What editorial control does the UK Guardian exercise on Op Ed pieces? Seemingly none if you read this article (December 24, 2018) – What Labour can learn about Brexit from California: think twice – written by some well-to-do American postgraduate working for DiEM25 in Athens. But when Thomas Fazi and I sought space to discuss our book – Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World (Pluto Books, 2017) – or when I have sought space to provide some balance to the usual neoliberal, pro-Europe bias, the result has been no response (yay or nay). We never received a response to our solicitation. Even if we ignore the obvious imbalance in experience and qualifications (track record) of the respective ‘authors’, it seems that the UK Guardian only wants a particular view to be published even if the quality of that view would make the piece unpublishable in any respectable outlet. Go figure. Anyway, I now have read the worst article for 2018. And, I thought that the Remain debate had reached the depths of idiocy but there is obviously scope for more if this Guardian attempt at commentary is anything to go by. And I know the Guardian journalists read this blog – so why not allow Thomas and I to formally respond to all this Remain nonsense?
Just before the break (December 13, 2018), the anti-Brexit, pro-European, Blairite Labour politician (Lords) Andrew Adonis made the startling claim in his blog post – ‘Let Europe Arise’: Britain in Europe – that the:
… European Union is the greatest international venture for peace, prosperity and freedom in the history of civilization.
Quite an incredible statement given the organised and deliberate attack on prosperity that the European Commission has overseen over the last decade.
While the Eurozone is not the EU, there are now around 2 million more unemployed in the 19 Member States than there were in the year 2000.
Quite amazing when you consider the devastation of Greece.
We could go on.
With Labour Party politicians like him who needs Tories!
I loved the response from Iain Duncan Smith, who usually I don’t have any affinity with, to Adonis’ claim about populism (Source):
It’s a bit rich for him to pontificate on what he calls populism, but what most would refer to as democracy, when he himself has never been elected by a public vote. He has instead relied on preferment from others.
But the point of referring to this particular intervention from Adonis is that in trying to make the case for a ‘united’ Europe he actually provides the reasons why Europe can never be a ‘United States of Europe’.
The pro-European British love to quote Winston Churchill as if he was the font of wisdom.
They usually wheel out his notion of a “kind of United States of Europe”, which he proposed in a – Speech – Let Europe Arise – at the University of Zurich on September 19, 1946.
In that speech he was reflecting on the chaos in Europe as a result of the a “series of frightful nationalistic quarrels, originated by the Teutonic nations in their rise to power, which we have seen in this 20th century and in our own lifetime wreck the peace and mar the prospects of all mankind.”
He talked about the creation of the “United States of Europe” where France, Germany, the British and its Commonwealth, the US and Russia would “champion” a “new Europe”.
While many, including Adonis claim Churchill was clear that Britain would be part of this venture, the reality is different.
At Zurich, Churchill pronounced:
Great Britain, the British Commonwealth of Nations, mighty America, and I trust Soviet Russia, for then indeed all would be well, must be the friends and sponsors of the new Europe and must champion its right to live and shine.
Not a member of the European Union (or its previous incarnations) but a ‘friend’ and ‘sponsor’.
In the Cabinet Papers from November 1951 – CAB 128/23 Original Reference CC 1 (51)-22 (51), 1951 30 Oct-29 Dec – it is unequivocal that Churchill did not want the UK to ‘join’ Europe in any formal way.
On page 57 of the Minutes, we read, in relation to the French proposal to establish a European Coal and Steel Community, the forerunner to the EEC, that:
The Schuman Plan was viewed with suspicion by workers in the coal and steel industries in this country. Simultaneously with the proposed statement in the Council of Europe, the Government should make it clear to public opinion in this country that they had no intention of surrendering to any European authority the control of the coal and steel industries of the United Kingdom.
Authorised the Home Secretary to make the following statement at the forthcoming meeting of the Consultative Assembly of the Council of Europe: “His Majesty’s Government recognise that the initiative taken by the French Government concerning the creation of a European coal and steel community and a European defence community is a major step towards European unity. They welcome the Schuman Plan as a means of strengthening the economy of Western Europe and look forward to its early realisation. They desire to establish the closest possible association with the European Continental Community at all stages in its development. If the Schuman Plan is ratified. His Majesty’s Government will set up a permanent delegation at the seat of the Authority to enter into relations and to transact business with it.”
Further, in – The memoirs of Lord Gladwyn (published by Weidenfeld and Nicolsen, 1972) – Gladwyn Jebb, who held many senior public roles including being the UK representative at the Brussels Treaty Permanent Commission, wrote that:
Churchill was himself clearly not a ‘European’ at all. If he had had his way, Britain would have been ‘associated’ with a Europe that would extend from Lisbon to Brest-Litovsk … but would never have formed part of it herself. Why the European federalists should have apparently thought at one time that he was thinking of British membership of a federal Europe I have never understood. He always made it quite clear that Britain, if he had anything to do with it, would stand aloof.
So the attempt to ground British membership in Europe in Churchill’s Tory Party is deeply flawed.
By way of aside, the best quote from Churchill, by the way, appeared in his 1929 book – The World Crisis: The Aftermath – where the conservative Churchill clearly understood the absurdity of the argument that a currency-issuing government could be short of money to advance public welfare.
On Page 33, Churchill wrote:
A requisition, for instance, for a half-million houses would not have seemed more difficult to comply with than those we were already in process of executing for 100,000 airplanes, or 20,000 guns, or 2,000,000 tons of projectiles. But a new set of conditions began to rule from 11 o’clock onwards. The money cost, which had never been considered by us to be a factor capable of limiting the supply of the armies, asserted a claim to priority from the moment the fighting stopped.
11 o’clock was on November 11, 1918, when the peace was declared after WWI.
But Adonis then reflects on why the British are not enthusiastically pro-European.
He considers that Americans do not dare challenge their past and consider criticism of their:
… founding fathers and their great deeds to be beyond the pale – despite the obvious violence – whereas with the EU it is the reverse, the only thing we do is to be hypercritical, although its record is in many ways superlative …
How about talking about the manifest destiny of the European Union, and its mission to lead a free Europe and inspire a free world? How about quoting the founding treaties in the way Americans so reverentially quote their founding fathers?
Building on that he writes:
It is an interesting question why, unlike Americans, we Europeans neither get emotional about the EU nor read emotion into the EU’s great achievements and declarations. Maybe it is because of the very fact that the EU is international, whereas the United States was founded as a nation.
Reflect on that for a moment.
It tells you that America is a nation, Europe is not.
America is bound by a shared culture within many cultures, a common language, within many languages, and a common identification.
Europe is none of those things.
This is why the American states are willing to rely on the federal government for transfers when calamity arises.
This is why Germany has overseen the destruction of Greece and refuses any ‘reforms’ that would allow permanent fiscal transfers from some ‘federal’ body to one Member State or another.
And the democratically-elected government in Greece behaves like a rabid neoliberal attack dog on its own people as it gains power under the banner of Socialism.
This is why, in the face of obvious evidence that nations such as Italy and France are plunging into states of social instability, the European Commission still enforces (unequally) rigid fiscal rules that prevent the democratically-elected Member States from advancing prosperity, and, rather, enforce a pernicious austerity that impinge disproportionately on the most disadvantaged and then seep up to undermine the middle classes.
This is why the Gilets jaunes have become a reality. They want their nation back from the technocrats who only see ratios, rules and conformity.
Which is why my award for the dumbest Op Ed article in 2018 goes to this UK Guardian article (December 24, 2018) – What Labour can learn about Brexit from California: think twice.
It has gained a lot of twitter attention.
Many have pointed out that this American author has been educated at Oxford following in a ‘silver spoon’ tradition. That he has worked for the Tony Blair Foundation and is now writing for DiEM25 while living in Athens.
While all of that clearly influences the view he has the more apposite attack is not on him personally but on the sheer idiocy of those views. It wouldn’t matter who he was or where he has been.
This is one of the worst articles written on the topic and it places the UK Guardian in a very poor light – as a publisher of ridiculous diatribes that push the anti-Brexit line.
The argument is that Britain is like California but “even as the US federal government veers towards the far right – the calls for California to exit the US remain quiet.”
If I did my street poll in downtown LA or San Francisco or even Bakersfield and asked people about their identification they would firmly state ‘American’.
I would get a similar response in Melbourne or Sydney except ‘Australian’ would be the answer with some qualifications about being borne in Victoria or wherever.
Similarly, in Britain.
But if I ask the same question in say Paris, I am ‘French’, or in Berlin, I am ‘German’. I would not get an initial response along the lines that I am ‘European’.
Geographically they are European but culturally they are not.
Which is why the mainstream Californians think through problems within the context of being a state of the US.
In terms of Churchill’s call for a “kind of United States of Europe” he was thinking along the lines of the structure of the US – a strong fiscal authority uniting the different Member States in a common cause.
What the EU has evolved into bears no similarity with this ‘vision’.
The UK Guardian article claims that the:
… real reason that California lacks a Lexit movement is solidarity.
The author considers that with California functioning in the union, the US would become military tyrants intent on pushing climate change denial “to inflict increasing pain on the world around it – and on generations to come.”
One wonders where the Californians have been for the last decades?
I also note that the Democrat House Speaker is a major advocate of the ridiculous PayGo fiscal rules that are pure neoliberalism. She is from California.
But all that is beside the point.
The author has two questions (both inane):
… the burden of proof lies with the Lexiteers … to explain why the task of democratising the EU is that much harder than the task of democratising the US … [and] … to explain how their exit plan does not amount to abandonment, and how being outside the EU will help them stem the tide of European fascism.
The answers are obvious:
First, the US radicals just have to influence one election. To achieve any significant reform in the EU, 29 Member States have to be convinced about the one change.
Think about what has been achieved by the European Commission in the aftermath of the greatest economic and social disaster since the common currency was introduced.
10 years have past.
Poverty rates have risen.
Unemployment is still at elevated levels.
What reforms have really reversed the neoliberalism?
Which is why the Gilets are out in force in France. They have had enough. They are seeking action within their own nation. Which is where a ‘Demos’ (the common people) naturally embrace political activity.
For the man or woman on the street wanting to articulate political views, a Europe-voice is too abstract. They cannot really influence that except int he most abstract and slow-moving ways.
Better to don yellow worker safety vests and extract concessions from your own government – the one you elect and which is accountable to you!
Second, and we are moving into discussions about open borders and the like, which is a topic for another day.
My position is, in summary, that the Left cannot concede to the neoliberals who want to maintain the Single Market, which means both free labour and capital movements.
It is untenable for a nation to have free borders.
Take Australia, for example. The natural environment makes it impossible for this nation to expand its population beyond some fairly low limits.
However, our high material standard of living makes us a desirable location.
If we didn’t have a population policy then our land mass would soon become unviable in environmental terms.
I am not suggesting the specific way in which the Australian government pursues its population policy is valid. It is horrendous.
But even a progressive Left government would have to have controls and a system in place to maintain a viable population growth.
The reasons there are so many people within the world seeking to move to other locations are many but a response to harsh neoliberal austerity is one and the environmental constraints is another. We could add unnecessary military conflicts and more.
There are millions of environmental refugees now seeking relocation. It doesn’t make any sense to compromise the environmental viability of one place to ease the environmental problems of another.
That is lunacy not solidarity.
But rarely is there consistency in the Left’s arguments.
They want to hamper free capital movements although are never really sure how that works – so they propose insipid ideas like Robin Hood taxes – but then they want workers to flood into nations as a sort of ‘solidarity’ gesture.
We don’t achieve solidarity by making people poorer while making some others a bit better off.
Corporations love ‘free movement’ (of both capital and people) because in the latter case they can use the excess supply of labour to batter the existing workers and their organisations into accepting worse pay and conditions.
That doesn’t seem like a very sensible application of Leftist solidarity.
It is valid for British workers to be concerned about their own working conditions. It is not a sensible Leftist strategy for all workers to accept immiseration in ‘solidarity’ because other workers around the globe are forced into poverty conditions.
If that was the valid Leftist position then we should all accept wages commensurate with those offered in the poorest African peasant societies.
It might be that Californians feel some solidarity with the citizens of Ohio or Wisconsin because they are all Americans.
But trying to enforce that sense of solidarity across ‘national’ borders is another thing altogether.
By fighting for Brexit, the workers in Britain are not abandoning their respect and regard for workers in Greece. They are just defending their interests in the arena where they have influence.
They have not influence in the European Union, which has demonstrated clearly that it is an anti-democratic body.
And don’t for goodness sake wheel out the old furphy that the British workers rely on European law for the protections they enjoy now.
History tells us that most of the benefits that workers in the UK enjoy were in place before the UK entered the European Union.
This BBC fact check (June 2, 2016) – Reality Check: Does the EU protect workers’ rights? – is worth reading.
Further, Jeremy Corbyn will not be able to implement his manifesto for reform if Britain remains in the EU.
I read on a daily basis, pro-Europe progressives who quote this European law or that law, who wax lyrical about nationalised train services in Denmark etc – telling their readers that the EU does not stop a progressive agenda.
Well I am sorry to say that it does.
There is so much misinformation about all of this.
The Danish railways might be state owned. But had they been privatised they would not be able to return to State monopoly under European law, which is exactly what British Labour proposes.
And so it goes for state aid, and all the rest of the constraints that EU law places on the democratic freedom on the British government.
Fighting for Brexit does not mean British workers abandon their regard for workers elsewhere.
It is just that they can do little directly to influence the conditions of those workers. And the history of EU reform shows that little can be done to introduce progressive changes within the current structure.
The reason is that Treaty structure was not accidental. Jacques Delors deliberately set out to enshrine neoliberalism in the very structure of the Union. The Single Market is a manifestation of that.
The British voters can get rid of the austerity-bias in British fiscal policy relatively easily. But they cannot easily change EU policy.
That is the difference.
And by finalising the Brexit process and reestablishing full sovereignty, the progressive government to be elected will have more space to become a demonstration project for workers around the world, including across Europe.
One of the reasons the European Commission has kept Greece within the common currency is because it knows if it left and pursued policies that were freed from the pernicious austerity bias it would grow relatively quickly and material living conditions would rise substantially.
That would show the rest of Europe what can be done with policy autonomy back at the Member State level.
The Commission fears that ‘demonstration effect’. Similarly, if Italy was to leave, the reverberations would destroy the union because the game would be up.
The Commission is allowing Macron to defy the fiscal rules because the Gilets have exposed the fragility of the whole show.
Britain can become a similar ‘demonstration case’ for workers throughout Europe. That would be a far stronger way to show solidarity than staying within the EU and accepting the constraints that such membership brings.
Many readers have written to me asking me whether I would think it better to stay within the EU rather than go for a ‘no deal’ Brexit.
I obviously do not have the resources to undertake a full modelling exercise on what a ‘no deal’ Brexit would look like.
But my judgement – and I have done a lot of data analysis, reading of laws, trade arrangements, etc, and understand all the arguments – is that a no deal Brexit is nothing to fear and would be better than staying in the EU.
But as I indicated at the outset of this debate back in 2016, Brexit might be disastrous if the Tories retain office and continue their nasty policies.
However, given that Labour is likely to take office at the next general election, Brexit gives then space to implement a truly progressive reform agenda within Britain that will be a game changer into terms of ruling paradigms.
Opting for the ‘lets reform the EU’ approach is never going to be a viable strategy and really only serves to support the ‘dream’ that the Left has been holding out about Europe for decades.
Britain can ride the adjustments of a ‘no deal’ Brexit out if its fiscal policy is sound.
And it can become the demonstration case for other nations escaping both the neoliberal austerity bias and the restrictions of being part of neoliberal, corporatist intergovernmental arrangements.
That is enough for today!
(c) Copyright 2018 William Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.