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Tony Benn And The Left Wing Case For Brexit

What is the left wing case for Brexit? The same as everyone else’s case: democracy and self-determination

In this response to a student’s question at the Oxford Union, the late Tony Benn makes a calm but passionate argument for Brexit which anybody of any political leaning should be able to embrace:

When I saw how the European Union was developing, it was very obvious that what they had in mind was not democratic. I mean, in Britain you vote for the government and therefore the government has to listen to you, and if you don’t like it you can change it. But in Europe all the key positions are appointed, not elected – the Commission, for example. All appointed, not one of them elected.

[..] And my view about the European Union has always been not that I am hostile to foreigners, but that I am in favour of democracy. And I think out of this story we have to find an answer, because I certainly don’t want to live in hostility to the European Union but I think they are building an empire there and they want us to be a part of that empire, and I don’t want that.

Typically, the left-wing argument against the EU and for Brexit consists of lamentations that EU rules prevent the government from renationalising industries, erecting protectionist barriers to trade and entry, or otherwise meddling in the free market. Jeremy Corbyn would be busy making such arguments right now, were it not for his colossal failure of political courage in rolling over to the demands of the die-hard pro-Europeans the moment he became Labour Leader.

Such arguments are all well and good, if you are one of the small minority of the population for whom the British government’s current inability to renationalise the energy sector keeps you awake at night in a cold fury. But such people are few and far between.

When asked his own thoughts about the European Union, Tony Benn did not do what most contemporary Labour Party personalities do, and talk about the virtues of undemocratically imposing more stringent social and employment laws on Britain (an irritatingly less social-democratic country than our continental friends). Because Tony Benn understood that the left-wing case against the European Union was about democracy, democracy and more democracy.

Tony Benn understood that some things are more important than whether Britain might happen to move in a slightly more left or right wing direction as a short and medium term consequence of Brexit. He understood that self-determination and democracy – particularly the ability for the citizenry to remove people from office – is the first and most important consideration in determining the democratic health of a country.

And Benn understood that living in a democracy where his own side would sometimes win and sometimes lose was far preferable to living in a dictatorship where his own preferred policies were implemented through coercion with no public redress.

Jeremy Corbyn also seemed to understand these things, until he most unexpectedly ascended to the leadership of the Labour Party, which loves the European Union with a blinkered fierceness with which there can be no reasoning.

Indeed, there are now so few high profile left-wing eurosceptics that the bulk of the heavy lifting in this EU referendum will inevitably be done by those on the centre-right. Their challenge – our challenge – will be to make a positive case for Brexit as a desirable thing in and of itself, and not as part of a partisan political agenda.

 

Jeremy Corbyn - European Union - EU Referendum - Capitulation

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16 responses

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  2. Tony Benn was a hero yesterday (bless him), as is Frank Field today.
    I voted NOT to join the common market when I was 18…because it was designed by people who despised democracy

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    • Kevin, so you might think.
      However, the inclusion of Article 50 was, as we all now know, an afterthought. It is transparently obvious that it was never intended to be used. It seems to have been included as a sop to democracy rather than a clear statement of democratic intent.
      Look at what has been happening over the last few weeks and consider the attitude of the EU hierarchy, towards the UK vote to leave. It has become very aggressive and confrontational. Not what you might be entitled to expect of a benign and democratic institution.
      Tony Benn has been proven right, over and over again, yet still there are those who refuse to see the truth in his words.
      As an ex-teacher, I know how much the EU invested in educational propaganda. Pupils and students were required to be taught about all the positive aspects but teachers were discouraged from questioning or exploring the many negatives.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That’s fascinating Christine – many thanks for sharing your perspective. I’m curious to know more about the kind of pro-EU hagiography and propaganda which teachers were encouraged or forced to teach. Can you recall any particularly noteworthy examples?

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  4. I wholeheartedly agree – the ‘left’ need to wake up and push to make sure that the laws of this post brexit country are fair and protect workers, human rights, etc We need to survive the pressure and punishment from the EU we are very likely to come under for leavingand. The disillusioned poor who voted for the right thing, but for the wrong frankly racist reasons, need an alternative to BNP/ ukip etc but they are no longer being heard by labour it seems

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  7. I think I’m in agreement with those above and those of Tony Benn. But as a Labour left-winger I have the same concerns about being seen on the same side as UKIP. I don’t like the general view of lots of Brits that immigrants are a problem. As an internationalist, I love the positive effects that immigration has had on the UK, whilst recognising that towns like Boston in Lincs. do feel over-whelmed by the number of East Europeans. I’m much more concerned about towns like Bradford, Burnley, Derby, etc where large numbers of people are not only different culturally but different religiously. Where Muslim men regard western women as “meat” and their own women as 2nd class citizens. And that the grooming of vulnerable young women/girls in Rotherham and Derby are not seen as a threat. What if France, Germany, who have similar problems, follow our lead and decide to leave the EU. I would hate to see the break-up of Europe but would be glad to see the overthrow of the undemocratic European Union – just like Tony Benn.

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    • Heather..please stick with your heartfelt conviction on the issue , whichever way that is..not the people sharing the stage in the campaign . In 1975 I voted to stay in…mainly because it took a leap of faith I didn’t possess at that time to trust Tony Benn ..a man I greatly admired , I was left cold by thinking my vote would be in the same box as a racist National Front thug….or an Ian Paisley or Enoch Powell supporter.
      I feel time has proved Tony was absolutely right all along…listen to or read his addresses from the time..they are as fresh and relevant today as they were then.
      I voted with the mainstream centre and have realised the deception campaign then is the same as it is now.
      Leave campaigners are today , as then , a mixed bag of the good the bad and the ugly…Remain however are less mixed…can you really trust the architects of austerity Cameron and Osborne ?…the real clincher for me is Tony Blair…in my view the most disgraceful politician of our age…a man whose opinion should alienate any decent person.

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    • Heather, so you don’t think other types of men see women as meat and other types of men don’t groom and abuse young girls??? It’s just that small handful of nasty men who happen to be muslim which is making you stereotype in a racist way.

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  10. Hi, I’m on board with Tony Benn’s arguments – almost all of them – as a general rule. And I would also generally agree that the centralized EU model is undesirable for democracy. BUT I have yet to read of any left wing party (or even any NGO) that has a solid platform or a plan of action as to how the nation should proceed in a more democratic way AFTER the Brexit. Everyone just seems to be assuming it will work out the way that THEY want… which is fantasist thinking!

    Let’s face it: no one has any plan of action. Not on the right, not in the center, and not on the left. However, the right wing’s platform is a bit more developed, has more support from the electorate, and has been around for much longer.

    Therefore, I have no choice but to conclude that my left wing views would have no place in shaping the future of the UK following a Brexit. Not any more than they do right now, anyways. Meanwhile, UKIP would feel emboldened and militarized borders would become the norm, because well, that’s the only platform that they seem to have. Is that better than what we have now? Erm…. NO!

    In principal I could be in favour of the Brexit referendum, but ONLY if it was well-planned and ONLY if there was a coherent left wing alternative to UKIP being offered. Neither thing is true. This puts us on track to a reality where UKIP and the Tories have the upper hand, let’s face it.

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    • Many thanks for your comment. I sympathise with your predicament – because of (what I see as) the cowardice of the Left, the eurosceptic arguments have been carried by parties of the political Right, and so it is understandable that you fear what a post-Brexit country might look like.

      I would simply appeal to your sense of democracy – is it fair that more left-wing positions are foisted on Britain by the EU than would be possible if it were solely down to the British electorate? Is it fair for those on the Left to take advantage of the supranational nature of the EU to avoid having a political debate at home? For me, the EU referendum is about democracy. Whether Britain moves to the political left or the right in the short and medium term is far less important to me than the British people being able to make and live under the laws that they choose.

      On your further point about the lack of a plan of action, I would strongly encourage you to read Flexcit, which provides a very well thought-out step-by-step plan for Brexit, and also the Harrogate Agenda which looks at revitalising British democracy after we leave the EU.

      Flexcit is here:

      http://eureferendum.com/Flexcit.aspx

      And the Harrogate Agenda is here:

      http://harrogateagenda.org.uk/

      Many thanks again for reading and sharing your thoughts.

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