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<nettime> 'Yes' is the Correct Answer to the Wrong Question
Richard Barbrook on Thu, 25 Feb 2016 19:38:41 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> 'Yes' is the Correct Answer to the Wrong Question


On 5th June 1975, I cast my first ever vote in a referendum on whether 
or not Britain should remain within the European Common Market. Like
David Cameron, Harold Wilson - the Labour prime minister of the time - 
had organised this ballot to manage his own party's factional squabbles 
rather than to determine the future of the nation. Then as now, the British 
establishment warned the electorate of the dire political and economic 
consequences of quitting the European project. Even the American 
government made unsubtle hints encouraging a 'Yes' vote in this 
referendum. More than anything else, the pro-European cause was 
helped by the 'No' campaign's bizarre alliance of those on the Right 
who mourned the loss of empire and those on the Left who wanted 
Britain to become Cuba with worse weather. Why risk this leap into 
the unknown when its leading proponents couldn't agree on what 
would happen if they won the referendum? Not surprisingly, like 67 
per cent of the British people, I decided for the better-safe-than-sorry 
option of 'Yes'.  

Ever since the 1975 result was declared, the losing side has been arguing 
for another referendum that would deliver a different outcome. In Britain 
as in other member states, the mainstream parties' hypocritical tactic of 
publicly blaming the EU for unpopular policies which they tacitly supported 
has encouraged a growth in Euroscepticism over the past four decades. For 
some of the Left, Tony Benn's warnings in 1975 about the European bosses' 
club still seem prescient. The unaccountable EU technocracy is now imposing
 its austerity economics of welfare cuts, privatisation and financialisation on
 the whole continent. As the Greeks recently discovered, parliamentary democracy 
becomes meaningless when the most vital decisions are made in Brussels. Yet, 
apart from a dwindling band of Stalinists, the British Left's rejection of the EU's 
disastrous infatuation with neoliberalism hasn't recruited many of its leaders and 
activists to the anti-European side this time around. Instead, the 'No' campaign 
for the 2016 referendum is dominated by the isolationist Right. Ever since Margaret 
Thatcher's reign, Tory newspapers have regaled their readers with lurid tales of 
bureaucratic meddling and financial shenanigans by the EU institutions. As their 
readers'  comments reveal, Europe has become the Right's symbol of everything 
that is wrong with modern Britain: mass immigration, political correctness, gender 
bending and military weakness. The EU is the EUSSR - a demonic federal superstate 
crushing the national sovereignty and cultural distinctiveness of the English race. As 
Thatcher discovered, handbagging the Brussels bureaucracy is an excellent method 
of securing these patriotic voters for the Tories. But, as her successors have also 
understood, the party of big banks and big business can never deliver the ultimate 
goal of its Europhobic supporters: the secession of the United Kingdom from the 
European Union. The insiders know that EU-bashing is just fun-and-games which 
no one should take too seriously.     

Unfortunately for the Tory grandees, the outsiders on the Right truly believe in the 
Eurosceptic message. While the demands for a new ballot on EU membership by 
backbench MPs, constituency activists and newspaper columnists can be safely
 ignored, UKIP candidates threaten to split the anti-Left vote in both local and 
national contests. During the run-up to the 2015 general election, David Cameron 
dealt with this competition from the isolationist Right by promising to hold a new 
referendum which he knew that his LibDem coalition partners would never allow 
to take place. But, when the Tories won their unexpected outright victory, this 
clever wheeze no longer seemed so clever. Having profited from Eurosceptic 
rhetoric for decades, the British establishment is now assailed by those who 
want to turn its words into deeds. Worryingly, with the Euro in crisis, the Schengen 
Agreement disintegrating and the EU's borders overwhelmed by desperate refugees, 
selling the case against Brexit has become more difficult. However, the 'Yes' campaign 
still remains the favourite. Imitating Harold Wilson's successful strategy before the 
1975 referendum, David Cameron is touring the continent's capital cities to put together 
a package of minor concessions which will enable ambitious Tory MPs to swap their 
erstwhile Europhobia for newly found Europhilia. Battle-tested in Scotland in 2014, 
the great-and-good's Project Fear will terrify the electorate with predictions of job 
losses, expensive mortgages and a falling pound if Britain leaves the EU. UKIP's 
supporters will be warned that the UK couldn't survive England voting 'No' and 
Scotland voting 'Yes'. The US president, the NATO Secretary-General and the Queen 
will express their concerns that the status quo must prevail. In the unlikely event of 
a 'No' victory, like when the Irish initially rejected the EU's Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and 
then were sent back to the polls in 2009 to correct their mistake, this political farce 
will be repeated until the British public sees sense and chooses 'Yes'. The Eurosceptics 
must learn that the Tory elite's words should never be mistaken for deeds.  

By holding the 2016 referendum as an exercise in party management, David Cameron
hopes to restrict the debate over Britain's relationship with Europe to the
in-or-out question. What at all costs must be avoided is any serious discussion
about how the EU could be made to work in the interests of all of its citizens.
The official 'Yes' campaign will concentrate on the negative consequences of
British withdrawal because making the positive case would have to include
proposals to tackle the serious failings of the European institutions,
especially their scandalous lack of democratic accountability. Contrary to the
Eurosceptic assertion, the EU is not a federal superstate, but instead is an
inter-governmental treaty organisation. The Brussels bureaucracy takes its
orders from the Council of Ministers rather than the European Parliament.
Crucially, for the national leaders of the EU's member states, neoliberal
solutions have the inestimable advantage of advancing economic integration
without requiring political unification. Behind closed doors, they can adopt
policies which favour tax-dodging corporations and too-big-to-fail banks -- and
then impose them upon their own local electorates without consultation. But,
following the 2008 financial collapse, this technocratic strategy has been
undermining the European project. From the Euro crisis to the influx of
refugees, national leaders have proved incapable of managing continental
problems when neoliberal dogmas no longer work. Yet, the Brexit-style retreat
behind state borders can only exacerbate dependence upon these failing market
mechanisms. Instead, Yanis Varoufakis -- the former Greek finance minister --
argues that the citizens of Europe should now take their destiny into their own
hands.  In the DiEM25 manifesto, he advocates the rapid democratisation of the
EU institutions. While David Cameron's referendum only offers two versions of
defunct neoliberalism, Yanis Varoufakis wants the British to participate in the
election of a Constituent Assembly of the European peoples.  Seeking to widen
the debate beyond the Tories' facile in-or-out question, the new leadership of
the Labour party has responded positively to this initiative. Both Jeremy Corbyn
and John McDonnell voted 'No' in the 1975 referendum. In a strange twist of
fate, these admirers of Tony Benn are now becoming the most plausible advocates
of European federalism in Britain. From climate change to tax avoidance, there
are national problems which can only be effectively dealt with at a continental
level. By urging a 'Yes' vote in 2016, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are
championing democracy as the precondition of successful European governance. The
bankers and technocrats had their chance and they've messed up big time. Now
it is the turn of the citizens of Europe to have their voices heard in the
corridors of power. The wisdom of the many must prevail over the folly of the
few. I'll vote 'Yes' to that!

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