Britain is led today by deeply divided political parties. Our leaders have many policies, but no inspiring vision for Britain’s future – either within, or outside the EU. As President Roosevelt once famously said: “where there is no vision, the people perish”.
The peoples of the European Union do have a vision – the pursuit of peace and stability across the continent on the basis of European values (including the maintenance of welfare states) and unity. It is a commitment upheld despite immense suffering by, for example, the Greek people. It is a commitment rooted in the even larger costs of economic failure in the 1920s and 1930s; and in the uncountable human costs of the Second World War – a war still fresh in the memories of many Europeans.
However, where EU politicians and their peoples aimed at convergence, financial vultures have forced divergence. Where Europeans painstakingly built inter-governmental collaboration based on democratic governance and moderation, private wealth’s parasitic behaviour has fuelled anti-democratic fanaticism and bigotry.
Britain’s Left are wrong to abandon that vision of a peaceful and stable Europe; of inter-governmental collaboration based on democratic governance. Above all, the Left is wrong to cede power to private wealth and its determination to force divergence through the marketisation of society by self-adjusting and self-regulating markets; and to thereby destroy the European vision of unity, peace and stability based on welfare states.
Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Liam Fox, aided by the DUP, are leading the British people away from collaboration with European neighbours, and into a condition of abject subordination to American capital and right wing Republicanism.
The Lexiters of the Labour Party are colluding, unconsciously, in that strategy.
The Lexiters’ supposedly left wing strategy in favour of Brexit carries huge risks. First, many assume that the Left will benefit from Brexit. That may be wishful thinking. Despite the weakness of the Prime Minister and the absolute shambles that is the British cabinet, the Conservative vote is holding up. That signals danger. For if the Tories were to win the next General Election they would have five years in which to lock Britain out of Europe, and into harmful, long-lasting trade agreements. They would be given five years in which to complete their planned demolition of the welfare state and the privatisation of the NHS. To turn Britain into a vassal of the United States.
That would be a catastrophic outcome, and no one on the Left should be party to it.
If a Labour government were to win after Britain had exited the EU, the Lexiters’ risky strategy would not be counter-balanced by advantages. While Britain will get back some freedom with regard to e.g. State Aid, a Labour government would almost certainly face political isolation – from its European partners across the North Sea, and from Trumpism across the Atlantic.
Unless the Labour movement were to help build and strengthen Left forces in Europe, the future looks bleak for any future Labour government. What chance then of implementing ‘socialism in one country’ – an alternative economic strategy? How could a Left-wing Labour government single-handedly challenge the globalisation of domestic markets, or play a key role in building peace around the world, while isolated and weak?
To fulfil the Left’s own ambitions, to challenge the utopianism of globalisation, there is an urgent need to reach out and rebuild social democratic alliances with European partners.
There are signs (e.g. in Germany) that social democratic parties are waking up from their long sojourn in the house of ordoliberalism, and are newly alive to the deep structural flaws of the project that is globalisation. A project that both New Labour and many European Social Democratic parties signed up to, and for which complicity they have paid a heavy political price. Many Europeans look to the newly revitalised British Labour movement for leadership out of the deregulated, heavily indebted, low-paid, hugely unequal and insecure economic conditions suffered by millions. Conditions that have allowed those responsible for catastrophic economic failure to emerge triumphant after the 2007-9 Global Financial Crisis.
No doubt there are big challenges to face if the EU Treaties that embed ordoliberal policies are to be amended. But thanks to John Major and Gordon Brown, Britain is exempt from the excessive deficit rules, and would not adopt the Euro – under current arrangements. In other words, we would continue to benefit from these opt-outs, but only if we remained within the EU,
We clearly need longer to work through all these arguments, to correct the falsifications of Conservative ministers, and to mobilise the British people behind a more conciliatory and progressive relationship with European partners.
We need more time to present the British people with a vision of the future that reverses the marketization and monetisation of all aspects of life; that is socially just and ecologically secure; and that is based on upholding peace and solidarity with our neighbours.
That means a longer transitional period within the European Union is needed. A longer transition outside the EU would mean Britain never gets back on the same terms as we enjoy today.
By far the best strategy for the Labour leadership at this stage would be to request an extension to the Article 50 period – from the EU.
And if Parliament is not satisfied with the deal negotiated by the Tories and DUP, then Labour should follow John McDonnell’s lead, and give the British people a final say, via a referendum on the Brexit decision. It is only right to give young people that will face the future we create, a vision of a hopeful, peaceful and prosperous future, and a path towards that future. They deserve the right to endorse or oppose the Brexit deal.
According to ICM/Guardian poll in January, there is only one English region, Somerset, whose voters (by the narrowest of majorities) think that the British people should not have a chance to take a final decision. Every social class voted in favour of the proposition that the British people should have a choice – as did every age group. The 65s and over were the exception. Labour voters are overwhelmingly in favour of the public having a chance to take a final decision: by 63% – 19%. 29% of Tories agree and 55% of Tory Remainers want another referendum.
The British people are calling out for progressive leadership. Labour could lead the nation out of the chaos created by UKIP and the far Right of the Tory party. But only if Labour’s Lexiters face up to the risks they are taking with both their own party, and the nation’s future.