Back in 1975 I did not just oppose membership of the EU, I actively campaigned against it. In the 1990s I strongly opposed Britain’s membership of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). My opposition to the Labour leadership’s support for ERM helped ensure that I did not get chosen as Parliamentary candidate at the time. I won a modest 6 votes at a General Committee Meeting that in 1991 selected the next MP for Dulwich and West Norwood! (While I was to be vindicated by Britain’s eviction from the ERM in September 1992 that was no comfort as Labour, having backed the ERM, was unable to capitalize on the huge political damage caused to the Conservatives by the Black Wednesday fiasco.)
Finally, I am firmly opposed to the way in which European Treaties (signed by Labour as well as Conservative governments) have embedded market fundamentalist economic policies into quasi-constitutional law. No doubt this is because the authorities are aware that policies for austerity, privatisation and the financialisation of European economies would be fiercely resisted by the people of Europe, and so had to be buried like concrete, in Treaties.
So why then, am I voting to Remain? The reasons are threefold, and are essentially political rather than economic reasons (Please ignore George Osborne’s “facts” from the UK Treasury. That institution’s forecasting record is abysmal. According to the outgoing Permanent Secretary, Sir Nicholas McPherson, they made the “monumental collective intellectual error” of failing to forecast the biggest ever financial crisis facing Britain.)
First and foremost, the political situation in Europe has changed – and the continent is now on the brink of fracturing.
Market fundamentalism is dividing the people of Europe, and instead of economies converging across the Eurozone, they are diverging. The situation is of course exacerbated by the EU’s ‘free’ market principles for the untrammelled and unmanaged movement of capital, trade and labour. And for the commodification of land and labour. These liberal finance principles have triggered popular resistance, and caused voters to go in search of a ‘strong man or woman’ that will protect the populations of Europe from the ravages of market fundamentalism. Hence the rise of right-wing and fascist parties in for example, France, Hungary and Greece.
Right-wing populism – a reaction to, and movement against market fundamentalism – now poses a real threat to European democracy, and to European peace and stability. If the UK votes to leave now, this will encourage those who seek the fragmentation of Europe based not on progressive economic and social policies, but on their very opposite. This is therefore not the moment for the people of Britain to trigger the break-up of the European Union. The last time European tensions spilt over into divisions, open confrontation and war, sixty million people died (including twenty million Russians). Britain could not stand aloof from that war, and it will not be able to stand aloof from any future disruption to European peace.
I am not prepared to be party to such disruption at such a tense time in European political history. I am not prepared to risk sending my children or grandchildren to another European war.
There is a second reason for voting to Remain and it is this: Britain is heavily responsible for the market fundamentalism entrenched in the European Treaties. Our politicians and civil servants had a big hand in drafting these Treaties, and in introducing European legislation for enforcing what are in effect Anglo-American policies for deregulation, privatisation and labour market ‘reforms’. It was Lord Cockfield (under the Thatcher government) who led the drive for the single market including ‘freedom’ for financial services and capital, and it was a British civil servant who presided over the creation of the Euro – even though we chose not to be a member of the Eurozone
Europe’s social welfare model has been severely strained by Anglo-American policies for de-regulation, privatisation and ‘structural’ changes to labour markets, now alas more widely shared within the EU. Our responsibility for such policies requires that we act responsibly in helping to get them reversed…We cannot now turn our backs on a European economic model that conforms so closely to British economic policies. The social democratic parties, in particular, need to change tack, to promote policies that challenge the neoliberal consensus. This is our task in the coming years.
My third reason is domestic – with honourable exceptions, the move to Brexit is led by the most reactionary forces in Britain such as climate change denier Lord Lawson – and it is they who would reap the benefits of an “out” vote. They stand for market fundamentalism, not for the more progressive EU we seek. The EU’s gains on social and labour standards, on environmental protection and climate change – themselves at risk – would be dismantled. I agree with Jeremy Corbyn – we should unite to vote to Remain, but for the opposite reasons from those of David Cameron and George Osborne.