I enjoyed yesterday our Left Unity meeting in York with Sam Fowles, from Another Europe is Possible, a new movement supporting Britain’s membership of the EU. I would like to express my enthusiasm for this initiative and share my most immediate reflections on the question of the forthcoming EU referendum in Britain:
Britain Stronger in Europe, the main pro-EU lobbying group, has designed an excellent product of political marketing that will convince many of the most conservative voters that Britain’s membership of the EU is a good thing. It touches upon 4 very relevant selling points for those voters in a very effective way.
However, despite the current advantage of the Yes in the surveys, their success is far from guaranteed. The Yes campaign may be persuasive but I think it is not motivating a sufficient number of people to actually set foot in the polling station. The emotional appeal of the different camps of the Yes campaign is not strong enough yet. There is not a brighter future to conquer by voting Yes, because we have been there already for four decades. There are no negative representations of Brexit as a looming reality for which we are utterly unprepared. No references to members of the establishment who would benefit from it. No antagonism. No enemy of the Nation. No anger. The passion, the dreams and the flags are still in the No side.
This lack of fire in the belly may be even worse amongst left-wing voters as they realise they are caught between a rock and a hard place. Their options are
a) To vote No, leave the EU and embark upon a very dodgy geopolitical adventure with Captain Murdoch, and Liu-Tenants Duncan Smith and Farage.
b) To vote Yes (boosting Cameron’s reputation as a State man) and endorse constitutionally an allegedly reformed EU that marginalises migrant workers and does not deal with the inherent democratic and social deficit of the EU and its members States. The outcome of an affirmative vote would be given some kind of “constitutional” value in the UK, as one-in-a-life time decision, preempting Britain’s involvement in any of the deep changes that the EU really needs.
c) To stay at home.
So how should the British Left go about supporting Britain’s membership and getting voters to actually turn up to the polling stations?
The British Left should defend UK membership as a crucial opportunity to contribute to the construction of a Europe of the People, as opposed to a Europe of the Corporations. Most of the economic, environmental, democratic and social challenges that we face in Britain cannot be tackled in isolation. They require, at least, European solutions because we live in a common physical space in which money, businesses, air and clouds will move with relative ease, whether we are part of the EU or not. No matter the colour of its Government, Britain would struggle outside the European Union to guarantee a prosperous future for its people because we would be set against the rest of Europe geopolitically and economically.
Additionally, the British Left has to engage far more actively and visibly at home and abroad with the political movements that demand, heroically, the democratisation of the EU and our economies, notably the anti-austerity movement and the pan-European radical democracy movement “Plan B for Europe”:
In relation to the latter, attention has to be paid to the specificity of Britain:
- The continental demands for a substantially more democratic Europe has a strong focus on the institutional architecture of the Single Currency, which we are not part of. The Plan B has its own dynamics, timing and agendas, as well as a combination of different national flavours and contexts.
- Britain will have a referendum soon and the Plan B discourse, highly critical with the EU institutions, may well backfire and detract support for the Yes vote amongst all types of voters.
Therefore any collaboration with the Plan B before the referendum must be carefully planned for it to be effective. The emphasis, in my view, has to be on radical democracy, generous activism, international unity, and our history of pan-European resistance to oppression and totalitarianism.