Choose Project Real Democracy over Project Fear
The way in which Project Fear has saturated both sides of the official European Union referendum campaigns is reason enough to reject them and replace Westminster’s discredited political system with Project Real Democracy.
An issue at the heart of the UK’s broken constitution has been overwhelmed by rhetoric, half-truths, lies, deceptions and fearful predictions of what will happen following either a remain or leave vote.
Essential questions of democracy, where power lies, where power ought to lie, why millions have abandoned former loyalty to political parties, what the EU actually is – all have gone out of the window in the scramble for votes.
On the government side, warnings have cascaded down on people’s heads about the economic and political catastrophe that would automatically follow Brexit. President Obama, the International Monetary Fund, the Bank of England and the major employers have weighed in.
Their fear, of course, is not to do with the welfare or wellbeing of the UK’s citizens but the disruption to the global capitalist economy and international relations that Brexit might lead to.
On the official leave side, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – urged on from the sidelines by Ukip’s Nigel Farage – have whipped up so much hysteria about immigration that progressive people who want to vote leave are compelled to distance themselves from this rabble, which is no bad thing.
This is a peculiar referendum because both camps are actually euro-sceptic. In the remain camp, no one claims the EU is worth being part of for its own sake, that it prevents European wars or that a supra-state is superior to nation states. UK membership is presented as the least-worse option, which is not much to get you going. The official leave camp reject the EU unconditionally, of course.
There is no third option in the referendum but it is legitimate to set out an alternative vision to both David Cameron and Boris Johnson, as well as the Another Europe is Possible (via a reformed EU) campaign promoted by Labour’s leaders. Our vision is for a democratic revolution in the UK and across Europe which would result in a transfer of power to the people through a new constitutional settlement made and enforced by citizens themselves.
Just as large numbers of those planning to vote remain do not necessarily endorse Cameron, so our call for an anti-EU vote implies no backing for the Johnson-Gove-Farage camp. That camp dreams of restoring the days of Empire when Britain’s navy ruled the world and when the UK Parliament was apparently sovereign.
Well, neither is possible. Empire has rightly given way to self-determination. As for Parliamentary sovereignty, that was a fiction long before Britain joined the EU in 1973.
Laws are legitimated by Parliament rather than made by it. Since the mid-19th century, political power has been exercised through the executive and the administrative organs of the state.
The UK’s parliament today is no more sovereign over the country’s affairs than the Greek parliament proved to be when the Troika (the European Commission, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) enslaved the country in return for new bail-outs. Today, the political process is subordinate to the needs of global capital and finance and could hardly be described as independent, sovereign or democratic.
As for blaming EU migrants for low wages, housing shortages and poor services, this is simply untrue. As recent research from University College London shows, European migrants actually pay in more in taxes than they take out in state benefits to the tune of £2bn a year.
Poor housing is actually the result of greedy landlords and the actions of successive governments in undermining social housing in favour of home ownership, leading to speculation in house prices that puts them beyond the reach of most people.
Crumbling services are the consequence of austerity and privatisation, which neither the trade union leaders nor Labour councils have done much, if anything, to prevent or resist. The crisis in the NHS is largely due to New Labour’s policies of trusts and private finance, which the Tories have deepened.
In sum, the UK state’s transition from a welfare state to a market state in response to corporate-driven globalisation is the cause. Over the last 25 years, the EU has also changed – from social Europe to free-market Europe and has thus become a transmission belt for attacks on wages and conditions.
Some are concerned that working-class voters are being drawn to the racist arguments of the official leave camp. But the anger felt in many communities devastated by globalisation and free markets cannot be dismissed so easily. Discontent has been articulated by the right precisely because Labour historically abandoned working class people in the New Labour years, while during the referendum, the present leadership has felt constrained and unable to speak out against capitalism or the EU.
Chris Hanretty, from the University of East Anglia, explained it well:
In 1975, at the time of our last referendum on Europe, men who left school without any qualifications but who were in full-time work could expect to earn around three-quarters of the median salary. Now, men in that same category can only expect to earn two-thirds of the median.
Older men and women without educational qualifications are very likely to vote for Britain to leave the EU – not because they’re stupid or uninformed but because over the past 40 years their relative position within society has worsened.
Researcher Lisa Mckenzie notes that the EU referendum has become “a referendum on almost everything”. She adds:
In the mining towns of Nottinghamshire where I am from, the debate again is about Brexit, and even former striking miners are voting leave. The mining communities are also worried about the lack of secure and paid employment, the loss of the pubs and the grinding poverty that has returned to the north.
The talk about immigration is not as prevalent or as high on the list of fears as sections of the media would have us believe. The issues around immigration are always part of the debate, but rarely exclusively. From my research I would argue that the referendum debate within working-class communities is not about immigration, despite the rhetoric. It is about precarity and fear.
So what is the essence, the nature of the EU? A project that began in the early 1950s as an attempt to prevent another European war through the creation of supra-state economic relations has morphed into another kind of beast. Parallel to its own evolution was the process of globalisation that followed the break-up of post-war international economic arrangements in the early 1970s. By the 1980s, the two processes coincided and the result was a different kind of EU.
As Werner Bonefield, a researcher at York University, explains the “EU provides a supranational anchor for the domestic pursuit of market freedom”. He argues that what he describes as the “free labour economy” is part of this project . As to the EU’s attitude to democracy, Bonefield adds:
In the market-liberal account, mass democratic systems of parliamentary law-making prevent the achievement of efficiency competition on labour markets. The often-lamented democratic deficit of European governance is … not a design fault. Rather, the market-liberal constitution of Europe identifies democracy as an impediment to the achievement of a free labour economy.
As the eurozone continues to languish in recession, with 50% youth unemployment in Spain, the attack on existing conditions enforced through regulations is proceeding apace – led by the very same Cameron government that is arguing for a remain vote.
The Corporate Europe campaign group has been monitoring the role of governments and lobbyists in furthering the neo-liberal approach, and notes:
The deregulation agenda in the European Union has the fingerprints of corporate lobbyists all over it. For example, [the] exclusive big business lobby, the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT) 2011 proposal demanded a complete overhaul of EU legislation, affecting current, drafted, and future regulation. At the time, the proposals seemed far too extreme to be serious, but in one form or another they have been adopted.
Whichever way you look at it, deregulation is an agenda of big business interests and they have found a sympathetic ear in London. In 2013, the UK government set up the Business Taskforce to ‘to get bureaucracy out of the way of business’ at both the national and EU levels. Led by six leaders from big business and a government minister, it came up with 30 proposals for where EU regulations should be abandoned, scrapped, or reduced and included a competitiveness test. Many recommendations were adopted at the EU level, including downgrading a proposed regulation on fracking to a light-touch recommendation.
So far from being a bulwark against right-wing policies in the UK, the EU is actually transmitting them back via London! This is not supra democracy – it’s supra capitalism.
The EU supra-state run by a Byzantine bureaucracy is beyond reform. Labour’s policy that Another Europe is Possible is a sorry illusion. Larry Elliott, the economics editor of The Guardian, notes that Yanis Varoufakis, the former finance minister of Greece, thinks pressure could oblige the rich countries to provide financial help to the poor states. “Good luck with getting Germany to agree to that,” he tells Varoufakis.
Economic policy has been relentlessly deflationary. The interests of bankers have been given a higher priority than workers’. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain have been the laboratory mice in a continent-wide neoliberal experiment of a sort Tea Party Republicans in the US can only fantasise about.
A different Europe is needed, but it is stretching credibility to imagine that the Europe of Greece and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership can easily morph into America with the nice people in charge. The eurozone is economically moribund, persists with policies that have demonstrably failed, is indifferent to democracy, is run by and for a small, self-perpetuating elite, and is slowing dying.
He is for leave.
Every opportunity to reject the corporate conspiracy against the people should be seized, inside and outside the EU. We do not advocate vote leave as a gesture but as part of a perspective of building a movement with others for revolutionary, democratic change in each country.
Another Europe is possible and necessary. But another EU is impossible. We should acknowledge that the EU is not an institution of the people but a bureaucratic mechanism for relaying the needs of the global corporations and financial institutions into member states.
Of course, we could and should characterise the UK state in a similar vein. Although it has its own, long history and contested evolution, the UK state is a hollowed-out shadow of its post-war form. The transition to a market state is close to completion and is barrier to future human progress.
Voting leave does not mean, of course, that you can “leave” the malign influence of capital because it is global and pervasive. For that we have to create a different society and political system where power truly does lie with the people. For whatever the outcome on June 23, sovereignty will remain with the corporations and the banks and not the people.
Transforming the UK into a real democracy, where a new constitution puts people and planet before profit, has to be our goal. That is way to inspire working people across Europe, who are increasingly rejecting the EU, into building a future for themselves that transcends Brussels.
Voting leave on this basis enables you to do so with a clear conscience.
22 June 2016