Two reactionary camps
Our class can gain nothing by voting for either of the two options, argues Peter Manson
Another day, another scare story. I am referring, of course, to the European Union referendum campaign, with both the ‘remain’ and ‘leave’ camps throwing around all sorts of highly tenuous and speculative projections of the disaster waiting to happen if we get it wrong on June 23.
So for ‘remain’ the last few days have seen the release of a treasury report claiming that withdrawal would cost hundreds of thousands of jobs, while the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicted it might mean an extra two years of austerity. Prime minister David Cameron claimed that a Brexit would result in “a DIY recession for the first time in history” (this was immediately seized upon by some as implying that the last recession was not, after all, a result of ‘Labour mismanagement’, as the Tories have consistently - and absurdly - alleged). It would “knock 3.6% off GDP”, said Cameron, and, what is more, it would mean that “the cost of family holidays will soar”.
For his part, chancellor George Osborne claimed: “If we leave the European Union, there will be an immediate economic shock that will hit financial markets.” While even some Brexiteers admit a ‘leave’ vote would indeed produce a short-term negative effect on the stock markets, Osborne was on far shakier ground when he said a withdrawal would mean that house prices could “fall by a fifth” - or by between £30,000 and £50,000 - by 2018. Of course, if you are a first-time buyer, that might be considered a reason to vote ‘leave’, so Osborne immediately added that interest rates would also rise, making mortgages much more expensive.
Meanwhile, Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, was the latest big name from outside the UK to throw his oar in. Britain will be regarded as a “third country” by the EU if it leaves, said Juncker, and “the deserters will not be treated with open arms”. Outrage! Pro-Brexit Labour MP Gisela Stuart claimed: “These extraordinary comments are a new low” - an example of “intimidation” apparently.
Of course, it is less straightforward for the Brexiteers to dismiss institutions like the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development or the International Monetary Fund as stuffed with people in thrall to David Cameron - and the same applies to the Bank of England and the IFS, and even Barack Obama. After all, in normal times rightwing Conservatives would be falling over themselves to identify with the ‘leader of the free world’. It is all very well stating that the European Commission cannot be trusted, but what about the OECD, IMF and even (by extension) Nato? These are supposed to be international institutions that everyone respects, promoting ‘stability’ and ‘democracy’.
Keep ’em out
Nevertheless, the Brexiteers are not wrong when they say that the ‘remain’ camp is putting its own exaggerated spin on the possible negative repercussions of a UK withdrawal. Take, for instance, the claim made by top Brexiteer Michael Gove. The justice secretary said that there could be more than 400,000 extra migrants a year arriving in Britain by 2030 if the UK remained in the EU - adding up to five million by that year. Even if Turkey, Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia do not join, there would still be 172,000 a year - or 2.6 million overall, claimed Gove.
This was seized upon by the Daily Express, which revealed the results of its “exclusive poll”. In the event of Turkey being admitted, “12 million Turks say they’ll come to the UK once EU deal is signed”, read its headline. But the actual story informs us that “almost 16% of Turkish adults said they would consider relocating to the UK once their country becomes a full member of the EU” (my emphasis).1 While the 2,600 people surveyed might be considered a reasonable sample, the story is so ludicrous that you would think the pro-EU establishment would simply laugh it out of court. But Cameron, even though he had previously expressed support for Turkey joining, now stated that its membership is “not remotely on the cards”. The UK would use its veto to ensure it was kept out.
But this is par for the course for his side. Both camps contend that immigration is a big problem and so Cameron, for instance, feels he has no option but to respond by renouncing his previously stated position. After all, he cannot deny that millions of Turks would seek to migrate (to other EU countries as well as Britain, of course), even if the projected numbers are absurdly exaggerated.
Then there was Boris Johnson and the ‘H’ word. He made the mistake of bringing Hitler into the argument, thus allowing his opponents to claim that he was somehow likening the EU, or present-day Germany, to the Nazis. It was almost as though he had not noticed the furore when Ken Livingstone did something similar in a different context just a few weeks earlier.
What Johnson actually said was:
The truth is that the history of the last couple of thousand years has been broadly repeated attempts by various people or institutions - in a Freudian way - to rediscover the lost childhood of Europe, this golden age of peace and prosperity under the Romans, by trying to unify it. Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically. The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods.2
While you can argue with much of this - the idea that Hitler was trying to “rediscover the lost childhood of Europe” is frankly laughable - the basic point that Johnson was making was that the promoters of “ever closer union” are attempting to do bureaucratically what the Nazis did by force. But after saying such a thing, according to Michael Heseltine, Johnson “can never be prime minister”.
With or without Boris Johnson, it now looks pretty clear that ‘remain’ will win the day on June 23. The ‘What UK Thinks’ “poll of polls” shows a 10% margin in favour of ‘remain’ - the six polls it reports show a lead of between 1% and just under 20% over ‘leave’.3 The one ray of light for the Brexit camp is that, it is generally agreed, there will probably be a bigger turnout amongst ‘leave’ voters.
But, even so, things do not look good for the likes of Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the Morning Star’sCommunist Party of Britain, who writes: “Inflicting a popular defeat on Cameron, Osborne, the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the IMF, the Pentagon and Nato on June 23 should be the top priority for communists, socialists and trade unionists.”4
It is true that all the above favour Britain remaining in the EU, but surely the ‘leave’ camp is just as reactionary (if not more so). Why not vote ‘remain’ in order to ‘inflict a popular defeat’ on the Tory right and Ukip? In actual fact, that is why both Socialist Resistance and Paul Mason have temporarily suspended their opposition to the EU and will vote ‘remain’ next month. But the truth is, as we have constantly pointed out, this is a battle between two anti-working class camps. Whoever wins will use their victory to promote their own aims at our expense.
Comrade Griffiths continues by claiming that a ‘leave’ vote “would clear the way for the downfall of a divided Tory regime and the early election of a Labour government free to pursue left and progressive policies”. In similar vein, the Socialist Workers Party - which has joined forces with the CPB in the ‘left exit’ campaign - proclaims: “The Lexit campaign rejects the pessimism of those who see the consequences of exit as an automatic shift to the right. More likely it would result in the departure of Cameron and a fatally weakened government.”5
This is cloud cuckoo land. In the unlikely event of a ‘leave’ majority, the Conservative government will not fall. Yes, Cameron will resign - to be replaced, quite possibly, by Johnson. The new Tory leader will then go through the motions of drawing up a new set of ‘conditions’, which, if met by Brussels, would allow Johnson to recommend a positive response in a second referendum. Like his predecessor he would return triumphantly waving an equally worthless piece of paper, on the basis of which he would recommend a ‘remain’ vote later in the year.
Either way, the Tories will not collapse. They will soon reunite against both the Ukip threat and, more importantly, the possibility of a left-led Labour government in 2020. We cannot avoid this scenario by siding with one reactionary camp or the other. The left should be campaigning for an active boycott of the referendum and the construction of an independent working class alternative.
4. Morning Star May 18.