Monday, 9 November 2015

Text of Presentation at the TEAM EU Counter Summit London, November 7th, 2015

I am on the Advisory Board of the Democracy Movement which is a long standing critic of the anti-democratic nature of the European Union and I attended the first meeting of the Leave.EU Advisory Board last month. This was a contribution to the discussion on the coming British Referendum of whether or not to leave the European Union which was held at a useful one day Summit [1] convened by TEAM [The European Alliance of Euro-Critical Movements] on Saturday. 

First of all, I must make clear that, today, I am speaking for the Democracy Movement and not for Leave.EU. The difference is important as I shall make clear. 

I am going to try and do three things in the limited time at my disposal and I will welcome questions later.

First, I want to inform you of what the Democracy Movement is doing in the great cause and re-cap a little on its history to explain how it has got to where it is.

Second, I want to give my impressions of what Leave.EU, one of no less than two [major] euro-realist or euro-sceptic organisations that have emerged in recent weeks and months, is and why I think it is potentially very important.

Third, I want to thread the two themes together as I speak and show why the Democracy Movement is minded to support Leave.Eu while not yet having made its absolutely final decision although it is a decision expected very soon.

I cannot emphasise enough that not only DM but Leave.EU and the socialist and democratic organisations operating in this space consider themselves internationalists and true Europeans.

To be a true European is to stand for democracy and the self-determination of the European peoples collaborating as nation-states on equal terms. This is the legacy of the European Enlightenment and is also resolutely anti-imperialist.

This commitment to being European but firmly against the European Union is something that must be stated again and again in British contexts because the lie being perpetrated about the ‘leave’ camp is that it is anti-European, xenophobic or ‘little Englander’ (a very useful lie when mobilising our Celtic brothers and sisters). [2] 

Nothing could be further from the truth. If anything, the modern British Eurosceptic craves a deeper and firmer cultural connection with Europeans.

What he or she will not accept is being dictated to by Eurocrats when we have a perfectly good sovereign Parliament and ancient liberties at home.

I will go further and say that, while some Eurosceptics are stuck in the old Atlanticist model, the modern British Eurosceptic is very much an internationalist at a much more global level.

If he is a Eurosceptic of the Left, he wants to ensure that global trade and Western power are used to better the lives of the vast majority of humanity that still lives in dire conditions across the world.

If she is a Eurosceptic of the Right, the emphasis may be on global trade and the betterment of humanity through that means.

Both Right and Left will disagree profoundly on means and, in some respects, ends but what they have in common is that freedom can only be offered by example, by a free people freely determining its laws through sovereign institutions.

Having given that cultural background, let me move on to the Democracy Movement which has one of the longest continuous records as defender of national sovereignty from a non-partisan point of view in this country.

It was founded as all-party, as the voice of those who wanted to have the risks to democracy of technocracy brought to public notice. Over subsequent decades it came to link traditional right of centre concerns about the European Union with those of the Left.

It was central to the creation of the People’s Pledge, a non-partisan movement which included both Euro-sceptics and Euro-philes, which demanded and got a Referendum – something the elite of our country would happily have denied us.

Tony Blair himself clearly loathed the very idea of the people making a choice for themselves about the future destiny within the European Union.

He said in his Durham constituency in April: “Think of the chaos produced by the possibility, never mind the reality, of Britain quitting Europe.” 

Well, I see no chaos in the streets or the markets but I am too polite to endorse Boris Johnson’s assertion that Blair was an ‘epic, patronising tosser’ for making his remarks.

The point is that the Democracy Movement and People’s Pledge helped to make a Referendum happen against the massed ranks of the old elite. Now that the Referendum is assured, we will see the same determination to see the matter through to final victory – to leave, leave, LEAVE!

The strategy of the Democracy Movement in recent months has been to husband its resources which include its substantial mailing list and campaigning experience and ensure that those resources are used correctly and to maximum effect when the time comes.

This is an asset that must not be wasted and the activists on its lists must be treated with the utmost respect as fellow soldiers in a shared battle.

But the most important aspect of DM (to use its shortened acronym) is that it has long acted as clearing house for contacts between otherwise mutually suspicious Left and Right Euro-sceptics. This now becomes invaluable in ensuring that the two wings remain united as we get closer to the vote.

The obvious tactic of the Eurocrats is to try to set Left and Right Eurosceptics off against each other in the street.  This must not be allowed to happen. 

For the Eurocrats, given their base-line of centre-right, State and big business support for the pro-European position, the game is to silence the Left and have the old pre-Corbyn elite of the Labour Movement and the Labour Party speak as one voice for the European Union.

But it is not going to happen like that for a number of reasons.

The first is that the numbers of Euro-sceptical left-wingers are much higher than the mainstream Press would like you to believe. They have simply been overwhelmed [in the past] by the group-think of those who purport to speak for them. They simply need leadership and to know they are not alone.

Some became frustrated enough that they drifted across to so-called ‘Red UKIP’ as working class people who felt their concerns were not being addressed by New Labour.

I am reliably informed that many of these people – who are not racists or xenophobes – are now going home to Labour with the arrival of a new Leader, in Jeremy Corbyn, who is clearly more open to the concerns of working people and to open debate on difficult issues such as Europe, TRIDENT and even migration.

However, I am not here to speak of the Left since our Chairman, John Boyd, and Brian Denny of CAEF can do so with more authority than I can.

The Democracy Movement has, however, been helping to prepare the ground for a resurgence of Left Euroscepticism in very difficult times and now the Left can be assured that they are not alone and need not be embarrassed (or as little as possible) by the more rabid nationalist elements on the Right who can sometimes lose more votes than they secure in British contexts.

I am personally very much of the Left with a long track record of activist organisation in the Labour Movement. My long two decades or more association with DM has caused me no problems whatsoever.

There are issues, of course. This is politics. Many on the Left will not sit on a platform with some on the Right. Democratic socialists will not always sit with democratic nationalists but issues like TTIP, the incompetence of the European External Action Service in Ukraine (which has exposed the lie of the European Union as instrument of peace) and the appalling treatment of the Greek people are bringing activists together for this critical vote.

Without a functioning representative democracy answerable to the people, a people with a common history and struggle, there is no opportunity for Left and Right to contest a constitutional space if the only constitutional space available is one dictated by lawyers and technocrats.

Which leads to the final independent initiative of DM alongside maintaining its campaigning asset and increasing understanding between Left and Right democrats –the promotion of the ideal of democracy itself.

What happened in Greece and is now happening in Portugal is a sharp reminder that we are faced by a post-modern Imperial Power that hides its brute corporatist economic force under a velvet glove of liberal ideology.

DM is actively pulling together a second wave of British groups on the theme of national sovereign democracy. These are wholly committed to a ‘leave’ vote when it comes.

Now, at last, let me speak of Leave.EU. As you know there are two ‘leave’ organisations in Britain. I can characterise ‘Leave.EU’ as the mass-orientated one that seeks to mobilise the street to reach the people who really matter here, the voters.

The other ‘camp’, originated by Business For Britain, is a far more elite operation dominated by Members of Parliament of all parties and conservative business interests.

My own view is that there is room for both. Although they may be rivals for funding and attention, there is room for the elite and the mass to have their own organisations.  I see no virtue in public quarrels.

We are on the cusp of a major change in politics where power shifts from the old elite politics to the new politics represented by the power of social media and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn.

The radical new politics straddles party lines – Labour’s Tom Watson is matched by the Tory Zac Goldsmith – and both Douglas Carswell and the Bennite Left see the Levellers, the radicals of the old English Republic, as part of their inheritance.

Yet the old politics still has strong residual power. Some people will still be persuaded to their position by the leadership role of ‘big beasts’. The elite is still part of the game.

So which way will DM jump?

Leave.EU is much closer to the new politics model and DM was a pioneer of this approach. DM shares with Leave.EU a belief in the ultimate wisdom of the people and the need to communicate with them in a two-way dialogue. 

Although no final commitment has been made (since DM, perfectly reasonably, wants to know that its carefully acquired campaigning asset will be managed appropriately and effectively) DM, like so many radical democratic organisations in this country, is minded to give its wholehearted commitment to Leave.EU at the right time.

At some stage, the Eurosceptical arguments are going to have to be put to the people within the funding and other restrictions of the Electoral Commission.

We trust this body. It is not partisan. In our judgment, faced with an elite or a mass offer where the latter has a significant track record of campaigning over decades, it must, if it is to be fair, go with the people and not the big beasts. 

But what I personally like about Leave.EU is that it is not allowing itself to be the rabbit in the headlights of officialdom and not relying on that outcome.

It knows that the pro-European Union lobby has been planning its campaigning for years, has accumulated massive resources and will have the same devious forces working for it as those who stole the first Referendum vote in 1975.

There is no advantage in hanging around until everything is perfect. Battle must be joined sooner rather than later. Leave.EU has simply decided to by-pass the old system of what it calls the ‘Westminster bubble’ and go into the struggle regardless. And we think that is entirely the right strategy.


Notes

[1] Delegates included, in addition to the host nation, Danes, Germans, Greeks, Irish, Norwegians and Slovenians amongst others with a supportive statement from Austria.

[2] A question from the floor by an Irish member of the international delegations raised the point that many of our Celtic brothers and sisters would not mind so much a 'Little Englander' approach if it meant that the people of England would free themselves of an imperial mind-set and commit to their own self-determination alongside that of the peoples of Eire, Wales and Scotland. However, the point stands because, in an English context, the phrase is used by critics of the 'leave' campaign to suggest that their opponents have no understanding or empathy with European culture. Having just finished reading a short story about hope under conditions of institutionalisation by Wolfgang Borchert written in 1947 just before writing this note, I am confident that we can argue that it is our love of Europe and European culture that makes us determined to resist its bureaucratisation, corporatisation and institutionalisation.