“I fell out of love with the EU, and so should you,” writes Mehdi Hassan in the current New Statesman. I hope Mehdi won’t demur when I describe him as a man of the firm Left: open-minded, curious, interested in new ideas, but in no doubt about where he sits on the political spectrum.
Mehdi is kind enough to give me some credit for having jolted him out of his “wild-eyed teenage Europhilia”, notably through the video below; but, of course, his conversion owes far more the euro crisis. I’ve observed a similar shift in other Leftist Euro-enthusiasts. At some stage in the past five years, they noticed that they had somehow ended on the side the Eurocrats preaching austerity from private jets rather than of the millions being thrown out of work by the single currency. As Mehdi puts it:
The Left across Europe has been seduced by the EU’s promise of workers’ rights – forgetting that you can’t enjoy those rights if you don’t have a job to begin with.
Mehdi, so far at any rate, is ahead of the pack. Most British Leftists still tend to give Brussels the benefit of the doubt. It’s not that they refuse to criticise the EU; but their starting assumption is that European integration is positive, and that opposition is small-minded.
In other words, they are not making a cost-benefit analysis but going with their hunch. Which is, in fairness, what most of us do on most questions most of the time. It would, after all, be hugely time-consuming to work out every issue from first principles. We tend, instead, to glance at who has lined up on which side, and sidle towards our habitual allies – and away from our customary opponents.
Thus, back in the 1970s, many Rightists were pushed towards the EEC because Tony Benn and Michael Foot were so vehement in their opposition. In the 1980s the poles reversed, and Leftists turned to Brussels when they saw Margaret Thatcher excoriating it.
In fact, the Bennite opposition, like the Thatcherite, was essentially parliamentary and constitutional, and should have appealed equally to Left, Right and Centre. Here, for example, is Benn’s diary entry from 18 June, 1974:
This huge Commission building in Brussels, in the shape of a cross, is absolutely un-British. I felt as if I were going as a slave to Rome; the whole relationship was wrong. Here was I, an elected man who could be removed, doing a job, and here were these people with more power than I had and no accountability to anybody. My visit confirmed in a practical way all my suspicions that this would be the decapitation of British democracy without any countervailing advantage.
I wouldn’t call that conservative Euroscepticism or socialist Euroscepticism; it’s democratic Euroscepticism. And it’s pretty hard to argue with it. But supporters of the EU, in my experience, are less comfortable defending the nuts and bolts of the Brussels system than attacking the people they imagine to be against it.
To be pro-European, in their minds, means being reasonable, open-minded and internationalist; to be Eurosceptic means being either a Blimp or a football hooligan. As Will Self put it recently:
I viewed an increasingly united Europe as a handy cosmopolitan stick with which to beat the backs of uptight Little Englanders.
Having defined the issue, at least to their own satisfaction, as a Kulturkampf between moderates and bigots, many Leftists stop being interested in the details. If free-marketeers and patriots and Thatcherites unite in opposing the project, there must be something in it.
Hence the bizarre spectacle of people who, in other contexts, are progressive, lining up behind the most backward, undemocratic, elitist racket in Europe. Convinced that they are proving their cosmopolitanism, they cheer a project which has immiserated working people to the benefit of bankers and bureaucrats.
Mehdi’s point is unanswerable. The EU is theoretically adopting more and more workers’ rights; but it has fewer and fewer workers. Surely you don’t have to be on the Right to see that something has gone badly wrong.
Opprinnelig i The Telegraph den 20. november 2014.