In the 1970’s and 80’s, I believe there was a valid body of opinion on the left that the UK would be better off outside of the EEC (now EU) because at that time, it was all about business and there were few counter-balancing social charter type rules.
Greens were saying that the EU was causing products to travel further between producers and consumers, killing local markets and leading to higher carbon emissions as goods were transported over longer distances. All of this was true but a lot has changed over the past 30 years both in the UK and the wider EU.
The ‘Overton Window’ has shifted significantly towards the right in the UK while most EU countries’ idea of a Conservative Party is still a Christian Democrat model believing in social cohesion, free collective bargaining and consensus infrastructure investment and provision. Our parties of the ‘mainstream right’, the Conservative Party flanked by UKIP, look more to US style Republicanism for their values, long having ditched any concessions to ‘one nation’ politics. This lurch to right in the UK, tolerated and left largely unchallenged by 13 years of Blairite Labour rule, has been accompanied by the breakdown of the two party system and the voting system that was designed for it. Labour’s loss of Scottish MP’s in 2015, combined with the surge in vote share for ‘minor parties’ saw the Conservative Party re-elected with the support of only 24% of the total electorate. Our own democracy is in crisis, an illegitimate Parliament and 760+ unelected Lords to provide the only restraint on tyrannical policies. Labour’s loss of Scotland may be permanent and imminent boundary changes are thought to provide the Conservatives with an additional 20 seat advantage.
The democratic and looming constitutional crisis in the UK itself goes to the very heart of why those on the progressive left should not be tempted to join what has been cleverly presented as a popular uprising against the UK’s Establishment and ‘undemocratic EU’ by the Leave campaigns. It is a trap set by the hard right and some on the left are walking right into it. The only time I would discourage a popular uprising is if the Peterloo Massacre is likely to follow. That is my judgement now. I’m all for a political uprising to overthrow the right but the timing and cause must be right. If the left must kick out at anything, it must be at the right wing forces who have not been weaker in a generation due to internal divisions over the EU. If we stay in the EU, we have a bedrock of human/worker rights and environmental protection to use as a firm foundation to strike at the real political enemy – the reactionary right that would have us shackled even tighter if we leave.