It is time the Left re-examined its support for the EU as a bastion of progressive policy

It is time the Left re-examined its support for the EU as a bastion of progressive policy

The Labour Party has always been an uncomfortable alliance between those on the one hand who are content to seek a politics that declines to accept the infallibility of market-driven outcomes and accordingly seeks to achieve greater social justice within a market-based framework, and those on the other hand whose purpose is a socialist reformation of the market economy and, consequently, of society as a whole.

The two attitudes manage on the whole to co-exist but the fault line between them is always there. The first group is usually in favour of centrist politics and advocates for policies that will not “frighten the horses”and that will, as they see it, appeal to uncommitted opinion and thereby maximise the chances of being elected to power.

The second group believe that a full-blooded socialist programme has a good chance, when properly explained and campaigned on, of appealing to majority opinion, and of then providing a secure platform for bringing about genuine and long-lasting reform.

On the whole, it is usually the first group that prevails, on account of its supposedly greater sensitivity to, and expertise with regard to, electoral issues. When that is not the case, and the leadership passes into the hands of the second group, the reaction of the first group is invariably to make life as difficult as possible for the leadership, in the attempt to ensure that the party does not veer too far to the left.

Over recent decades, the litmus test for identifying the two groups has often been attitudes towards “Europe” – a term often used to describe the particular trading, banking and bureaucratic  organisation created on the continent under joint Franco-German leadership, and currently known as the European Union. The first group is in favour of British involvement in “Europe” (it seems to go with the territory) and, along with other bien pensants, regards support for it as an indicator of correctness and virtue; the second group is more cautious and critical.

The first group (and its supporters in the media) have become accustomed to identifying both supporters and opponents, by ascertaining attitudes to “Europe”. It is not a surprise, therefore, to find that – with “Europe” dominating British politics – common cause has been found by those who fear that the Labour Party’s current leadership is veering too far left and those who want to see a more pro-“European” disposition on the part of that leadership.

Nor is it a surprise that those who want to replace the current leadership by one that is more centrist should have hit upon “Europe” as the issue on which to try to define their differences with that leadership. It is no accident that those who might be tempted to launch a coup against the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn should, having failed in earlier attempts to unseat him, have chosen “Europe” as the issue with which to make a renewed attempt to embarrass him and to make clear their differences with him.

Such a conflation of separate issues is unfortunate and should be rejected by those who want to see an effective force on the left of British politics. Alternatively, the argument should be turned on its head, and an adherence to “Europe” should be recognised as the hallmark of those who don’t have the stomach for a fully-fledged critique of, and counter-response to, the neo-liberal inheritance bequeathed to the party by New Labour.

In any event, the time has surely come for a long-delayed and proper recognition of the usually disputed and neglected left case for looking askance at “Europe” as a supposed bastion of progressive policy. The corollary of that case is that an effective campaign on British soil for a party of the left surely requires an acknowledgement that a “Europe” of bankers, bureaucrats and multi-nationals does not offer any support for the prospect of socialist reform at home.

It is Jeremy Corbyn’s instinctive understanding of that truth that attracts the censure and hostility of his critics and that is the pretext for the latest challenge to his leadership.