By Babatunde Salau
The hijacking of the EU referendum into a Tory civil war shows how divisive the issue is within the Conservative party. In an effort to definitively settle the issue, Cameron unleashed a eurosceptic sentiment that threatens not just his leadership, but also confidence in Brussels, as a growing portion of the European project begins to reflect on whether it is still fit for purpose. So far the race appears to be too close for Cameron’s comfort, as polls show the electorate evenly split on which shade of blue they’d prefer.
One of many arguments emanating from the left against leaving the EU is feeling that that the Labour party in its current state would be unable to effectively challenge a Conservative party unbound from EU, leaving it free to run amok. This view doesn’t take into account how regularly the Conservatives have failed in the current parliament (mainly due to their own hubris/incompetence, pick your favourite) by continually placing land mines for themselves to step onto. Fortunately for them Corbyn, who refuses to play in the Westminster theatre, instead favours a ‘kinder, gentler’ approach. As such, has not used the opportunities to dig the knife into the government, much less twist it for political capital. This is reflected in polling that has consistently shown the Conservatives to be ahead of Labour, despite their venomous attacks on the services that many people rely on. There is much to be said about the role of the mainstream media in maintaining this, but that goes beyond the scope of this post and would involve confirming my biases.
Despite their passivity the opposition has still opened the political narrative beyond austerity, which has given space for the notion that the status quo is failing. Across the world, economies are stagnant, vital public services are being cut, and populist movements are on the rise as people look for alternatives, both on the left and the right. The idea that the leaving the EU would allow the Conservatives to double down on their current ethos is misguided and represents an abject failure to identify the predominant source of increasing tensions across the globe, which I would summarise as institutionalised economic idiocy.
Irrespective of this, there is a more noxious problem with relying on the EU to control the Conservatives, rather than building a national, left-wing movement that is more in touch with the electorate. Whether we like it or not, the Conservatives were democratically elected. There is no use raising qualms about the fairness of the electoral system, unless you mean to say that it is a fair system as long as the party you want to win wins. Relying on outsourced sovereignty to an undemocratic body is not the answer to Conservative hegemony, and to me, exhibits contempt for the decisions made by citizens of this country, almost as if to say they are wrong for choosing what they believe is in their interest. I don’t deny that there are problems with the British political system. As a system of governance, democracy is far from perfect, and the electorate can and is subject to influence by media and misinformation, but at the very least, it guarantees a fair form of representation, as well as making those we elect accountable for the decisions they are supposed to make on our behalf.
By its nature, the EU is undemocratic. The EU commission, which has the sole right to propose, change or remove legislation, is made up of appointed members that are not democratically selected by the citizens of Europe based on what they offer to legislate on our behalf. The elected EU parliament is only able to pass or reject legislation, as well as remove the current commission through a vote of no confidence. This comes without the ability to decide who will participate in the new commission, making the original vote somewhat defunct, as they cannot influence the direction of the commission. As such it is fair to raise concerns about outside influence on these commissioners, namely by lobbyists of large corporations. This leaves the EU free to arrange legislation in private, as we see with TTIP, which aims introduce corporate courts outside of natural jurisdiction where corporations can essentially sue national governments for legislating against their profits, even if the government was acting in the interest of its citizens.
A return to an unadulterated self-government would be a key step in providing an effective left-wing alternative to any threat of Conservative hegemony. Shifting the ideology of a nation is no mean feat, but is certainly not aided by ceding power to an unaccountable supra-national entity. The deeply undemocratic nature of the EU as already shown itself to be a threat to democracy, as we saw in Greece, who despite choosing to reject more crippling austerity, were crushed into submission by the EU, a scandal made worse by the empirical evidence against austerity. In Spain, similar uprisings are now wary of the Greek experience, and have begun to align with more mainstream views that will restrict their ability to develop solutions to the issues that plague not just Spain but much of the Western world.
In reality, the EU has neither the will nor a reason to be any less vile than the worst excess of the Conservatives. To assume so is to turn a blind eye to the on-going turmoil in Europe, largely inflicted by leading states on the poorer and less influential southern states. At least here in the UK, leaders are held accountable by elections. In the EU, the blind lead the increasingly unwilling, and face no fear of dismal for their blunders. It would be better for the world if the British left used Brexit to launch a revolution against neoliberalism, as opposed to relying on the receding benevolence of the unelected.