For most of the second half of the twentieth century, the left were sceptical of the European project. During Clem Atlee's government, Deputy Prime Minister Herbert Morrison rejected a plan that would eventually lead to the creation of the European Steel and Coal Community. Morrison repudiated the plan, with barely a moment's thought, because 'the Durham miners won't wear it'. In the 70s, Harold Wilson failed to garner left-wing support for the European Economic Community, as the majority of Labour Party members avidly rejected the ECC.
Michael Foot, Labour Leader in the early 80s, called for complete withdrawal from the ECC in his 1983 election manifesto - mainly criticising its apparent imposition of free market dogma. And, of course, Tony Benn argued against the European project in all its permutations for a variety of reasons, although his primary focus was a lack of democratic accountability.
The left's position changed during the later Thatcher years. Neil Kinnock, ever the moderniser, supported the EU project. Tony Blair, more of a destroyer than a moderniser, was the EU cheerleader par excellence. Ed Miliband outwardly rejected the call for an EU referendum despite pressure from the electorate. And, at present, the four Labour leadership candidates all widely support the EU, although they have inexorably adopted the populist rhetoric of reform.
The left - or at least the centre-left - are now the pro-Europeans. There is, however, a potential break on the horizon. The EU's actions in Greece threaten the centre-left's pro-EU stance. The main reason, as I see it, for the left's acceptance of the EU is a sense of European solidarity. The ethos of cooperation that has long been a trait of the left has allowed folks to tolerate the often tendentious corporate influence and the odd disavowal of the democratic process.
This feeling of solidarity and community, however, seems to be dissipating. The EU's actions in Greece openly exposed the negative aspects the left used to find so abhorrent - lack of democratic accountability and the influence of big money. Moreover, the EU has negated the fundamental reasons the left broadly welcomed the European project. Many, such as myself, feel one of the main purposes of the EU is to protect member states in times of hardship. We hope the EU will show support when a state is struggling - both politically and economically. It seems that the EU's core message of solidarity and support has been lost. If our membership of the EU is solely an economic arrangement - and there are surely trade options available upon our exit - one has to question why the left would continue to show support.
In recent weeks, the left and the right have united under a common anti-EU banner. Following the Greek referendum, influential commentators from both sides were joyously proclaiming 'Oxi!' There was cross-party solidarity for the people of Greece in their fight against the EU. The EU has engaged a vitriolic battle - rhetorically and economically - against one of its own. They are quite clearly contradicting their core ideal of being 'United in Diversity'.
On Monday the 13th of July, the EU and Greece finally agreed terms. These terms won't prevent further scepticism on the left. The EU seems to have succeeded in undermining democracy in the land that invented modern democracy. They have imposed stringent reforms on a country that has suffered due to stringent reforms. They have forced austerity on a country distressed by austerity.
Monday's agreement offers a certain amount of relief to those on the left that are hanging on to the European project. Increasing animosity and a prolonged deal would only arouse further scepticism. The once fiercely pro-EU left may, nonetheless, question their support. The EU has done irrevocable damage to its credibility throughout this Greek tragedy. To keep left-wingers on their side, the EU needs to take serious measures to re-establish those ideals that we once found so attractive.Suggest a correction