Ed Miliband should fight to take Britain out of the EU
Committing to a referendum on EU membership would be smart politics - and progressive
Ed Miliband has said it's important for the Labour party to listen to the people more if it is to regain power and topple the coalition at the next general election. But there’s one important issue on which the public are expressing their opinions loud and clear - and where Miliband and the Labour hierarchy are clearly not listening: Europe.
Earlier this year, a YouGov poll of 2,436 voters, ahead of the launch of the cross-party People’s Pledge campaign, found that 61 per cent wanted a referendum on Britain’s continued membership of the EU. Another poll, in December 2010, found almost 50 per cent of people in favour of withdrawal.
In March, the Daily Express delivered a petition to 10 Downing Street backed by 373,000 of the newspaper's readers calling for Britain to leave the EU. The Daily Mail is another mass circulation paper backing the call for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Yet a constituent who asked Miliband if he supported a referendum received the reply: "Mr Miliband does not believe that a referendum on UK membership of the EU is appropriate at this time."
By siding with the government on this issue, Miliband is making a colossal error.
Given the widespread and growing opposition to the EU in Britain, there are enormous political gains to be had for the first of the big three parties to break ranks and adopt an unequivocally Euro-sceptic position. And for Miliband, committing to an EU referendum wouldn't just be smart politics - it would also be promoting a progressive agenda.
While the Right claim that the EU is a sinister Soviet-style socialist bureaucracy, in fact it’s a body that no self-respecting socialist or social democrat should have anything to do with.
The EU has been imposing, regardless of public opinion, capital-friendly, neo-liberal policies on its member states and, in the name of 'increasing competition', prohibiting state subsidies and other forms of government intervention in the economy.
Although the right-wing case against Europe is the one we hear most often, the left-wing case - that the EU is an undemocratic block on socialism - is actually much stronger. These were the arguments that used to be made so eloquently by intelligent Labour Party opponents of the EEC/EU such as Tony Benn and the late Peter Shore, a former minister of trade in the 1970s and a strong supporter of a planned economy.
I corresponded with Shore when I was teaching economics in Switzerland in the early 1990s and he sent me lots of material on why a single European currency - and the moves towards greater economic integration within the EU - would only end in tears.
Shore was a man who knew what he was talking about; as his Times obituary stated, he was "one of the few MPs who had read all of the Rome and Maastricht treaties and could quote from them at will".
In a parliamentary debate on economic and monetary union in January 1991, Shore claimed, in relation to a EU Commission paper on monetary union, "Never in my life have I read a document that gave bankers more power over economic, national and Community life".
In a debate on the European Communities Bill in March 1993, the committed Keynesian drew attention to the "deflationary heart" of the Maastricht treaty. "The issues of democracy, prosperity and self-government in the nation states of Europe will not go away", he said in a letter to me in December of that year.
Everything that Peter Shore predicted about the impact of the Maastricht Treaty - how its inbuilt monetarist bias would lead to economic decline and mass unemployment throughout the continent - has come to pass.
But Labour, instead of following Shore's sagacious left-wing Euro-scepticism, has instead decided to support an organisation which puts the interests of the global financial and corporate elite above the interests of ordinary working people.
Miliband may be inhibited by a fear that he’ll be labeled a 'little Englander' by the Europhile establishment. But if he's smart he will set out a non-xenophobic, anti-EU case which is both patriotic and progressive, winning support of disillusioned Conservatives, potential UKIP voters and leftists alike.
What on earth is he waiting for? ·
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