Home > General Politics > European elections 2009: No2EU, yes to populism?

European elections 2009: No2EU, yes to populism?

It’s unusual for me to weigh on the question of electoral tactics, but a considered article by Phil at AVPS and a reading of Hannah Sell’s justification for the Socialist Party’s support for No2EU compels it. I received notification that I’m on the electoral register and of the whereabouts of my local polling station, so I shall be turning out to vote; the question of who for remains an important one. The No2EU candidate is Dave Hill, and I’d be all for his election, bearing in mind the alternatives. However, I wouldn’t like to see Caroline Lucas, an actual MEP, squeezed out down here.

That said, there have to be other grounds to query ones vote beyond merely the candidate. When we vote, we vote for parties and party platforms – and as both Phil and Hannah Sell acknowledge, there are great deficiencies in No2EU’s platform. For example, their solution to the present economic turmoil is essentially national and protectionist-capitalist. I don’t agree that ‘only nation states…and their governments can control the movements of big capital’ – in fact I think completely the opposite. Whatever happened to internationalism?

Please don’t misunderstand me; I don’t think the Green Party is anything special. I certainly don’t think it amounts to the electoral representation of independent working class interests. I’m just not sure I can get behind an organisation whose analysis is so blatantly and persistently populist that they have effectively talked themselves into running on a “states’ rights” campaign, despite the many fair points they raise about workers’ rights, the unaccountability of the European Commission and so forth.

What disturbs me particularly is Hannah Sell’s article in defence of No2EU. While Hannah is honest enough to mention some of the glaring problems with No2EU, such as the endorsement of Steve Radford of the Liberal Party, her defence of such a move reads like her heart isn’t in it. “All electoral blocs require some compromises. Some, of course, would be unacceptable and would lead to a break-up of the bloc. [Endorsing Radford], however, is an acceptable compromise.” I do not understand why it is an acceptable compromise.

In the days when Militant was part of the Labour Party, there was at least a nominal commitment to socialism. Even today, the commitment to democratic socialism is printed on the membership cards, for what it is worth. Radford is not a socialist – not even within shouting distance of being a socialist. The Liberal Party is intrinsically free market capitalist. The resultant picture of No2EU is not, therefore, a particularly inspiring one. What seems to have caught the imagination of the Left to some degree is the involvement of the RMT.

Hannah Sell plays this up: “It is the first time since the formation of the Labour Party that a trade union has taken an electoral initiative on an all-Britain scale. The transformation of the Labour Party…has left the working class without a mass party for well over a decade. The absence of such a party has been a central factor in holding back the confidence of workers to struggle in defence of their pay and conditions.” The omission here is that there is absolutely zero indication that No2EU is a milesone along the route to such a mass party.

Everything else, in that neatly crafted piece of rhetoric, is therefore just filling. In his attempted rebuttal of views that No2EU is a creature of the RMT executive, even Phil is a bit hamfisted.

“Firstly the executive has the license to make important strategic decisions in between conferences. As a democratic and accountable body, if No2EU is deemed a failure by the membership then they will be punished for it. However there’s scant evidence of internal opposition to the move. Second, how does the RMT’s relationship with No2EU differ in kind from the “organic link” the big trade unions have with Labour, an arrangement that has long justified far left endorsements of the party of Blair and Brown?”

In reply, I would say that if we’re using Labour as the benchmark, we’re going to get ourselves into trouble very quickly – and I could give a stuff what the groupuscules of the Left say.  More importantly, I would say that the only measure of an electoral alliance from the point of view of socialists is how likely it is to engage workers in consideration of their own class interests. With the political programme so blunted, even compared to Old Labour, I don’t see how that is going to happen to quite the degree some seem to hope.

I would also add that ‘scant evidence of internal opposition’ is not quite the same as saying that RMT members are voicing full-throated support for the move. I live beside an RMT member who had never heard of the initiative. When told of it, he wasn’t especially excited and may well still vote for one of the right-wing anti-EU parties. From this can we extrapolate that No2EU is a popular alliance type venture akin to different PCF endeavours in the 1980s, or to Respect in the 2000s? The honest answer is, I don’t know.

Since No2EU is an electoral group rather than an attempt at a Party, it’s difficult to see how its strategic position amidst the working class will ever be tested beyond a mere show of hands at election time. I can’t effectively gauge the support for No2EU of either RMT members or other advanced sections of the working class – but nor does electoral success distinguish between such people and a socially more vague ‘Left milieu’.

With these things in mind, it’s also difficult to see how the Socialist Party’s position is not opportunist. I concur that it’s important to establish working class representation – absolutely. On what basis, however? The platform is not ideal; the No2EU framework will not evolve into a political party that can co-ordinate strategic efforts to combat capitalism – and even if it does develop into a political party, there’s no evidence that this strategic role is what it will aim for, rather than being another Respect, to capitalize on a classless Left discontent.

Does this mean I won’t vote for them however? If I lived in Scotland, I think I’d rather be flayed and dipped in vinegar than vote for Tommy Sheridan, who is their candidate. Dave Hill, top of the list for south east England, I only know by his wiki page, though that looks promising enough – despite his inability to make up his mind, first Respect, then No2EU. Similarly, elsewhere, I’d vote for Dave Nellist in a heartbeat. I think our conclusions at this point need to be, what’s done is done. No2EU is a fact and deserves at least qualified support.

Where the candidates have a better record than the Greens on issues of major importance, vote for them. Whilst I might share some of the sentiments expressed at Shiraz Socialist, I don’t think it’s right to oppose No2EU at every turn. Nor do I subscribe to the sectarian banter that goes on over at Socialist Unity. I think it says something that few enough of the (readable) blogosphere have come out to support No2EU, and of those that have, the key issue is that of the European Commission, as though the elites of Westminster are more accountable.

Proof of the pudding, one supposes, will be in the eating – we’ll see whether or not the whole thing is justified not merely in the elections but afterwards, in whether or not the initiative does spark renewed interest in disaffiliation from Labour and the creation of some sort of strategic committee for co-ordinating activism on the part of other trades unions.

Categories: General Politics
  1. May 8, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    I agree with all that you say about the “No2EU” farrago; I’d also add that Bob Crow has no mandate to waste his members’ money on this nonsense. So why do you disagree with “shiraz Socialist” that it should simply be “opposed at every turn”?

  2. May 8, 2009 at 9:56 pm

    Because descending into sectarian backbiting does no one any good – and we’re getting a chance to vote for certain people who are good socialists and worth a vote.

    I think the issue of what Bob Crow has the right to spend his members’ money on is a silly on – Taff Vale is long since dispensed with Jim. I didn’t expect to hear such a thing from you.

  3. May 8, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    Crow has no mandate for this. His members have every right to object to this misuse of their subs. I don’t see how Taff Vale comes into it, David. It’s Stalinist political corruption of the sort that brings the entite left into disrepute and we should have no hesitation in disowning and denouncing it. What’s the problem?

  4. May 9, 2009 at 4:27 am

    Problem one is that I haven’t seen any members of the RMT objecting. Problem two is, if we were to stop unions from contributing to political endeavours on the basis of what a few members think, political contributions would shudder to a halt. Problem three is this: are you suggesting that the endeavour won’t pass scrutiny at the next RMT conference? I can’t see how that would be the case. This being so, Crow has as much mandate as the NUT with their anti-fascist fund and any other union with their political campaigns.

    Your first and second post are expressed a bit differently; apologies if I misread you.

    Also, I’m curious as to what specifically you’re calling corruption.

  5. May 9, 2009 at 8:33 am


    It isn’t “sectarian backbiting” to oppose a campaign on political grounds because you, err, don’t agree with its politics. Essentially Jim and I oppose No2EU because we don’t accept its agenda. There’s nothing “sectarian” about that.

    Similarly, I don’t think in and of itself that the presence of a good person on a bad party list, improves that list. Dave Nellist, for whom I have an immense amount of time and for whom I’ve both voted and campaigned in the past, is at the head of No2EU’s West Midlands list. I still won’t be voting for him this time, because I don’t agree with the politics of the slate. They’re separate issues.

  6. May 9, 2009 at 8:44 am

    I’ve no problem with people disagreeing with the campaign. I disagree with the campaign. To oppose it at every turn, however? That’s pretty strong stuff. We’re all on the same side, after all. That goes for Jim’s reference to political corruption as well.

    You’ve also touched on points we’ve both mentioned elsewhere – the importance of the slate as well as the candidate. Here’s my question; is there a better slate going forward for the European elections that I don’t know about, and that I’ll get a chance to vote for?

    The tactics of the SP strike me as wrong, and the tactics of the RMT leadership strike me as opportunistic – especially bearing in mind the various other attempts to get the RMT to put up candidates – but it seems to me that the only grounds on which we could *not* vote for them is if there’s a better left-wing proposition.

    I don’t think the SP will prove to be right, and that this campaign will inspire other unions to look to themselves. Moreover, I think if this initiative does lead to a new party, it’ll be a still-born lash up (not to descend into the traditional language of pretty much any socialist who calls out the endeavours of another).

    But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t vote for it, whilst voicing our own critical opinions, surely? It was the same with Respect; from the outset I suspected it would be a disaster and antics with the SWP at Respect conference and then the split seem to have borne me out. I didn’t have a chance to vote for them – but if I had, and there was no other, better, alternative, should I have refrained from voting for them?

  7. May 9, 2009 at 10:35 am

    Dave: bringing it down to brass tacks, it’s an anti-EU initiative. I’m not anti-EU, I’m for building workers’ organisations across Europe. Ergo to vote for it I’d have to shelve my objection to the slate’s whole raison d’etre. Thus, for me to vote for it would be plain stupid.

    I think it comes down to that. Do you agree with the slogan “No2EU”? If you do then fine, vote for it albeit that I don’t agree with you. If you don’t though, why on earth would you do that?

  8. May 9, 2009 at 10:40 am

    I don’t agree with the slogan; it’s a stupid slogan – as someone said on one of the blog posts linked above, who the hell is against democracy?

    On the other hand, I am against the EU. I’m for building links between socialist parties and trades unions across Europe, but I’m all for the dissolution of the EU.

    It is nothing more than an echo chamber for big business and the political class, with a few socialist voices involved. The EU in its current state will never be reformed – if we’re to construct a “United Socialist States of Europe”, then it’ll be on totally different foundations and in a totally different manner.

    So I suppose you could say I agree with the sentiment while being a bit irked by the wannabe-jingoism behind the actual slogan.

  9. May 9, 2009 at 11:28 am

    By “political corrution” I mean the cynical misuse of members’ money without a proper democratic mandate for doing so. This practice is not unique to Crow and his supporters in the RMT, unfortuantely. The practice of using labour movement bodies as milch cows for particular campaigns, often by slipping resolutions through poorly attended and unrepresentative meetings, is almost a way of life for much of the British left – to the extent that many personally honest comrades cannot see what’s wrong with the practice.

    On the substantial point about No2EU: it is a diversion in that it opposes a particular manifestation of modern capitalism (the EU) rather than capitalism itself. It is reactionary in that it opposes modern capitalist internationalism, and implicitly counterposes a nationalist alternative. Marx denounced and mocked such programmes as “reactionary socialism” in the Communist Manifesto.

  10. May 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Er, right. Well first off, I think the use of the term “political corruption” – especially in the current climate – is a substantial point about No2EU. I don’t think what you’ve described counts as political corruption.

    Surely a correct Marxist analysis would take into account the effect of decades of neo-liberal attacks and the operation of capitalist hegemony on such a banal thing as a meeting? Of course they’ll be poorly attended.

    As for unrepresentative, unrepresentative of whom, exactly? The members of the RMT? Is the alternative that the politically active members should sit on their hands until they’ve got a quorum that passes your inspection?

    Your other criticism is more valid, and I’ve agreed that No2EU operates within protectionist-capitalist parameters. That said, I think your critique is severely lacking.

    I think you are unmarxist in the teleological manner in which you approach “modern capitalist internationalism”, as though the neo-liberal project is a natural evolution, rather than the product of victorious class struggle on the part of the ruling class. Your citation of ‘reactionary socialism’ from the Communist Manifesto is therefore not apt.

    The slogan and programme of No2EU is mistaken, and collectively the group offers no effective alternative to capitalism, but this is not a section of the petit-bourgeoisie threatened with proletarianization and siding with the Feudal aristocracy against the big bourgeoisie. This is a section of the working class threatened with the use of a free market in labour as a weapon of class struggle, to undermine their terms and conditions.

    I’m all for the internationalist approach, linking up with trades unions all around the world wherever individual employers have arms based, in order to control the ability of capital to manipulate markets in this way. The nation-state approach of No2ID is flawed, but arguing with their programme is not the same as opposing them at every turn.

    Our SP comrades need to pull their heads out of their asses (and reading some stuff coming from that direction, it seems some of them are uncomfortable anyway), but in the meantime, for this election, when we can do nothing to change the situation, are you going to cast a vote for Labour or the Greens when you could vote for Dave Nellist?

    I wouldn’t.

  11. May 9, 2009 at 7:08 pm

    Well mate, I am in the RMT and I will be voting Labour. All my family, wife,sons, sisters, nephews and my parents will be voting labour. Nothing ever will change that.

  12. May 9, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    Inspiring stuff, Tony, really. Feeding the hand that bites you is always a good strategy.

  13. May 10, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    Re: the small matter concerning the Liberal party, I don’t know if Steve Radford’s more of a social liberal than his colleagues or not. But generally speaking I’ve got no principled opposition to having small bourgeois or petit-bourgeois parties on a slate such as No2EU provided they’re not the ones driving or leading the process. In this instance they are a very junior partner.

  14. May 10, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    David: the point about “political corruption” is *very* important, because it goes to the root of what’s wrong with how thw “left” operates within the trade union movement today.

    Your objection to my “teleogical approach” to thge anti-EU campaign, just doesn’t make sense: if the present situation is (as I’d agree) the result of “victorious class struggle on behalf of the ruling class”), then nothing short of the proletarian revolution would have changed that. It didn’t happen; capitalism has developed; we base ouselves upon the developments of capitalism, not upon trying to rewind the film of history. Anti-EU campaigns – “left” and right, are inevitably reactionary and should be opposed…yes…”at every turn”!

  1. May 9, 2009 at 8:56 am
  2. May 15, 2009 at 8:27 am
  3. May 17, 2009 at 1:53 pm

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