Sunday 27 April 2014

Labour Should Embrace A More Sceptical Approach To The EU, by Richard Cotton

Labour has always been the driving force for constitutional reform and democratic advance, from Kier Hardie’s support of the suffragettes, to the Attlee Government’s abolition of plural voting with the removal of the property based business vote and university constituencies in 1948.

Prior to that, businessmen who were also graduates had as many as three votes.

In 1969 it was a Labour Government, which lowered the voting age from 21 to 18.

In 1975, it was a Labour Government that, in the teeth of strong Tory opposition, granted the British people the right to determine their future in or out of Europe with the first UK wide referendum on EEC membership.

It was, of course, a Tory Government which took Britain into the EEC without a referendum.

Since then there have been nine further national and regional referendums, eight on devolution issues, three in Wales, two in Scotland and one each in Northern Ireland, the North East and Greater London, together with the UK-wide referendum on the Alternative Vote (AV) in 2011.

In addition, under the Blair Government there were 37 local referendums on the constitutional arrangements for local government (elected mayors, etc).

Indeed, until now only twice has a Tory Government supported a referendum, once in 1973 on the constitution position of Northern Ireland, and the second time in 2011 on the Alternative Vote, but that was only conceded as part of the Coalition Agreement.

Historically, it was always Labour that championed the right of the British people to determine constitutional issues, just as it was Labour that was historically opposed to the EEC, which has now morphed into a neoliberal concept known as the EU.

It is difficult to understand why the party opposed the EEC on the grounds that it was a ‘capitalist club’ yet know embraces the EU, which really does enshrine neoliberalism into law: read the Single European Act.

The EU is now embarking on secret negotiations known as the Transanlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which will give all power to global corporations and destroy our cherished NHS.

The party says that the EU is not an issue that resonates on doorsteps, and that is true. But issues related to the EU often do.

For example the way in which house prices in central London have rocketed as a result of overseas buyers buying new homes and leaving them empty. Denmark negotiated an opt out on foreign ownership of homes as a result if which you have to be a Danish citizen in order to own property in Denmark.

People are also concerned about the free movement of capital and labour, not because they fear outsiders, but because they fear that free movement benefits the rich and powerful and not communities like the car workers in Hampshire whose jobs were outsourced to Turkey with the aid of an EU grant.

It is, to say the least ,odd that EU membership means that our immigration policy privileges ‘EU citizens’ over West Indians, Indians or New Zealanders. Yet it is often those who are Eurosceptic who are accused of being racist.

How can it be right that Scotland gets to vote on their constitutional relationship with the rest of the UK, yet the UK as whole is denied a referendum on our constitutional relationship with the EU? Before anyone says we had such a referendum in 1975, that was on the EEC not the EU.

Uncritical support of the EU has now become an article of faith for many Labour representatives and activists, but surely we should embrace a little more scepticism if we are to reflect public opinion?

And, at the very least, we should embrace an in/out referendum both to demonstrate our democratic credentials and to wrong foot the Tories who have set and arbitrary date for a referendum.

It’s good that Ed is promising a referendum in the event of any further transfer of power to the EU. But many remember that we were promised a referendum on the EU constitution, aka the Lisbon Treaty.

I fear that if we continue to be seen on the side of the undemocratic EU elite, then it won’t just be the Tories who lose support to UKIP.

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