The Moral And Intellectual Cowardice Of The Pro-EU Left

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The modern Left loves the EU because having lost the public argument for socialist policies, they see in Brussels their last and best hope of imposing their left-wing ideology on an unwilling population

Tom Slater has an excellent piece in Spiked, in which he takes to task all of the big name lefties – some of whom previously toyed with supporting Brexit as they watched the EU’s antidemocratic behaviour with growing horror – who are now supporting the Remain campaign, and thus betraying democracy when it truly matters.

Slater writes:

The last few prominent Eurosceptics on the left have started to peel away. They’ve been confronted with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to smash power, to strike out for democracy and to put the future of European politics firmly in the hands of the people, rather than a faceless, byzantine bureaucracy. And they’ve bottled it.

First there’s Yanis Varoufakis, the flash stepdad of European leftism and the former finance minister of ailing Greece. This is a man who has experienced the tyranny of the Brussels set firsthand. His modest proposals for rescuing debt-laden Greece from EU-enforced austerity were ignored. ‘Elections’, he was told by German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble, ‘change nothing’. He quit government in protest as his Syriza comrade Alexis Tsipras signed an agreement that would once again shackle Greece to Troika diktat. What is the self-styled ‘erratic Marxist’ up to now? He’s touring the UK, telling Brits to say ‘Oxi’ to Brexit so that we can ‘reform the EU from within’.

Then there’s Owen Jones, the Corbyn choir boy who has followed the Labour leader’s transformation from Bennite Eurosceptic to apologetic Remainer. Last summer Jones called for the left to campaign for Brexit. After the horrors of Greece, he wrote, it’s time to ‘reclaim the Eurosceptic cause’. Now, just 10 months on, he’s joining Varoufakis on the campaign trail. His flirtation with principle over, he wants to ‘unite with people across the continent to build a democratic, workers’ Europe’. How propping up a democracy-thwarting institution puts you in line with the little guy is beyond me. Not least when said institution has effectively abolished workers’ rights in austerity-battered countries like Greece.

But perhaps the most glaring retreat of them all has come from Paul Mason. The former Channel 4 economics editor and ‘radical social democrat’ actually had the brass to pen an article titled ‘The left-wing case for Brexit (one day)’. One day. Those two, trembly words sum up the sentiment of these fair-weather Eurosceptics. Yes, yes, democracy – one day. Not now. Especially when, as Mason sees it, a Brexit would allow Michael Gove and Boris Johnson to ‘turn Britain into a neoliberal fantasy island’. He’s in favour of democracy, you see, just not when the pesky demos elects a government he doesn’t like. This is hypocrisy dressed up as strategic nous.

Tom Slater is absolutely correct to denounce each and every one of these reversals as a shameful failure of courage. His piece is entitled “The Progressives Afraid Of Change”, and regrettably that is exactly what we see from the supposedly ideologically pure Corbynite Left. Yet after having grown in prominence and power primarily by denouncing the compromises and betrayals of the centre-left, these virtue-signalling true believers are now selling out British democracy in exactly the same way, proving that they are no better than the Blairite New Labour government which they so despise.

This blog has also taken each of the prominent leftists identified by Tom Slater to task for their utter failure of courage and vision. My critiques of Owen Jones are here, herehere and here, Yanis Varoufakis here and Paul Mason here.

Slater continues:

In fact, it’s worse than that. It’s often said that the shift in left-wing attitudes towards the EU over the past few decades has been the result of pure political contingency. When, in the 1970s and 80s, the EU was seen as an avowedly capitalist project, Labourites and trade unionists took arms against it. Now that it’s been given a social-democratic lick of paint, replete with talk of workers’ rights and free movement, it gets the nod. But there’s something even more sickening going on here. These turncoat Remainers, these radicals for the status quo, don’t just bristle at the turn of public opinion, on economics or migration – they’re scared of it. Their Brexit-phobia is really a fear of the demos itself.

You see this in their panic-stricken talk of the furies Brexit might unleash. ‘We don’t know… how the plebeian end of the Leave campaign will react if they lose. My instinct says: badly’, writes Mason. Varoufakis, meanwhile, is even more pessimistic. Only fascists and racists, he says, will profit from the demise of the EU. A Brexit now would mean ‘anti-migrant racism, pandered to by the political establishment for decades’, writes a commentator in the New Statesman. There is constant talk of chaos. Democracy is seen not only as disagreeable, but as dangerous. The left, once intent on stirring the passions of the people, now wants to keep a lid on them at all costs.

This is why you shouldn’t take the left appeals to ‘reforming the EU from within’ seriously. Not only because Cameron’s paltry renegotiation revealed an EU incapable of making even minor concessions. Not only because the only salient proposal Varoufakis’s Democracy In Europe Movement has managed to come up with is livestreaming council meetings. But because the cowardice of the left in the face of Brexit is bred of the very same fear of an unshackled demos that forged the European Union in the first place.

Devastating, and utterly correct. For the European Union itself was deliberately designed to muffle and constraint the voices of national electorates, replacing them with the cool, cerebral and detached government of a supranational European elite, which is exactly what the pro-EU Left now want – a tool to suppress what they see as the “dangerous” authentic voices of the people.

Slater concludes:

The modern left’s detachment from the masses, its sneering distaste for our habits and desires, has fostered a profound fear of change itself. Their paranoia about where unleashed public passions might flow has led them to cling to the status quo for dear life. These are progressives terrified of change – and terrified of us. Faced with the opportunity to demolish an anti-democratic order, they are standing athwart, yelling Stop. History will not be kind to them.

But it is worse than a mere lack of vision and fear of change. Most offensive of all is the grubby desire of the pro-EU left to bypass democracy altogether, to give up on trying to persuade national electorates of the value of left wing policies and simply impose them from the EU’s unaccountable, supranational higher level of government.

As this blog recently put it:

The Left look around and see free markets accepted and delivering prosperity in nearly every country, including those who have sworn eternal opposition to capitalism. And despite the Corbynite takeover of the Labour Party in Britain, there is still no evidence of a groundswell of public longing for 1970s style statist economic policies to be brought out of mothballs. What chance, then, does the Left have to bring more of the economy under state control other than the extreme long shot of seizing control of Europe’s supranational layer of government on the back of the supposed European left-wing popular movement (DiEM25) talked up by Varoufakis and Jones?

As Varoufakis admits, “the retreat to the nation state is never going to benefit the Left”. The Left can only advance their cause by sidestepping nation states altogether, which means taking control of the EU, where national legislatures are bypassed and unpopular and even hated policies can be imposed on the peoples of Europe with very limited opportunity for effective resistance (see Greece). This may seem laughably unrealistic – and it is. But it is the Left’s only remaining hope, and so they cling stubbornly to their delusion even if it means betraying democracy and supporting the EU in its current form (and with its current policies) until the time comes for their popular revolution.

And that, to my mind at least, is the most disappointing thing of all. Even pugnacious, articulate left-wingers like Owen Jones and Paul Mason are unwilling to achieve their desired ends by first winning the public debate and then winning a national election. Their commitment to democracy is so feeble that they would rather see their preferred policies foisted on an unwilling British people from above by the European Union rather than do the hard work of winning support for those policies among the British electorate.

Of course, they don’t explain it this way themselves. Talk to Owen Jones and Paul Mason and you’ll get an earful about their deep concern for workers’ rights or some other emotive issue. But when push comes to shove, they would rather live in a country where their minority opinions were forced on the majority by Brussels than do the hard work of convincing voters of the necessity for left-wing policies.

And the Left are perfectly entitled to that opinion. They are entitled to advocate for Britain to remain in the European Union because they do not trust the British electorate to support what they see as essential policies at the ballot box. They can do all that. But they cannot any longer call themselves supporters of democracy.

 

Postscript: Look at the image at the top of this article, showing a quote by filmmaker Ken Loach, in which he openly boasts that the chief advantage of the European Union is that it thwarts the will of democratically elected national governments. This is the toxic, antidemocratic position which left wing favourites like Owen Jones and Paul Mason have decided to embrace. Shame on them.

 

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The Only Thing Paul Mason Hates More Than The EU Is Democratically Chosen Conservative Government

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Paul Mason, enemy of democracy

“Postcapitalism” author and former Channel 4 economics editor Paul Mason is a truly nasty piece of work. For proof, one need only look at his latest sickening column in the Guardian, in which he diligently catalogues all of the European Union’s faults and inherent anti-democratic tendencies before going on to say that he can’t possibly support Brexit when the Tories are in charge, because doing so might mean that some awful right-wing people get to implement policies democratically chosen by the British electorate.

Mason begins well enough, albeit with a predictably left-wing slant:

The leftwing case for Brexit is strategic and clear. The EU is not – and cannot become – a democracy. Instead, it provides the most hospitable ecosystem in the developed world for rentier monopoly corporations, tax-dodging elites and organised crime. It has an executive so powerful it could crush the leftwing government of Greece; a legislature so weak that it cannot effectively determine laws or control its own civil service. A judiciary that, in the Laval and Viking judgments, subordinated workers’ right to strike to an employer’s right do business freely.

Its central bank is committed, by treaty, to favour deflation and stagnation over growth. State aid to stricken industries is prohibited. The austerity we deride in Britain as a political choice is, in fact, written into the EU treaty as a non-negotiable obligation. So are the economic principles of the Thatcher era. A Corbyn-led Labour government would have to implement its manifesto in defiance of EU law.

And the situation is getting worse. Europe’s leaders still do not know whether they will let Greece go bankrupt in June; they still have no workable plan to distribute the refugees Germany accepted last summer, and having signed a morally bankrupt deal with Turkey to return the refugees, there is now the prospect of that deal’s collapse. That means, if the reported demand by an unnamed Belgian minister to “push back or sink” migrant boats in the Aegean is activated, the hands of every citizen of the EU will be metaphorically on the tiller of the ship that does it. You may argue that Britain treats migrants just as badly. The difference is that in Britain I can replace the government, whereas in the EU, I cannot.

This is fair and accurate criticism of the EU. Mason rightly senses the unaccountable nature of the supranational government in Brussels, and hones in on the key point – that the EU is antidemocratic because we have absolutely no way of removing its leaders if we wish to do so.

Unfortunately, it then quickly begins to go off the rails, as Mason’s snarling anti-democratic authoritarian streak surges to the foreground:

Now here’s the practical reason to ignore it. In two words: Boris Johnson. The conservative right could have conducted the leave campaign on the issues of democracy, rule of law and UK sovereignty, leaving the economics to the outcome of a subsequent election. Instead, Johnson and the Tory right are seeking a mandate via the referendum for a return to full-blown Thatcherism: less employment regulation, lower wages, fewer constraints on business. If Britain votes Brexit, then Johnson and Gove stand ready to seize control of the Tory party and turn Britain into a neoliberal fantasy island.

They will have two years in which to shape the post-Brexit economy. Worse, the Tories will be free to use the sudden disappearance of our rights as EU citizens to reshape the UK’s de facto constitution. The man who destroyed state control of education and the man who shovelled acres of free land into the hands of London developers will get to determine the new balance of power between the citizen and the state. So even for those who support the leftwing case for Brexit, it is sensible to argue: not now. The time to confront Europe over a leftwing agenda is when you have a Labour government, and the EU is resisting it.

Waah, waah, waah. In other words, Paul Mason fully appreciates that the European Union is hopelessly undemocratic and utterly unreformable, but he refuses to either campaign or vote for Brexit because reclaiming democracy for Britain might mean that we then go on to do the “wrong” thing with our new-found freedom.

Britain’s parliamentary system of government is not a shocking new reality. Our present system of mini “elected dictatorships” spanning the length of a parliamentary term is how Britain has always been governed in living memory. And unfortunately for Paul Mason, our electoral system produced a Conservative majority government one year ago. You can argue that most people did not vote for the Conservative Party. True. But if we don’t like the system by which our governments are chosen, it is within our power to change it. Indeed we had just such an opportunity back in 2011, and decided to stick with the status quo.

So when Paul Mason frets that a Brexit under the Tories might lead to two years of “neoliberal fantasy” government, what he actually means is that Britain might be led by the government which we only recently elected together. He is fretting that an anti-democratic impediment to Conservative rule in the form of Brussels might be removed, and that the government might then seek to fulfil its manifesto outside the constraint of the EU’s political union. He is effectively presenting democracy as the scary thing to be avoided, and the European Union as the “least worst option”, one step better than democratically chosen conservative government.

Mason then goes on to make it worse:

All this suggests that those of us who want Brexit in order to reimpose democracy, promote social justice and subordinate companies to the rule of law should bide our time.

And there’s the problem, right there. Paul Mason doesn’t support an eventual Brexit because he believes in democracy or the importance of British sovereignty. He wants Brexit only as a means to imposing his own radical left-wing policies and “social justice” values on the country. When the people look likely to support these concepts at the ballot box, he chafes at the democratic impediments thrown up by the European Union barring their implementation. But when the people spurn his left wing fantasyland and choose a conservative government, suddenly Brussels becomes his best friend, his bulwark against the people he views as “closet Nazis”.

Behold the face of the Mason/Corbynite Left. This is a movement which, to their credit, has no natural love for the European Union, often seeing it for what it is, but who have shamefully taught themselves to accept Britain’s EU membership as the price which must be paid in order to successfully “lock out” conservative viewpoints and policies.

This is a movement chock full of people who love nothing more than to prance around screeching about how wonderfully tolerant and accepting they are, right up until the moment they encounter somebody with a different political philosophy, at which point any previous lip service paid to the importance of democracy or even free speech goes straight out the window.

It’s hard to say  which is worse – the fact that Paul Mason harbours these seething anti-democratic sentiments in the first place, or the fact that he is so shameless that he openly admits his desire to thwart the general election result by forming a temporary alliance with the hated European Union, swinging around to support Brexit only when the prospect of giving democracy back to Britain seems likely to deliver the kind of government he wants.

One thing is for certain, though – Paul Mason is no man of the people, and no friend at all of democracy.

 

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Top Image: Guardian

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