The Morning Star’s coverage of the EU has always been rabid little-Britain nationalism dressed up with a few “left wing” phrases about “social dumping” and the like. It recently reached a nadir with this shameful letter and this disgusting editorial.
So it came as a refreshing change to read something sensible and recognisably left wing on the subject of the EU; even so, the editors gave the piece a thoroughly misleading title, which I strongly suspect wasn’t chosen by the author, ‘Corporate campaign worries labour right’; and I doubt that this strap-line was chosen by him, either:
SOLOMON HUGHES finds even the Blairites are concerned about the businessmen that have come to dominate the official In campaign
THE Britain Stronger In Europe campaign for an In vote at the EU referendum has jumped straight into a strategy that I heard even top Blairites say is doomed to failure. They’ve made ex-M&S boss Stuart Rose campaign chief, cementing the bad strategy into the heart of the organisation.
It looks like both the main pro- and anti-EU campaigns think that because the EU is an economic union, then this is a question of “economics” which is best addressed by “businessmen” lecturing us about what “business” needs.
So the EU debate is going to be a lot like a bad episode of The Apprentice, with people rushing around talking about “business” and “markets” and “sales.”
It’s hard to think of a worse voice for Europe than Rose. He is currently on the advisory board of Bridgepoint Capital, an investment firm profiting from NHS privatisation by its ownership of leading health contractor Care UK. Rose is also a senior adviser to HSBC European — he works for a bank busy trying to blunt EU regulation of finance.
Britain Stronger In Europe is fronted by businesspeople such as Rose, Karren Brady and Richard Branson. Their first video was all about “deregulation” and “business benefit” and “consumer benefit,” although — blink and you miss it — there was a brief reference to the EU-backed right to maternity leave and holidays in their promo video.
But at the Labour conference I heard Chuka Umunna argue: “If we are going to win this debate it has got to be a grassroots campaign. And actually it will not be won by the CEOs of companies that make up the members of the CBI writing letters to the Financial Times and the Times, telling people from on high about what they need to do when the referendum comes.”
Chuka also said — ironically from an all-male, all-posh panel — that “those making the argument also need to reflect modern Britain, so we need to make sure we have all of the regions (and) both genders” making the case.
Chuka argued that the In campaign “mustn’t be a Westminster or corporate elite telling everybody what they should do, because if it looks like that we are going to lose.”
It looks like Britain Stronger In Europe took Chuka’s warning as a recommendation and decided that lectures from business execs was a good idea.
Similarly Emma Reynolds MP — one of the refuseniks who left the shadow cabinet when Jeremy won — argued from another panel that the pro-EU campaign should be about “getting the message out through local people, not just us on the top table.”
The top table she was on was about as Establishment as it could be. She was speaking at a fringe meeting organised by Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank deeply wedded to the status quo. The meeting was paid for by Citibank, who had its man on the platform too.
Which points to the big weakness of the pro-EU campaign. They know that if it is all business-y it might lose. But they just can’t help themselves. So Reynolds calls for a grassroots campaign from a platform paid for by Citibank, a company that helped blow up the world economy with self-destructing financial investments and now fights against EU banking regulation.
Similarly, when Umunna gave his speech about an EU campaign not being a “corporate elite” campaign, he did so from a platform funded by the City of London Corporation. He spoke next to the City’s chief lobbyist for deregulation, Mark Boleat, and Peter Mandelson — who used the occasion to give a big speech in favour of the TTIP trade treaty.
There is a social bargain at the heart of the EU — capital can move freely within the EU borders, but so can labour. Money can move freely inside the EU, but so can people.
Equally the EU imposes some deregulation, but it also imposes some regulations. The EU encourages privatisation of services but it also imposes some regulations of working hours and holidays. The EU limits some government social spending, but it also directs some EU funds to deprived areas.
Arguably it is a pretty bad bargain, which is weighted much more to capital than labour.
There are two responses on the left — either argue for a better bargain, Syriza-style, and say: “Another Europe is possible.” Argue for an In vote and change within Europe. Or say we can strike a better national bargain for working people by breaking with the EU bureaucracy.
Personally I favour the former, because I think that the Out campaign is so dominated by the right it would direct how we leave — any exit as it stands would be shaped by the right, who would exit in favour of worse migration rules and a faster race to the regulatory bottom. It isn’t a great choice.
But I do think that we can make the choice better by shifting the debate from rival “businessmen” lecturing us on whether we can have less regulation and more bigotry inside or outside the EU. And, oddly enough, Umunna and Reynolds agree.
Even though they are thoroughly keen to do what capital wants, they know that in current circumstances people won’t just sit and be lectured by “businessmen.”
There might be room for a less-corporate In campaign under Labour Yes — except that is run by Alan Johnson, who was so thoroughly committed to New Labour’s business-friendly consensus that it is hard to see him making any noise.
Johnson didn’t really think another Britain was possible when he was a minister, so it is hard to see him arguing another Europe is possible.
This leaves a lot of room outside the supposedly official In and Out campaigns to argue that precisely because the EU is an economic institution that the debate should not be led by businessmen.
It’s an opportunity, but also a responsibility. We need to make the case that economics in the EU means how we run our schools or hospitals or welfare state. It means how we regulate banks, not how some ageing executive pleases the banks while lining his pockets.
- Follow Solomon Hughes on Twitter @SolHughesWriter.
JD adds: Comrade Hughes should sign up with the Campaign for a Workers’ Europe.