Posts Tagged ‘Conservative Party’

In defence of the day of rest

March 19, 2012 2 comments

Two things happened for the first time in 1986: a) the government of Margaret Thatcher was defeated in the Commons (in fact it was the only time Thatcher’s government was defeated) and b) a major piece of legislation had been defeated in the Commons at Second Reading. The issue: Sunday trading.

Matthew 6:24 observes: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”

When Thatcher decided to try and love both on a Sunday, she first realized that the iron fist with which she ruled, was in fact inclined to bend on occasions after all.

In her letter of public statement about Sunday trading she wanted to “reassure you that the government is not trying to alter the traditional nature of Sunday in this country” but “Eight million people already work on Sundays, about half of them regularly”.

In many ways this makes sense, but I wonder if this was intentional of Thatcher. What is true of the above quote, but probably not true of her sentiment, is that Sunday’s are already blind to the observation of Sunday as a day of rest. In her mind that begged the question of why we are denying shopkeepers of their potential surpluses?

In short, she wanted the same dire Sundays – but more so.

Is this not the rupture of neo-liberalism and traditional Toryism made flesh? Is what divides these two factions most in the Conservative party not what to worship more, God or mammon?

A retired British Army officer in a French work of fiction from the 1950s once said: “If England has not been invaded since 1066, it is because foreigners dread having to spend a Sunday there.” This should give us pause. As a nation have we come to loathe rest?

I’m not sure what kind of debates they have in Spain around longer trading hours and curbs on siestas, but I’m sure the anti-rest lobby are just as willing to ruin shut-eye as clearly some are over here.

It took 26 attempts before Sunday trading laws were relaxed in 1994 as a compromise with Thatcher’s idea to get rid of all restrictions. Now George Osborne wants the UK Parliament to suspend restrictions during the 2012 Olympics.

As one blogger put it:

Local people won’t have any more money to spend; there will be no extra Olympic visitors contributing to the legal economy … Yet the burden of extended opening hours will be felt by those on small wages and low status.

Relaxed restrictions: cui bono? Those anti-relaxation types in the shopkeeper world. Who suffers? Everyone else.

As the architect Le Corbusier rightly pointed out: “commuting time is a surplus labor which correspondingly reduces the amount of “free” time.” George Osborne is trying to make of a Sunday more surplus labour time, to no benefit of the majority. Let’s stick up for rest.

The shoe is on the other Foot – It’s not Labour’s left that’s stuck in a time warp

November 29, 2011 4 comments

This is a cross-post by James Bloodworth


Julian Petley, co-author of the book Culture Wars, once observed that the British press had ‘perfected a way of representing the ideas and personalities associated with socialism as so deranged and psychotic that they presented a danger to society.’

It’s no secret that New Labour was evolved in part to counteract Labour’s image problems in the 1980s. The order of the day became finding the centre ground and sticking to it, rather than attempting to operate outside it and running the risk of remaining ‘unelectable’.

While many of us on the left did not necessarily agree with the political trajectory taken during the New Labour years, we understood that there was no inherent shame in trying to look like a credible party of government. The political landscape in the ‘80s and ‘90s was undeniably bleak for socialists, and reflected something the outgoing Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan had said several years earlier: ‘You know there are times, perhaps once every thirty years, when there is a sea-change in politics. It then does not matter what you say or what you do. There is a shift in what the public wants and what it approves of.’

As if by prophesy, 30 years later we are again at a moment of profound political change. The certainties that have shaped political discourse for so very long are again being challenged, if not by the political class then by workers and students right across Europe and beyond. Questions many of us have long been asking about our economic system are today routinely being raised by those with little history of political struggle – people whose sense of injustice has developed as they’ve seen living standards fall and prospects for the future become increasingly bleak.

The right’s response to the crisis has thus far been defined by a willingness to take the easy way out at every juncture. In place of solutions they’ve clung to ideology. Instead of compassion they’ve hacked away at living standards. Their plan for the long-term consists only of a global race to the bottom. In summing up, their response has been to dig in and entrench themselves further in the failed orthodoxy of laissez-faire capitalism.

Through it all, much of the media has portrayed murmurings of dissent not simply as illegitimate but as disorderly and threatening. They have casually dismissed the Occupy movements and thrown handfuls of mud at any figure who has evoked the most basic right every working person must have – the right to withdraw one’s labour – and, as if looking admiringly at the authoritarian capitalism of the east, called enthusiastically for further restrictions on this right at every given opportunity.

Yet, in the face of this torrent of hostility the public mood toward the economic policies of the right has hardened. The latest opinion poll published by the BBC finds 61% believe Wednesday’s public sector strike is justified, a total that includes almost four in five 18 to 24 year olds. This is on the back of a YouGov poll from a few weeks back which found that 44 per cent of Londoners supported the aims of the Occupy LSX group, with 30 per cent opposed and 25 per cent answering ‘not sure’.

Rightly or wrongly, many inside the Labour Party routinely go along with the evocation of right-wing policies when doing so brings electoral gain. As someone on the left of the party, I have lost count of the number of times I have been told that my ideas would make the party ‘unelectable’ if adopted – as if the sole purpose of politics was the abandonment of all principles in exchange for political office.

I have previously accepted, however, that at times they might have had a point: the outlook for the left was, for many years and for a number of reasons, downright depressing. Resentfully, I bunkered down and grudgingly toed the line.

Today however, things are different. If nothing else, the above-mentioned figures should make it clear that it will not be crass characterisations of the ‘looney left’ that will eat into Labour’s support at the next election, but an unwillingness to properly stand up for the rights of working people in the face of this unprecedented onslaught of austerity.

The Conservative Party rarely needs reminding that it is the party of capital; yet far too often the Labour Party seems intent on forgetting that it is the party of labour.

There has indeed been a sea change in politics. This time, however, the boot is on the other foot: it is most certainly not the left that is acting as a drag on Labour’s electoral chances.

Westminster farce and prognostications on Labour

November 28, 2010 1 comment

Shakespeare would have appreciated politics today. The combination of tragedy, the evisceration of the remaining strands of the welfare state, with the comedy of the Westminster bubble would have provided fertile ground for plays.

Had the playwright been conversant in modern culture, it couldn’t have been long before we had satires of Baroness declaiming hysterically of Labour, “There’s Klingons off the starboard bow, scrape ’em off Dave!” But this is not satire; it’s all too real.

“The only thing [Ed Miliband] knows for sure is that he is a socialist and will stick up for the trade unions.” [BBC]

Meanwhile the whole media would inevitably be cast collectively as Titania, from a Midsummer Night’s Dream, awaking from slumber to see a Nick Bottom that looks suspiciously like Oona King. Alas there’s no Puck to “restores amends”.

We can watch for real this sad troops of failed politicians trooping through the House of Lords, with nary a critical brow raised from a media that should be scathingly critical of such creatures. Compared to this, the now infamous Lord Young looks almost as if he should be taken seriously with his Supermac-cum-Marie Antoinette impersonations.

As for Ed Miliband, who knows what the bard would have made of him. Certainly no socialist, the strongest words to come out of his mouth have been a demand that Labour ‘reclaim’ the Big Society model from the Conservatives. Evidently all the hot air expended by the blogosphere on tearing apart the claims of Big Society have been lost on Miliband, who is also walking a very Kinnock-esque line as regards the violence of student protest.

We know where that line ultimately leads – and Miliband’s inability to escape the Blairite paradigm is already a step further down his road than one might wish. All the comments about how Labour must listen, to become a “people’s party” is the most watered-down tosh and ignores the strong and steadfast role a socialist political party must play if it is not merely to bow and scrape with each demand placed on it by “the market” (i.e. the capitalist class).

Of course Labour is not a socialist political party. The delirious (if politically shrewd) rantings of various Conservatives to one side, it’s fairly obvious from the banal witterings about “hopes and aspirations” that the Labour Party has not moved on from Blair. It has no definite programme, no concrete economic or social aims, no critique of its opposition beyond the populist emotive or cynically managerial – and nor is it likely to acquire such.

Thus the parade of people to the Lords will continue to be fairly inoffensive worthies and party cronies. Labour need merely tread water until people’s resentment of the Conservatives outweighs their demoralisation. In some cases that will happen fast, in some cases slow, but it will happen. Then the populist and managerial aspects to Labour will once more begin to unravel and we’ll have a Conservative government again, unless we interrupt this cycle.

Resentment is not a political programme, it is a reaction. Thus were people slow to cast off Thatcher and Major, thus were people slow to cast off Blair, despite his great and growing unpopularity leading up to the 2005 election. Nor is anger a political programme; the occupations of universities, the demonstrations and – potentially – the strikes of the next few years will not bring down the Conservative government by themselves.

They might bring down the Coalition, depending on how panicky the Lapdogs get, but a subsequent general election would almost certainly see a Conservative outright victory or a renewed Coalition unless much wider sections of the working class are moved into joining hands with those in struggle. The battle to do this will be at once emotive and intellectual; the appeal to solidarity and collective, class interest. There is no possibility of Miliband doing this, or letting it happen within his Labour Party without a moment like the 1985 Party Conference.

Perhaps the kindest minds of posterity will judge Mr Miliband a sort of Hamlet. Caught between the ghost of his father, alive in the presence of the demonstrators (though not the hack SU and NUS officials who ostensibly lead them), and what he sees as pragmatism, he’ll wander the bland halls of Victoria Square slowly going mad. Or will vanish with a whimper, like Kinnock, to take his place as a working peer, like so many of the dignified, restrained worthies he himself has and will elevate.

Has time run out for Labour socialists?

June 9, 2010 22 comments

I can’t express in words how utterly furious I am that John McDonnell has been forced to withdraw from the Labour leadership contest. After a few days of faux outrage over his comment that if he could, he’d go back to the 1980s and kill Thatcher, and Diane Abbott’s mealy-mouthed supporters saying they think he should be the one to withdraw, despite her pledge to do so if he got more nominations (which he had, at that point), John has rightly judged that her supporters won’t come to him, so he’ll have to give his to her.

Not good enough. Every campaign for the next five years – against library closures, against service cuts, against the attempt to further casualise the public sector – is going to be fought outside of Labour. Only historical revisionists and morons believe that the anti-poll tax campaign was a Labour campaign. And yet the Left has kept the life support switched on, firmly demanding that people exercise the great contradiction at the heart of our democracy: loyalty to a Party the leadership of which does not care about them.

Is it time to pull the plug? Since 1923, we’ve faced the same situation. Labour is elected with high hopes for its success, disappoints those hopes and is then swept from office, leaving the Conservatives to pick up where they left off. Since the end of the great depression, after the war, when the exhaustion of the capitalist system allowed for greater state controls (which had been utilised during the war anyway and rubbed off the red taint they previously had), the journey has been backwards – trying to find a way back before the post-war settlement.

This is the mission of the Conservative Party, and ‘big society‘ is just its latest cover. What has Labour’s leadership done? Nothing. We have been losing the battle, and all the while desperately clinging to what Labour has achieved – scarcely anything new without sacrificing something old. So, of the last three parliaments, we got the minimum wage and a long-overdue rise in benefits (for example) whilst Labour set course towards undermining teachers’ unions and education, through faster deregulation of schools.

Meanwhile, Labour socialists – an endangered breed that I’ll deal with in a moment – ask their comrades and friends to hang on in a party that has been swamped by vapid twits. Anyone who goes to all the events touted by the Fabians, has been to Oxford or hangs out online can’t fail to know who I’m talking about. The twits claiming the legacy of Nye Bevan whilst backing Ed Balls, for example, without seeing the incredible disparity between the politics of the two. Whatever Bevan’s deficiencies and later demoralisation, he was no Balls.

Bevan occupies, as one might notice, the strapline of this blog. His sentiment, that one should not stand in the middle of the road, that one should not be afraid to take a position has been my personal code all my life. It is far from the attitude of the Labour leadership and their coterie. It is a party rotten through and through, corrupt, full of patronage and seeking after patronage, unprincipled. It isn’t really socialist at all. In seeking after patronage, people learn to talk with a certain vocabulary, highly technocratic and bloodless. Totally removed from ordinary people.

Labour socialists of the Labour Representation Committee number somewhere below 1000 people – that’s less than one percent of the total party membership (excluding the trades unions). They are condemned by the Labour Right for being backwards. They are excoriated by those who exist as rootlessly as Labour’s London elite for being too provincial, too unwilling to work with other groups (whatever that means, as every Labour campaign I’ve ever seen has involved LRC members and parliamentarians). But they are the last remaining socialists in Labour.

The last election demonstrated that this clique will not exist forever. The Parliamentary group of the LRC was halved, to say nothing of the destruction wreaked about its bigger, less socialist sister, the Socialist Campaign Group. And even this doesn’t account for the wacky behaviour of a bunch of the members of these groups, like Michael Meacher, supposed Left veteran…who nominated Ed Miliband for leader, even though Ed had cleared the bar and with room to spare. So long as the fortunes of this group are tied to Labour, it exists within a contradiction – urging (critical) support for a leadership that will kick the poor when it’s opportune whilst claiming to represent them.

The leadership contest has demonstrated that no matter how well people like John McDonnell work, no matter how much support they gather, they’ll be outmanoeuvred by Labour’s Right, which can rely on the cowardice and (ironically) the uncooperative nature of Labour’s ‘soft’ Left. Harriet Harman and Ed Ball’s nominations for Diane Abbott play the diversity card but in reality are simply intended to prop her up into a slightly more credible candidate (still not very credible, from a political point of view) and force McDonnell out. All he has done is bow to the inevitable.

Abbott has the nominations – she’s on the ballot – but she’s not going to change the Party. Forgive my cynicism, but I’ve met too many soft Lefts. Despite her feminist credentials, she doesn’t have the detailed critique of the Party that is the remit of the LRC – and that would set free the feminist and radical energies that people were quick to impute to her. Indeed when she does her media appearances – the last I heard in-depth was on a Radio 4 discussion programme on Friday about two months ago – she can even be quite conservative. So good luck to her and her supporters – she’ll be better than the other four, but I don’t have any faith in her, and am rather sickened by how heavily she has stressed the fact that she’s black and female – like these are somehow politically relevant, except as tokenism.

John’s letter to Labour members, in which he announces his decision to stand down, acknowledges that despite enormous grassroots pressure – e.g. Tom Harris’ admission that he and other Labour MPs were deluged with letters and emails to demand McDonnell get on the ballot – the Labour bureaucracy and PLP were unmoved. His final appeal is to the strength of the Labour Left, that the fight against the cuts should be continued and that a Conservative government be denied the chance to have everything its own way.

With this, every socialist will agree – but I will not use my energies to electrify the zombified party that Labour has become, and I am one among many. Campaigns dominated by socialists will come together, and as last time, Labour’s leadership will do what it can to hinder them, so long as they aren’t tied to the apron strings of mother Parliament. They will face no backlash from their members, as the membership have nowhere else to turn. The odd constituency party might endorse the LRC, but even these constituencies can’t seem to get their MPs in line. And this is before the vast and reactionary weight of the trade union bureaucracy is employed by said leadership.

Are we simply to say that time has run out for socialism in the Labour Party? My anger at McDonnell’s withdrawl howls Khrushchev’s famous retort at the PLP and its groupies, “History is on our side. We will bury you!” And yet…

Marxism is not an exact science. Having shaken my socialist eight-ball, the answer comes back “Indeterminate”. This is the truth. The struggle for socialism in Labour is indeterminate. Socialism within Labour may be buried beneath the avalanche of bureaucratic indifference and then made irrelevant by the emergence of an organisation outside Labour that can combine within itself all the loose strings from every campaign the Left fights. The failure to do this after the poll tax campaigns, and after the anti-war campaigns has been the life-support of Labour’s Left.

These failures are contingent – failures of tactics, rather than of principle – and a success in this field will remove that last remaining leg. On the other hand, the failure of Labour’s Left to conquer the Labour Party (whilst a rather taller order than the first) is equally contingent, one of tactics and not of principle. Everything flows, and there will be more mass campaigns thrown up by the intrinsic processes of capitalism meeting the contradiction of the indestructible basic solidarities of the working class. These tactics will have longer to test themselves out until the impulse either to utterly change Labour or to leave it will move even the conservative behemoths of UNISON and Unite.

Death Tax: what’s not to like?

March 31, 2010 2 comments

In a case that could have philosophical idealists wetting themselves for decades to come, by naming something before the fact of it, we should adapt to the Conservative attempt at framing inheritance tax as a ‘death tax’. Here’s my proposal:

Step 1. We suspend habeas corpus for those who use the phrase ‘death tax’, or any other such attempts to name a fairly banal law so as to inspire fevered opposition to it. So the entire Tory Party, to begin with, starting with Lansley.

Step 2. We execute all the aforesaid and confiscate all their property, to be liquidated and used to fund universal comprehensive, elderly care. This programme will be called the “Live Long and Prosper Tax”.

Step 3. We collect the votes of elderly people and Trekkies everywhere and guarantee victory at the next general election.

Step 4. (Optional) We liquify the remains of all those who have died (or committed suicide through stupid political posturing) and use this to feed the living, who we will connect to a giant virtual reality machine in which Gore was elected President, communism works and nobody is offended ever.

We will call this the “Matrix Tax”.


What exactly is Conservative foreign policy?

March 12, 2010 6 comments

"The name's Hague. William Hague."

William Hague’s recent remarks in an FT interview, and in a speech to the Royal United Services Institute give us some idea of the purposes and shape of Conservative foreign policy, in the aftermath of a Tory election win. In short, it is exactly the same sort of interventionist twaddle spouted by New Labour, overlaid with the same veneer of humanitarian concern that Blair liked to bathe in.

In my mind, therefore, the correct response to the great challenge of Britain accounting for a smaller proportion of the world’s economic activity is not to retreat into our shell with ever few embassies and consulates and armed forces whose power cannot be projected in the world; it is to make our efforts in international affairs more ingenious, more productive, better organised and unashamedly devoted to making the most of advantages we already possess.

The economic opportunity of our own citizens requires our engagement with world affairs to be enhanced and more effective, but the clinching argument is that so does their future security. We should always be optimists about human nature and we should always try to overcome great difficulties in foreign affairs with peaceful diplomacy. But even while maintaining such innate optimism, it is necessary to recognise that the world may well become more dangerous in the decades to come. We face the increased prevalence of state failure in countries vulnerable to terrorist networks, private armies and organised crime and the increasingly transnational dimension of terrorism which has brought rapidly multiplying threats to our own national security and that of our allies: coupled with these factors is the changing character of conflict from conventional to irregular warfare which makes it harder for states to assert and protect themselves. Chronic poverty in the developing world leaves many countries open to these dangerous trends.

And on top of all of this come two central challenges which are particularly momentous in the danger they represent because once they are allowed to take root they cannot be uprooted at least for generations to come.

One of these is the onset of climate change, manifesting itself in foreign affairs as environmental degradation and an increased risk of conflict.

The second such force is the spread of nuclear science, bringing not only the benefit of civil nuclear energy but the growing risk of the spread of nuclear weapons and the shattering of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a fundamental cornerstone of human security for more than forty years. If Iran’s nuclear programme leads to a nuclear arms race in the Middle East then the world’s most unstable region will increasingly be populated with the world’s most destructive weapons.

The imminence and scale of such threats to British and indeed global security will have a major bearing on our approach to foreign policy. In addition, however, they add to the need for Britain to work harder to exert her influence rather than to accept a decline in it. (Source)

All the recent talk about whether or not British troops have been given the equipment they need reflects a fundamental problem in British politics: all of the main parties accept Britain’s intervention in Afghanistan, and, to a lesser extent, Iraq. William Hague’s speech gives every indication that a Tory government will continue, and risk expanding, Britain’s military presence abroad.

Some of the rhetoric Hague escapes with is simply shameless. For thirteen years, Gordon Brown’s regulation-slashing approach has been remarked upon across the Press, in all sorts of articles about the Masters of the Universe / Square Mile, about PPP-PFI, about non-dom status etc. But a future Labour government will be a repository of trade union power, of “70s-style” attitudes opposed to modernisation.

Oh would that it were so! Perhaps William Hague has missed this Labour government’s propaganda war against every union that declares a strike? Public sector workers are threatening the recovery. Teachers are putting their students at risk. The railway workers are making a nuisance of themselves to commuters. And so on; a litany of clichés employed against men and women struggling to pay the bills.

Hague, unsurprisingly, also repeats the meme about Britain’s credit rating being a worry, citing the ‘recent’ Fitch warning about the loss of the triple-A rating. I say ‘recent’ because Fitch has been carping about this since last year, so a new press release about it is hardly serious news. What makes this interesting is that Hague is all about the deficit reduction…and yet continuously talks up “Britain’s role” abroad.

With what equipment, in this Tory-led deficit-free utopia? Spitballs and paper aeroplanes?

Far better, surely, that Britain does step back from foreign engagements. Getting rid of the new naval carriers and the nuclear deterrent are the first steps, but cutting back the armed forces drastically should be a high priority all across the board, not just with the latest toys.

Contra the moralising about what equipment the troops did and didn’t get in Afghanistan or Iraq, it isn’t spending issues which have caused problems. Ask the Americans, who have spent nearly US $1 trillion, compared to the piffling billions of the United Kingdom. It is being there in the first place, when the government was warned of the consequences, creating conditions that exacerbated ‘terrorism’ until now it threatens nearby states.

It’s not the contradiction of a pushy but low-spending Britain, or the silly Tory rhetoric about Labour and the unions that makes the clearest impression however. It’s the interpretation of economic performance as merely a gateway to Britain being able to punch its weight in ‘world affairs’, rather than both economic performance and that weight in world affairs being tools to securing jobs, homes, healthcare and education at home.

One of the most challenging of these forces is the shrinking of the British economy relative to the rest of the world. To some extent this is inevitable: the economic rise of such nations as China, India and Brazil necessarily reduces the share of world output of more established, slower growing industrial economies, but it will be the tragic legacy of the current Labour government that it will have accelerated and intensified the reduction in our relative economic weight with all that means for the clout we carry in world affairs. According to a report in December by the Centre for Economics and Business Research, the UK will drop out of the world’s top ten economies by 2015, falling behind not only China, Brazil, Russia and India but also our neighbours France and Italy. Furthermore, in taking Britain downwards not only in relative economic size but also in every league table of competitiveness, and dramatically so in every league table of the attractiveness of our tax and regulatory system to the rest of the world, the Brown government has done serious damage to the perception of Britain as a home for enterprise, wealth creation, new ideas and opportunity. While Tony Blair happily strode the world on the back of the British economic reputation burnished under Margaret Thatcher and John Major, those who come after Gordon Brown will have to work harder to lift this country up after the thirteen years that he has spent diminishing its economic status.

President Obama recently argued that “Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power. It pays for our military. It underwrites our diplomacy. It taps the potential of our people, and allows investment in new industry…Over the past several years…we failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy.” He was right. And his argument which indeed I made in my speech last July, applies to this country too, and it makes the restoration of our economic fortunes under a new government, with lower deficits, simpler taxes and the opening up of Britain as the natural home for international business the indispensable foundation stone of the construction of effective foreign policy.

In essence, this is high politics at its worst – talk of leaders and prestige, of power and the military rather than jobs and homes. Interestingly, Hague insinuates a future Tory government is prepared to invest in the military, to build new industries…but what about investment in higher education and research for the same purposes?

At the Times Higher Education debate back in February, Tory David Willetts was all about the euphemistic “rebalancing” of higher education, with more focus on students, and no reversals of Labour’s cuts to the teaching block grants, capital budgets or research. Hence Labour won the vote, at the end of the day, on which party had the best policy.

So we return to a bonfire of regulations and taxes, to encourage private investment to come to the UK, to shoulder the burden which the Tory state wants to shed. But of course there’s no talk of retreating public services, and when there is, it’ll be blamed not on Tory economic orthodoxy but on the failures of the Labour government. Which, in this hypothetical, future rhetorical encounter, will no doubt have been ‘in hock to the unions’.

But hey, don’t worry! Though people may want for their basic needs, our army will still be free to kill johnny foreigner when he doesn’t do as ordered.

Can the European question destroy the Tories?

October 11, 2009 3 comments

At a recent discussion of the Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, a few interesting points were brought up. When researching the issue beforehand, I stumbled across some figures for the “Yes” and “No” campaigns: the Yes side outspent the No side by just under 4:1. Well over half of that figure came directly from businesses like Ryanair or Intel, or consortia of businesses and celebrities. This was not counting the five million euros spent by the Irish state and the EU itself on “information” campaigns and actually holding the referendum.

Clearly the ruling class of Ireland had a vested interest in securing a Yes vote. The tactics of the Yes campaign were pretty devious – for example, IBEC’s campaign website promised jobs in massive lettering on the front page, as did plenty of posters. Yet Brian Lenihan, finance minister, didn’t disavow such claims until after the Yes vote had been secured. But capitalism does not produce a monolithic capitalist class – such a class can have divergent interests and it was this that led to a brief consideration of how parties of the ruling class react to such a division.

In Ireland, there are two coalitions broadly analogous to the two-party British system: Fianna Fáil-Progressive Democrats (a coalition recently including the Irish Green Party)  and Fine Gael-Labour. Broadly speaking these represent the conservative / liberal-conservative and centrist / social democratic wings of Leinster House. Occasionally it gets a bit confusing because Fine Gael, Labour’s traditional partners, are a party composed of people like UK Labour MP Denis MacShane, who is marginally to the Left of the Kaiser. There is significant overlap.

All of these parties – every single one – came out in favour of a Yes vote and spent money on securing a Yes vote on the Lisbon Treaty. The ruling class of the Irish republic seems fairly united on the point. It was left to the Socialist Party, SWP and maverick Declan Ganley, who reportedly spent over a million euros of his own money, including two hundred thousand of which on funding the Libertas anti-treaty campaign in the second referendum, to oppose the Lisbon Treaty in conjunction with UKIP. Ganley denies that his American company Rivada had anything to do with the campaign.

This unity of the Irish ruling class provoked some speculation: if there was to be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in the UK, would the British ruling class be similarly united? It is a standard media trope that European questions have tended to divide the Conservatives, the traditional party of the capitalist class. Recent unity has been possible because the Conservatives can have the best of both worlds, beating up a Labour government for kowtowing to European federalism run amok, whilst not actually having to give effect to their own utterances. The perfect example of this was the Lisbon Treaty referendum vote.

David Cameron voiced sentiments to the effect that the Lisbon Treaty was a dead duck, that nobody wanted it and that it should be jettisoned. Cameron has also promised a referendum if the treaty is not a fait accompli by the time a Tory government takes office. If it came down to a vote, could Cameron and his pro-EU allies campaign against the Lisbon Treaty without casting doubts over the future of the EU itself? Bearing in mind some recent polling for ConservativeHome, were I David Cameron, I would be praying that Poland and the Czechs ratify Lisbon very soon.

The Tory grassroots, according to ConHome, are overwhelmingly in favour of a referendum, overwhelmingly in favour of a No vote and quite a substantial proportion are in favour of EU withdrawal.

Wealthy support for eurosceptic parties has not exactly been hard to find. Whether from millionaires Paul Sykes, Stuart Wheeler, Alan Bown or David Sullivan, or businesses like Nightech, UKIP seem to have plenty of money to kick around – and indeed they upped their number of MEPs this year even when pitted against a seemingly resurgent Conservative Party. But little of this support comes from the first rank of British capitalism; the recent Conservative Party conference on the other hand demonstrates a totally different world of politico-business intercourse.

“…the real action is on the fringe. In meetings across Manchester this week, corporate money and time is supporting a debate which, it is hoped, will usher in a more enterprise-friendly government. General Electric, BT, Boots, Legal & General, John Lewis, Coca-Cola and BAA are there. So are Vodafone, DTZ, Serco, Standard Chartered, Aviva, Morrisons, T-Mobile, Clifford Chance, EADS, BAE and the tobacco manufacturers.”

All of which benefit from the European Union, particularly from the expanded EU into which companies like Vodafone have moved. Or BAA which has plans for eastern European airports, Serco which has contracts with the European Space Agency and in Poland to name two recent jobs. And so on. All of this investment in European markets is aided by the common framework of the EU, and when it comes to expanding further afield, the status of the EU as a primary trading partner to China and India, and as the world’s largest importer and exporter is useful muscle to keep onside.

The Lisbon Treaty is useful to European capitalism as a whole because it prevents the smaller nations, client states of the larger, from holding the economic and banking policies of EU hostage to its own individual fortunes. The new positions of President of the European Commission and High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy are formulated so as to be able to wield the economic and military muscle of the EU as one bloc, which inevitably will be used to the benefit of European capitalism.

With business support largely assured, whatever the grassroots pull, the majority of Tory MPs will work out where their bread is buttered and vote accordingly. There will always be maverick exceptions, like the Labour councillors in Ireland who backed a No vote, but amongst the political establishment, these will be a minority. A referendum, however, might allow the grassroots to shine through – and this is why, I suspect, there will be no Lisbon referendum in the UK unless the Tory and Labour leaderships are fully confident of winning.

A similar referendum, however, has happened before, on membership in the EEC. The Labour and Tory leaderships campaigned in favour of the EEC and won the vote. Despite mavericks like Tony Benn and Enoch Powell, no Tory split emerged. And this time, no doubt, the soothing balm of capitalist consensus will likewise ease the pain that any mavericks cause. UKIP is already losing steam, in that its membership numbers have been cut almost by half; I don’t think a resurgent Tory Party has anything to fear from its Right – unless the capitalist crisis deepens beyond what the Tories can easily retrench by attacking the unions, pensions, social welfare, public sector pay and public services.

Thus we simply cannot count on the Tories being broken and ousted by the issue of the EU, though Cameron himself might be damaged by seeming to speak out of both sides of his mouth. I say this at the risk of contradicting the commentariat, where there seems to be a theme developing that Europe brought down Margaret Thatcher and John Major (not the poll tax and control freakery, or habitual corruption and endless scandal then), so it could bring down David Cameron. It’s possible, I suppose, but I don’t think it is likely – and I certainly don’t think it’s a notion we can base any sort of strategy around.

What we can do is ensure that if there is a referendum, we’re on the right side. As socialists, we seek the overthrow of the capitalist state; the issue of the EU-state should be just as clear cut. No free market of labour, no terroristic capitalism through EU diktat, IMF sanction or the easy ability to relocate capital investment abroad, no to the idea that we can ‘win’ the institutions of the EU to our own ends any more than we can win round the national state – but yes to a socialist internationalism linking the trades unions and socialists of all European countries.

By making these arguments, we’re changing the terms of the debate; it ceases to be about Little Englanders versus the capitalist consensus and could mobilize section of the working classs in their own class interests – as it did in Ireland. Such a campaign, if fought with skill and honesty, could provide a basis for mass re-engagement with politicis – socialist politics that is – and potentially help us along the road towards a reconstructed mass party of the working class. All of this, if there is a referendum. And that’s exactly why there won’t be.


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