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A response to Gisela Stuart: voting Remain is the truly radical choice

Demonstrators in Spain carry a banner in support of Podemos, a left-wing political party founded in 2014 ©jacinta lluch valero

Demonstrators in Spain carry a banner in support of Podemos, a left-wing political party founded in 2014 ©jacinta lluch valero

At the start of this month, Labour MP Gisela Stuart wrote a piece for Prospect entitled “Brexit is the left-wing choice.” Here, former Europe Editor of the Guardian John Palmer explains why he disagrees.

Let me start by agreeing with Gisela Stuart that it is indeed “puzzling that the Labour Party has mislaid its radical roots.” I am unsure whether Gisela would agree but I welcome the arrival of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn as the best chance in decades to remedy this sad situation.

But I do respond enthusiastically to her implicit call for “storming the barricades” in protest at the treatment of the people of Greece, Italy, Spain and Portugal rather than in support of bankers or the right-wing neo-liberals running the most powerful EU governments.

It seems to me that Gisela is reluctant to acknowledge that, more or less everywhere, the power of national states is in decline and has been so for decades. Nowhere is this more true than in the UK, which may be in the early stages or either federalisation or facing the break-up of the UK union. Surely, in an era of irreversible globalisation, we are moving—slowly, unevenly and with many a crisis en route—to new forms of supra-national politics.

I am also puzzled that she thinks that following the call of right wing Tories and Ukippers and quitting the European Union will do anything to help the youth and the working people of Britain or any other EU country. To the contrary, it would only incite the radical far right, who are already agitating to destroy the entire process of European integration and unification.

Gisela, I fear, is naive in supposing that a Tory government will not proceed with enthusiasm, after an EU withdrawal, to tear up as many of the European agreements on equal pay, trade union and employment rights, as well as targets for sustainable development, as they can.

I agree that Cameron’s so-called “deal” with the other EU governments is risible. So too was Harold Wilson’s much vaunted “re-negotiation” of the terms of UK membership back in 1975. The case for remaining in the European Union has nothing to do with such minutiae designed primarily to fight the bitter internal Tory civil war over Europe.

For the left, remaining in the Union must be a step to launching a major, coordinated EU wide political campaign for major economic, social and constitutional changes. Neo-liberal austerity policies have only deepened our economic crisis and need to be fundamentally reversed—through pro-growth monetary and fiscal policies. The right wing consensus on austerity is starting to crumble and there is growing demand for change.

This movement for change has taken a genuinely “radical” and progressive form in Spain, Greece and in other left-wing parties across the EU. There are also signs of unrest and some appetite for change growing in mainstream European social democratic and socialist parties (this is happening in Portugal, to name one example). Discontent is even being expressed in some of Europe’s Christian Democratic parties which have trade union links (for example, in Germany’s Christian Democratic Union).

Gisela says, rightly, that the European Union needs to articulate “a new dream.” There are many potential policies—other than replacing mindless austerity—which could contribute to an articulation of such new goals. They include investment to make Europe a global beacon in the struggle for sustainable development and social justice.

EU foreign policy also needs fundamental recalibrating around the ideals of justice, democracy and human rights which motivated many of the pioneers of European integration. This would allow more rational and more humane strategies on how to deal with the exodus of desperate people fleeing war and repression. The current lurch into ever more extreme, bigoted and fearful responses to the migrant crisis will only drive Europe’s populist demagogues further to the right.

Gisela calls for a stronger stance against Russian President Putin’s bullying. There is no reason why a radically reformed EU should not one day admit Ukraine to membership. The right of self-determination for the Palestinian people must also be pursued far more urgently by the EU.

The Union has an essential role to play in constructing a new trans-national democratic politics. I believe the time has come to give the European Parliament the power to “initiate,” not just to ratify or reject EU legislation. In a first stage maybe this power could be shared with the European Commission. The election of that body should be determined by the members of the European Parliament, not by some shadowy bargaining process dominated by national governments.

However, this can only come about if the mainstream parties in the European Parliament become genuinely “European parties” with the right to determine their own policies on all EU matters to be put before voters. That is, MEPs should be able to put forward policies different to those of the party they are representing. Only then will EU electorates become genuinely engaged with shaping the future political direction the European Union should take. Radical enough Gisela?

Now read: Twelve things you need to know about Brexit 

This article, A response to Gisela Stuart: voting Remain is the truly radical choice, first appeared on World Prospect Magazine.