This week saw Corbyn come out publicly in favour of UK’s continued membership of the EU, much to the chagrin of many of his former comrades on the left of the Labour Party, who have consistently opposed the EU since before the UK’s accession into the Common Market back in 1973.
I actually understand Corbyn’s public ‘change of heart’ on the EU since becoming leader. It’s actually an oddly pragmatic strategy for someone as normally idealistic as he. Quite simply, he needs to keep the parliamentary Labour Party and the NEC on side or risk being ousted.
Moreover, while a good many people from the older middle class (still reeling from being deceived in 1973, as they see it) oppose continued membership of the EU, much of the younger middle class, despite being completely ignorant of the mechanics of the EU, will be Bremainers. This younger generation of the middle class will vote to remain in the EU, even if for no other reason than because they follow the old simplistic narrative which equates pro-EU with a pro-European, internationalist, modern, cosmopolitan outlook, and anti-EU sentiment as isolationist, nationalistic, or blind jingoistic sentiment; or more simply, because they see that the establishment and big business, with some exceptions, support continued EU membership and will therefore vote accordingly, without bothering to look into things for themselves.
That these people don’t see the effect or injustices in the real world consequences of an undemocratic, supranational, corrupt, and ineffective organisation at the beck and call of multinationals is down to their own ignorance, but ignorant or not, they still have a vote and, as responsible members of the middle class, most likely will vote, so their voice matters to the party they traditionally support, and by extension to Jeremy Corbyn, whose party’s support matters to him if he has any hope of gaining power over the country.
I’m sure that Corbyn’s true feelings are the ones he voiced prior to becoming leader, and those he shared with the likes of Tony Benn and Bob Crow, and I note his careful use of language in his ostensibly pro-remain speech on Thursday, saying “the Party believes…” rather than “I believe…”
But here’s what I find particularly bizarre and illogical about the stance of the UK’s Guardian-reading middle classes I constantly come up against…
So many of them genuinely believe that it will be easier to achieve a ‘social Europe’ in an organisation in which:
- Two thirds of the states within the organisation have right-of-centre governments.
- The majority of leaders of those states are right-of-centre politicians.
- All politicians in the Commission are unaccountable to the public via the ballot box and therefore have no motivation to please the public.
- The President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, is a right-of-centre politician from Luxembourg, who presided over Luxembourg’s transformation into a centre of corporate tax avoidance.
- MEPs have no legislative initiative, so even if the European Parliament were predominantly left-of-centre (it isn’t), it would still have no powers to advance new legislation.
- The UK government, whose Prime Minister speaks for the UK in the European Council is a right-of-centre politician.
- The ministers which represent the UK in the Council of Ministers are right-of-centre politicians.
- Brussels is crammed with big business lobby groups, all of whom have the ear of the Commission.
than it would be to do the following:
- Win a General Election in an independent UK, in which a left-of-centre government would be free to enact all kinds of ‘progressive’ legislation it is currently forbidden from doing through EU anti-competition laws.
Yes, apparently, regardless of all these factors, many on the left believe it would be easier to enact more progressive legislation in the UK through the medium of the EU by miraculously gaining a simultaneous majority of left-of-centre electoral victories across the 28 member states, having a majority of left-of-centre politicians appointed to the Commission, and a majority of left-of-centre MEPs in the European Parliament.
They tell me that they will vote to remain in the EU as a bulwark against the Tory government, because they fear what kind of legislation a Tory government in full, sovereign control would enact. That’s right: in their mind, it is better to have an unaccountable, supranational organisation trample over democracy–something which we have already seen in Greece and Italy.
I’m sure that they’re not motivated in the slightest by short-termism and that they’ve considered carefully what might happen if Corbyn gains power and then is prevented from enacting all kinds of his socialist ideals by the European Union. How deliciously ironic would that be?
It is futile to remind such people that any government which removed workers’ rights, most of which existed pre-UK accession to the Common Market, would not only face a mass backbench rebellion from MPs in their own party, in fear of their own constituents, and in all likelihood would consequently fail to get any such legislation through parliament; but at the very next General Election, any such government would be crushed through the ballot box by the British electorate, which has form in ousting governments which go a little too right-of-centre-y in the past.
But no. Much of the middle class Left will vote for a more largely right-of-centre, undemocratic organisation to make sure an elected, national right-of-centre government can’t be too right-of-centre.
The cliché goes that the Left is driven by idealism above pragmatism; that “if you’re not liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not conservative when you’re 35, you have no brain.”*
But that, right there, is some impressive self-delusion. Presumably, they must be happy with how well the EU has prevented the worst Tory ravages, as they see them, to date.
*The earliest known attribution of this phrase is to Prime Minister of France between 1847-1848, François Guizot: “Not to be a republican at 20 is proof of want of heart; to be one at 30 is proof of want of head.” It has been ‘localised’ according to its re-use over the years and is often falsely attributed to Churchill amongst others.