The Blog

The Left and the EU

The upcoming EU referendum in the UK is considered to be almost exclusively an issue for the political Right. It is automatically assumed that left-wing voters and thinkers will vote to stay in. This is not the case. I'm a left-wing voter and I will be voting to leave the EU.

The upcoming EU referendum in the UK is considered to be almost exclusively an issue for the political Right. It is automatically assumed that left-wing voters and thinkers will vote to stay in.

This is not the case.

I'm a left-wing voter and I will be voting to leave the EU.

Any modern socialist or social democrat must be disturbed by the current situation in Greece. A sovereign nation voted resoundingly for a socialist government after economic collapse under their conservative predecessors. Yet Greece's creditors, including the EU, insist on the implementation of the very austerity policies that the Greek people (and many leading economists) have rejected.

The broad Left in the UK, Labour, the Green Party, SNP, and Plaid Cymru, must interrogate its support for the EU much more carefully. They must not define their position in contrast to eurosceptic Conservatives and UKIP. Even if it means voting the same way, the reasoning is all important.

The Left must ask itself whether the situation in Greece is not indicative of a wider phenomenon of economic imperialism in the EU, pursued by its technocratic elite. This imperialism only permits free-market fundamentalist economics within its borders, despite the catastrophic effect this has had on the Greek economy, among others.

What's more, the Left should use Greece as its example. It wasn't modern socialism, or Labour in particular, that caused the financial crisis. It was free-market fundamentalism and its concomitant deregulation. Labour made mistakes. But its main fault was not that it was too left-wing but the reverse.

The Conservatives had to blame Labour for the crisis precisely because they shared the economic ideology that produced it. They needed to preserve the sanctity of the free-market and Labour was a useful distraction.

Inexplicably, and with almost no resistance from its politicians, the Left has sleepwalked into alliance with the EU despite its pursuit of economic policies that are antithetical to modern socialist economics. In thoughtlessly doing so, they jeopardise their credibility as an alternative.

The UK Left, especially while in opposition, ought to stand with the Greek government as a matter of sovereignty, an argument which even some conservatives countenance. Without doing so they risk fostering an economic discourse in Europe within which they are isolated.

In the Greek saga, the EU has revealed itself to be an increasingly imperialist regime. Lefties like to think of themselves as being socially conscious, criticising Britain's imperial past in a way which others often fail to do. Yet the EU undermines the sovereignty of nations, sadistically pursues economic austerity which exacerbates inequality, and forecloses any possibility of opposition to free-market fundamentalism. All of this amounts to an imperial venture on the UK's doorstep, and the Left blindly supports it.

So, why is the UK's Left so fascinated with the EU?

It speaks of an identity crisis brought about by the absence of a credible alternative economic narrative. In particular, Labour's economics is currently Conservative-economics but 'a bit nicer'. The Left's approach should not be an attack on capitalism (the instinctive leftist response) but an attack on the particular form of neoliberal capitalism that is failingly being pursued by the EU.

As renowned economist Joseph Stiglitz describes:

Inequality weakens aggregate demand and the economy.

Because lower earners spend a higher percentage of their income, as wealth disproportionately accumulates among the rich demand is forestalled. 500 people earning £50,000 a year will spend a greater proportion of that money than one individual whose income is £25m.

This is just one argument for the redistribution of wealth that should be made for the good of the economy. But there is more that the Left should be doing which contradicts received wisdom within EU.

The Left should be arguing that it is EU imperialism which is anti-business. Monopolies are anti-business. Tax avoidance by multinational corporations is anti-business. Pursuing austerity and reducing investment in education (higher education in particular), healthcare, and transport infrastructure is anti-business.

After all, how can innovative new businesses blossom in a market which is dominated by one or two companies? How is it fair that SMEs should play by the rules while non-domiciled businesses do not? How can entrepreneurs fulfil their potential when a country's infrastructure in underinvested?

EU neoliberalism is not good for business, it is good for the super-rich. This distinction must be made.

Leftists have taken to defining themselves by what they are against rather than what they are for. They idealise the EU as an enlightened project aimed at promoting diversity, equality, and tolerance. But with narrow economic thinking, increasing disparity in wealth, and worsening social strife, I'm afraid the EU no longer fulfils any of these ideals.

Any politics should not be allied to institutions indefinitely and without interrogation. I believe it is time for the Left to examine its relationship with the EU as much as some on the Right wish to.

Stiglitz's mantra should be foremost in our minds as we do so:

Economic inequality inevitably leads to political inequality.

And both, I'm afraid, have been exacerbated by the EU.