Peter Hitchens talks about David Cameron as though he were a sandal wearing, bearded leftie. In spite of Cameron’s rhetoric on the EU that half our laws emanate from EU bureaucrats, his alignment to the European Conservatives and Reformists (which according to pro-Europe Ken Clarke sits the Tory party with neo-fascists or cranks in Europe) and his constant snubs (today Downing Street refused to fly the EU flag, defying Europe Union “wishes”), Hitchens says Cameron has done nothing to stop Britain from sleepwalking into Europe’s arms.
But then Hitchens would say that – for him everything bad, from abortion to crime to human rights, has by its side a box-ticking regulator with a foreign accent.
Cameron can say what he wants about the EU, but Hitchens will tell us that the homunculus inside the Prime Minister’s head is wearing a blue tie with yellow stars on it.
Though it is fair to say Hitchens is not always the best judge of good reasons to stay out of Europe; much like Dan Hannan for whom it appears 85% of laws come straight from legislation books locked up in Herman Van Rompuy’s secret underground lab which one enters to the overbearing sound of Ode To Joy (and Beethoven was probably a freemason – coincidence? Er, yes!).
But Hitchens is nothing if not consistent in his dislike of the EU, and his judgement that the UK Conservative party secretly likes the membership status it has in Europe. In May 2009 he wrote an article suggesting that while Thatcher saw off the dreaded unions, she did little to counter the “cultural revolutionaries who wanted to undermine marriage, dissolve the family, sexualise children and use State schools as an egalitarian sausage machine, turning out brainwashed Leftists by the million.”
For him there was little point in Thatcher defeating the shop stewards since so many of our laws are dictated by the unelected directive in Europe.
But while not agreeing with the premise, I happen to agree with Hitchens that Thatcher created the grounds where the EU cold flourish in the UK (though, of course, Hitchens would have no truck with my conclusions). Firstly, in ruthlessly destroying the lives of miners, and so much of the workforce in Britain, she weakened the industrial base of the country. She recognised that industry, and worse nationalised industry, provided too much security for the wage labourers who she despised, and did nothing to conquer the world – a task she admired, educated, as she was, to be an Empire politician.
Thatcher really came at the wrong time; the sun had set for the imperial nation she grew up fantasising about, but post-industrialism opened up a new promise – what if Britain was a economic powerhouse! Mother Hayek destroyed the public sector and brought about a neo-liberal model, re-inscribed later by Blair, and whose ferocity has been matched by today’s coalition government under the banner “big society”. Perversely, however, this new model required a new workforce; the unskilled worker, and much of it. While Enoch Powell warned of the rivers of blood, Thatcher’s capitalism required as many workers as possible (too many if necessary, to keep unemployed workers as back-up to drive down wages and undercut unions). The best way to sustain this model was to free up trade, and exploit the immigrant workforce – a set of principles which has been written into every European Union treaty from Maastricht to Lisbon.
Clearly Thatcher had worked anti-Europe rhetoric into her brand, much as Cameron has done, but the European Union is really the sum total of the conservative capitalism they both adore so much. They both may have waxed lyrical to the tune of isolationism, but a free market EU is set in stone in the Conservative party unconscious.
It is for this reason that there is still a plausible Left case against the EU; at best the European Union is a charter for unregulated capitalism with an unelected hub at the beck and call of multinational corporations who are free to exploit the resources of whichever workforce it chooses, set up shop in whichever country gives it the best deal for tax and regulation, move whole swathes of the workforce from place to place and can pick up and leave whenever it wants – reducing whole areas to depression and despair.
It used to be said that a Pro-European Tory was a Liberal Democrat, indeed many former members of the Tory Reform Group are now Liberal Democrats (Baron Lee of Trafford, Baron Dykes, Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne to name but three). But their difference to modern Conservative party attitudes towards the EU is that they were avowed in their championing of EU policy. Free market and neoliberal Tories forget how closely they operate under the EU spell. Any leftie who opposes Thatcherism (and that is nearly every one) should oppose the EU too.
Rob Flello, MP for Stoke-on-Trent South, failed to get his sustainable livestock bill through Parliament on 15 November, which would have allowed farmers to swap imported soy animal feed for home-grown alternatives. Dependency on imported crop is unsustainable for the protection of the planet, which has near unanimity among politicians and business leaders today, yet opposition to the bill focused on its attempt to forge new regulation on an issue already being addressed by the food industry.
According to Pits n Pots news in Stoke on Trent, the bill enjoyed support from some 55,000 people, Friends of the Earth, and had the backing of 176 MPs, but in the end only managed to secure 62 votes – with some pointing out that many MPs needed to stay in their constituencies that day for Armistice Day Services.
Nevertheless, the failure of the bill to be passed does not spell doom. During the bill debate held in the House of Commons on 12 November, the more thoughtful Conservative opposition noted the work by many individuals and organisations helping to decrease dependency on imported crop and save rainforests in South America.
Tony Baldry for example, the MP for North Oxfordshire and as he refers to himself, the last surviving Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food in the House of Commons, recognises the benefits of increasing British livestock production, however he is unimpressed with how much “red tape” the bill required.
Like Flello, Baldry wants British reliance on imported soy to decrease in order to lower the nation’s carbon footprint. Additionally he would like Britain to address the problem of chronic poverty in developing nations caused by livestock asset loss (such as losing the benefits of mixed farming methods, livestock consumption of waste products, pest control, fertiliser and food production) however he is confident the industry can bring about the changes itself.
Jim Paice, the Minister of State for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) noted in the debate that the Dairy Supply Chain Forum’s Milk Roadmap is a good example of where producers, processors and retailers come together and commit to common goals on environmental stewardship, nutrient planning, and recycled plastic milk bottles among other concerns of the day. He reminded MPs that the beef and sheep sectors are also working towards sustainability measures.
While well meaning in their criticisms, they forget that this law was not created to undercut good work taking place, but to ensure mechanisms are in place to stop unsustainable farming and to drive out wrongdoers. The reason the bill enjoyed so much support from organisations as diverse as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, National Heart Forum, and Compassion in World Farming is not in the hope of frustrating self-directed sustainable measures, but to counter unsustainable ones.
A legal framework to combat reliance on soy – which two thirds of all manufactured food products in the UK contain – grown in South American plantations would begin to reduce the amount of rainforest being converted into farmland. Though livestock is not the only sector where soy reliance exists, measures to incentivise the maximisation of local production have not gone far enough; the bill would’ve made a significant difference to local production while ensuring other nations keep more of their produce.
Other criticisms suggested that the bill would place a ban on large dairies, reduce meat and dairy in people’s diets, and set trade barriers on imported animal feed. However if true, this will be the case even if sustainability measures are taken in ways described by Tory opposition to the bill, at least with the first two.
If local production of milk and soy is increased, it will be precisely this, and not cheap foreign imports, competing with large dairies to stock shop shelves. Furthermore, in growing more reliant on national livestock farming, whether through law or through accepted milestones mentioned by Jim Paice, the availability of meat and dairy will be dependent upon production supplying to demand – just as usual. The real problem here, much like that of the price disparity between local produce and cheaper imports in general, is whether people will be able to afford good diets while measures are taken to cut import reliance. Organic and locally produced foods can be up to double the price of imported produce. What had been missing from Flello’s bill were measures to make sure consumers could afford to maintain healthy diets while a reduction in imports took place.
Solving this problem would not mean reinventing the wheel. The Healthy Start vouchers for pregnant Mothers or families with one child under four and who are claiming income support, is a government scheme providing free milk, fresh fruit and vegetables, infant formula, and vitamins. Flello should have taken the opportunity to promote widening this scheme so many more families could be entitled to help. In the absence of the law, yet with willing participants in the farming industry eager to meet the goals of the bill, organisations should call on the government to compensate by extending local produce vouchers to those who will be most affected by the rise in their shopping bills.
As for barriers to animal feed, goods inside the EU are not considered imports, so this will only apply to trade countries outside the EU, and for reasons already explained is an appropriate measure to take in promoting sustainability and reducing the nation’s carbon footprint.
The failure of the bill to be passed will make it a lot harder to ensure sustainable practice is carried out, but not impossible. Individuals and organisations need to continue putting pressure on the government to oversee realistic and effective objectives are achieved in the farming industry, while ensuring people can afford a healthy diet alongside changes to production are made for the betterment of the planet is a national must.
Will Hutton has said something about the Euro which I bring up every time I discuss it, with friends, colleagues or in blog entries. It is as follows:
Nobody pretends the euro is perfect. It was probably too ambitious to incorporate weak members with the strong so soon.
Too ambitious by half.
Plenty of bloggers are reminding themselves and each other that the euro is not to blame (lib dem voice; Phillip Legrain for example), and principally this is Hutton’s line as well, but rather thinks the union should be reformed – teasing out the difference between left and right wing euroscepticism along the way.
The right may have nationalist and sovereign interests as their main concern, but the left are not opposed to a single monetary union, just opposed to one geared at concentrated capital movement, reducing nations within that union to massive wealth disparities.
Though EU reformers recognise this, and it is precisely Hutton’s point – supporters of the EU, in the name of a free market, are not learning the lessons of history, favouring floating exchange rates and leaving the door wide open for explosions, caused by excessive deficits or surpluses.
The eurosceptic left were never principally opposed to european integration, but much of the convergence criteria in the Maastricht Treaty. But Hutton is one example of someone who is pro-EU addressing those very concerns. Ireland and Greece, if nothing else, will see those ideas taken far more seriously by politicians.
There’s a fantastic article in the National Review by a chap called Thomas Sowell railing against intelligence in politics (via an incredulous AlterNet). FDR was brainy, created the New Deal, prolonged the Depression. Hitler was brainy, created the Third Reich and killed a few dozen million people. Anyone see where this is going? Yeah, Obama and his administration are brainy… . Subtle stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Yet presumably if writers feel they can get away making jibes about someone’s intelligence, then there is a market for what they’re saying. Right enough, Bush’s apparent stupidity didn’t seem to bother everyone until the war and the economy started to go bad. Similarly, Gore and Kerry – who was a war veteran – were derided as being egg heads. One wonders, since when has that been a bad thing?
Then there’s the usual crusades for inveterate anti-intellectuals (in America at least, it has never seemed so much of a problem over here): creationism, fundamentalist Christianity and so forth. These arguments are often portrayed by more liberal figures as being dumb hicks or corporate shills versus the shining white knights of science, galloping in to save eternal scientific truths from corruption by the mob (e.g.). Conservatives see it as smug and superior liberals attempting to force their views on everyone else (e.g.).
I think these view are superficial and counterproductive, especially from the point of view of ‘our’ side – i.e. the Left. For this reason I am less than impressed by programmes such as this from Richard Dawkins, videos such as this on YouTube or the new book, edited by Ariane Sherine, billed as a perfect 2009 Christmas present for atheists.
I am an atheist, and like most atheists I’ll snicker at the jokes made at the expense of the religious and, indeed, the stupid. I’ll gawp at the irreconcilable irrationality of certain religious viewpoints – something amply demonstrated by the interviews in Dawkins’ “Root of all Evil” documentary. Individually I tend to treat religion with disdain and to find the deeply religious plainly irritating.
Which makes me just as bad as Dawkins etc, because actually there’s a class analysis to be derived here. The fatuous pronouncements of the Bishops or self-made evangelicals like Ted Haggard need to be dealt with, for the sake of a secular society, but they’ll not be dealt with on the liberal basis which a straightforward “smart vs. stupid” or “religious vs. atheist” narrative provides. In fact, that may well make things worse.
The fact of the matter is that most of the people who consider themselves religious, like many of the people on the 12th September march on DC, are also working class. From their point of view, the ‘liberal’ media is not to be trusted – as indeed it isn’t. Televisual media in the US like MSNBC are themselves often corporate shills and, the rhetoric of an Olbermann or a Maddow notwithstanding, offers no solution to America’s problems.
Certainly not the problems faced by the American working class. I think there is a tendency to forget this, since such pundits can seem positively revolutionary when compared to FOX’s Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly.
A disorganised working class can be seduced by people like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh. The fear of the people on the Teabaggers’ march was palpable, with one group interviewed saying that they’d met Russians on the march who feared that America would actually become like the Soviet Union – i.e. grossly repressive to the rights of the individual. This fear is born from a lack of socialist organisation. People who have the power to change things don’t need to fear.
What becomes clear in this situation, where we’ve only seen sporadic resistance to the depredations of capitalism in crisis, is that neither side is really listening to the arguments of the other. ‘Smug’ liberals and ‘stupid’ conservatives simply don’t really care what the opposition is saying except insofar as they can, in exasperated fashion, mount their particular soapbox. As Ben Goldacre and others outline, day after day, the empirical truth can go hang for all people seem to care – whether it’s the anti-vaxxers, the anti-flouridators or whatever.
How do we fix the situation?
In certain circumstances, I’m sure, polemic will work – but polemic is all we will ever get from a liberal intelligentsia. Organisations set up to support secularism, such as the National Secular Society or the British Humanist Association, even including certain aspects of certain political parties, are really just a way to better organise the polemic, whether on the side of buses or in the Guardian or in universities. Indeed occasionally the rhetoric of “the enlightened” obfuscates an agenda which is harmful to the interests of the working class.
As regards today’s vote on the Lisbon Treaty in the Republic of Ireland, the liberal intelligentsia have gone all-out with this contrast between the “enlightened” ‘Yes’ camp and the supposed backwards-looking fear they claim is inspired by the ‘No’ camp – as indeed did that of France and the Netherlands when the people of those countries each returned a “No” vote on the Nice Treaty. Needless to say both were ridden over roughshod much like the second referendum in Ireland rides over the point of having a referendum at all.
Clearly, therefore, mere polemic is not enough. Whether what we’re interested in combatting are the openly quirky movements such as the anti-vaxxers, fundamentalist religion or whatever movement contradicts the rationalism socialists accept as fundamental to our worldview, we cannot reduce ourselves to pretty patronising arguments over this or that finer point of the empirical evidence.
I made a point about the efficacy of rational argument when addressing the concerns of the BNP – and I stand by those arguments. In a future article I hope to revise and extend them by deconstructing the ideological nature of “logic” and how both logic and illogicality are constructs of the capitalist hegemonic totality (which ties in to my current reading of Engels’ Anti-Duhring and the nature of dialectics).
For the meantime, I think it is simpler to say that we can better deal whatever anti-corporation sentiment which creates enemies of rational public health decisions here in the UK, or whatever anti-state sentiment that makes people believe that socialized medicine is intrinsically harmful to a free society, not by belittling or attacking the knowledge of the opposition but by a flanking manoeuvre geared towards socialistic organisation of the working class. Much in the same way as we can beat fascism.
This is not to say that we socialists patronizingly recognize what arguments are “really” about. When someone complains of immigration, the argument is really about immigration – there’s no deeper displacement from ‘real’ class struggle at work in the psyche. Much in the same way that the English Revolution really was about religion, in the sense that this was the idiom in which people understood what they were fighting for. Yet once explicitly engaged in class struggle and correctly orientated, stances on things like religion and immigration alter accordingly.
If we take the historical example of the English Revolution for a moment, the argumentative idiom of radical sects such as the Ranters and Fifth Monarchists was religious. They were not Marxists who believed in class struggle, but neither was their social radicalism incidental. It was intrinsic to their religious millenarian views (see Flecknoe’s Aenigmatical Characters or the description of Mary Cary’s New Jerusalem helpfully recorded in Holstun, Ehud’s Dagger, p275). This turned them away from the sterile religious narrative of their contemporary ruling class and towards popular engagement and attempted mass organisation.
In the same way, socialists want to turn workers away from sterile narratives on the ‘harm’ caused by immigration (or secularism or anything).
For a modern example, there are plenty of workers who read reactionary bilge from the Sun or the Daily Star or the News of the World or the Mail. I’m almost certain that if workers at the oil refineries and power stations which went on strike over the last year were surveyed, at least one of these papers would qualify as being widest read. Yet, ignoring the racist, anti-immigration filth in the media, when the workers got involved in a tussle it was directed against bosses – not other workers – and involved ejecting a racist BNP interloper from the dispute. This shows that we can appeal directly to the closest interests of the working class, and incidentally act to get rid of prejudice en route.
That is how we challenge religious prejudice, racial prejudice, irrational fears of science and so on. It bears pointing out that anti-statism is embryonic class struggle to begin with: the state is the tool of capitalism. People who want a small state and correlate a big state with oppression can be right – we can provide the corresponding critique of ‘the market’ too. How?
Organize on a class basis. The one answer which the smiling, suited technocrats can’t provide. Organize, organize, organize.
And don’t be an intellectual snob in the process.