You know there must be a serious disturbance in the Force when left-wing commentators like Owen Jones begin openly flirting with euroscepticism. But this is exactly what we are now witnessing, with formerly staunch eurofanatics up and down the land executing sharp 180-degree U-turns in their general attitude toward Brussels, sometimes with quasi-admissions of former error (see Owen Jones) but usually done quietly in the hope that nobody will notice.
Never mind the fact that just a couple of short months ago, many of these same left-wing talking heads were taking to the airwaves during the general election campaign to argue that the European Union represents enlightened internationalism at its best, and that only the most unlettered and unsavoury characters (read: Ukippers) could possibly believe otherwise.
Never mind the cognitive dissonance required to accuse Nigel Farage of paranoid xenophobia one month and then find fervent common cause with him the next; wherever there is a David vs Goliath struggle raging in the world, the virtue-signalling Left are never slow to exploit it, even if it means resorting to twisted pretzel logic or making themselves look extremely silly in the process. Thus the British Left have decided that plucky little Greece is “good”, while the European Union – for so long a beacon of social democracy in Britain’s ‘capitalist darkness’ – has suddenly become the evil enforcer of a punitive “neo-liberal” agenda.
Of course, this is done with the level of sanctimonious obnoxiousness that you would expect. Those filthy Ukippers hated Europe for all the ‘wrong’ reasons, one can imagine them thinking as they penned their first tentative polemics against once-loved EU institutions. But we changed our opinion of the EU for ‘good’ reasons, reluctantly, after watching Greece being bullied. So you should sit up and take notice when we criticise the EU, because we’re not like the fruitcakes and closet racists who bang on about Europe the rest of the time.
Owen Jones (see above video) is by no means alone in his newly-crystallised doubt. Labour-supporting blog Left Foot Forward, which only a couple of months ago was hilariously arguing that Britain voting to leave the EU would violate the democratic right of other member states to keep us in the EU against our will, also now finds itself in far more reflective mood:
The question that has been dormant for many years is whether the EU can successfully be reformed or whether the entire edifice must first fall. To ignore the demands for a debt-restructuring deal would be met with condemnation from Washington, the IMF and many leading economists.
Much more, it would be an indicator that the EU’s institutions are beyond both reproach and reform.
Well, welcome to the party, lefties. I suppose. We can overlook the fact that you are over twenty years late to the game, though it will take a little while longer for some of your most barbed criticisms and hurtful insults to be forgotten. Becoming political bedfellows with shrieking Hope Not Hate campaigners who spent the 2015 general election campaign accusing people like me and my eurosceptic ilk of being nostalgic, prejudiced, economically left-behind losers and swivel-eyed loons will take quite some getting used to.
Perhaps the most galling thing here is the lack of any intellectual consistency. Euroscepticism is now being embraced by some on the British Left because the EU happens to be wrestling with a member state which is pushing back hard against enforced austerity. (Of course, Greek austerity makes the mild British version seem like an episode of Made in Chelsea, but more on that another time). And so, since the leftist logic dictates that the enemy of their enemy (austerity) must be their friend – and since the EU is prescribing more austerity for Greece – a difficult choice has to be made: start accepting austerity out of love for the EU, or stop loving the EU out of hatred for austerity.
Apparently the Owen Jones brigade, at least, is choosing the latter course. This would be far more convincing if the left wing commentariat had displayed the slightest concern when the antidemocratic and imperious European Union interfered with national democracy and attempted to thwart the democratic will of the people on all those many other occasions in recent years and decades. But alas, when the EU was interfering in national democracy and pressing ahead with its own agenda without any mandate in years past, these fair-weather eurosceptics were often found right in the thick of the action, cheering Brussels on.
Brendan O’Neill does a great job making this very point in Spiked online:
It seems finally to have dawned on Europe’s observing classes that the EU might not be the whiter-than-white embodiment of democracy, liberty and nice things in general that they thought it was. Following EU institutions’ use of blackmail and harassment to try to get the Greek people to accept a stern bailout package, and Greek voters’ big, fat, brave ‘NO’ to this external warping of their affairs, liberal sections of the European press have had a pretty healthy smattering of that thing they normally treat as a pathology when it’s expressed by a fat man with an En-ger-land tattoo on his forearm: Eurosceptism [..]
The EU has been treating national electorates with naked contempt for two decades now. And the answer to the question ‘Where was today’s EU-concerned lobby back then?’ is that they played a key role in echoing the EU’s distaste for the rough-and-tumble and awkwardness of open, testy, angry democratic debate and its preference for the cool-headed, expert-driven politics of the removed EU chamber, and in fact helped to enforce it. The chattering classes of Europe have for years pathologised opposition to the EU, treating it as symptomatic of a narrow nationalistic, racist mindset. Such opposition has even been referred to as ‘Europhobia’, suggesting it is a mental malaise, a sickness in the brains of ‘the generally pissed-off’.
Absolutely. The EU’s antidemocratic tendencies and barely suppressed disdain for national democracy is not a new thing or some unfortunate change in direction from a formerly benevolent and honourable institution. This is how they behave all the time, every day, stretching back for years. When Irish voters rejected the EU-enlarging Nice Treaty in their referendum, Brussels paused, showed the knuckle-duster and knife under their sleeve and then asked again until they got the answer they wanted. Similarly, when voters in France and the Netherlands rejected the EU constitution in a referendum the very same measures they opposed found their way into the Lisbon Treaty.
This is the EU’s bread and butter. Borne not from any desire among normal European people to form together into a superstate but rather from a desperate desire of their elites to retain power for themselves and escape democratic accountability once and for all, the European Union knows no other way of being. Nation states or Brussels – only one can be sovereign, and the EU has a record as long as your arm when it comes to casting aside popular objections in pursuit of ever-closer union.
And this will never change. Not today, not tomorrow, not in the event of uncontrolled Grexit and not in the event of a last-minute deal to save Greece. As Ruby Stockham almost realises in her Road to Damascus conversion to the dark side of euroscepticism, the only way to bring about a European Union of the people, by the people and for the people is to tear down the whole rotten edifice of Brussels bureaucracy, all of the founding treaties and agreements, and start again from the ground up. With a democratic mandate and popular support this time.
Those on the pro-European Left should think long and hard on their sins for having aided, encouraged and abetted the European Union in its power-grabbing, anti-democratic tendencies for so long. They might also like to consider apologising for attacking and belittling those who realised the danger and spoke out years ago in the face of derision and hostility.
But most importantly, the newly-agnostic Left should ask themselves why it is only now, when pictures of Greece’s suffering fill our television screens and newsfeeds, that they belatedly came to realise that the EU is perhaps not the benevolent, progressive and internationalist force for good that they thought it was.
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