Jeremy Corbyn has – through timidity rather than conviction – placed himself on the losing side and missed the chance to exploit the unavoidable blow to the authority of the Tory government that the Brexit decision represents.

    He took refuge in an argument for remaining that should surely have no place in the vocabulary of a Labour leader.  He urged Labour supporters to vote remain on the surprising ground that there were provisions, particularly concerning workers’ rights, that were beyond the reach of democratic change by an elected British government.  How odd that Labour should endorse the concept of government by an unelected European bureaucracy.  How much more constructive and politically astute if he had faithfully represented the views of Labour voters (and almost certainly his own personal preference) as a step towards a democratically elected Labour government that would have been the best protector of workers’ rights.

    For Labour voters, and for the majority of voters more generally, including all those who value our European role, there is a comforting aspect of the Brexit decision.  Where Britain now goes, others will follow.  For all those who want to see a better European future, that is an enticing prospect.

    Bryan Gould

    24 June 2016

     

     

     

     

     

6 Comments

  1. anonymous says: June 24, 2016 at 10:55 amReply

    Bryan, I am very much in a minority on the left concerning this question, but I absolutely agree with you. Well said. The challenge for Jeremy Corbyn now is to set out a policy platform that allow Labour to take advantage of the UK’s new-found independence from the neoliberal economic policies of the EU.

  2. Patricia says: June 24, 2016 at 11:02 pmReply

    I think it is the start of the end of globalisation with the successful Brexit vote. Scotland and Northern Ireland are talking about a referendum to leave Britain. Holland is talking of a referendum in that country. Hollande of France would be wise to call a referendum in order to quell the riots there. Spain has a general election on their Sunday. Italy’s left wing anti EU party is on the rise and Italy has elected one of that party to be Rome’s first woman Mayor and then we have Trump in America. The Brexit vote will certainly have helped him. Then there is poor Greece…. I am sure all the right wing Governments in the World will be looking over their shoulder. Oh we do so live in such interesting times. The English people must be very disappointed in their Labour Party though but isn’t that the same world wide? Most Labour parties through out the world seem to be National lite. Our Labour Party should use this vote to their advantage because I think the election next year is theirs to lose. And pigs might fly.

  3. sonyarus says: June 25, 2016 at 6:39 amReply

    Gosh at last a progressive left analysis! I was personally amazed and disappointed by the leaders such as Corbyn and Varoufakis who sided with the neo-liberal autocratic experiment that is the EU, at the expense of the sovereignty and democracy, of their own countries.

    Britain leaving EU is hardly going to be the coup de grace to the EU or to project globalisation under the hegemony of the USA. But it seems to me that by leaving the main gains for the British people will be to restore to them the possibility for fully independent and sovereign decision making in their own interests in the future. The democratic possibility of electing a progressive government espousing peoples politics, free of the neo-liberal tentacles of the EU hydra will be returned to the people.

    Also the fact that the big guns of the EU, and including Obama’s special trip to Britain, have weighed in with various threats should Britain leave, shows how global elites are reading a Brexit as inimical to their geopolitical control.

  4. Stephen Ferguson says: June 25, 2016 at 10:58 amReply

    I was an ‘in’ voter, but agree with much of this viewpoint.

    But now the UK is out, Labour must act very very boldly, and unite with ALL UK progressive parties otherwise, as Paul Mason argues, “..to stop the UK turning into a Thatcherite wasteland”…

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/25/britain-rainy-fascist-island-progrexit-brexit?CMP=share_btn_tw

    …Paul’s ‘ProgrExit’ plan…

    “What the UK’s progressive parties should do now. If you agree, spread the word.

    1. Force a general election within 6 months.

    2. Labour, the SNP/Plaid and Greens to make electoral pact to keep UKIP out and stop a right wing Tory government destroying progressive legislation

    3. Detailed Article 50 negotiations to be put on hold until new government in power

    4. A Labour/SNP/Plaid/Green coalition government to negotiate terms of Brexit, aiming to stay in EEA if possible but in all cases to retain progressive laws on consumer rights, environmental protection, workers rights etc.

    5. New government to call second Scottish referendum; with Devo Max on ballot and no-penalty arrangements for secession overseen by Treasury/BoE in case of Yes vote to independence.

    If you think this plan is worth doing, pass it on and force the leadership of your respective parties to stop finger-pointing and start fighting for a progressive outcome to the election and the Brexit negotiations.

    Paul Mason, journalist and film-maker (and Labour Party member)”

  5. John says: June 25, 2016 at 3:08 pmReply

    Thanks for a good calm and positive article. I think it’s fair to say many of us on the left who voted to leave have taken a pasting the past couple of days. It’s very welcome to read some positivity.

  6. Ross Clark says: June 27, 2016 at 10:18 amReply

    One important thing which the EU gave the British workforce, was the right to work as well as live elsewhere in Europe, and partly as a result there are at least 1.5m British nationals living in the rest of the EU. Will that extremely valuable benefit of EU membership be retained?