Why is Britain Trying to Leave the EU? A Quick Guide


I am currently in France and I am surrounded by people posing the same question: What the hell is Cameron doing in Brussels?

For those of you not in Britain, or with other things to do than follow Tory shenanigans, here is a short summary on how we arrived at the Brussels meeting today.

Britain has always been profoundly Eurosceptic. This is because of a variety of historical reasons, but also because Europe has served as an easy scapegoat for whatever is wrong with governance in the UK. Crucially for the right of the political spectrum anti-EU feeling has been a wonderful deflection from the failures of the ruling class and a distraction from rising inequality. It is so much easier to blame distant bureaucrats for failures at home. So much more convenient to blame European workers for unemployment and lack of opportunities for the British working class. The fact that the distortions in the domestic labour market are caused by a predatory elite disadvantaging local workers is by the by.

The consequence of the above is a strongly anti-immigration, anti-EU working class manipulated by a strongly anti-EU City which dreams deregulatory dreams away from the clutches of Brussels. Laughably, the working class vote running away from Labour since the financial crisis landed in the open arms of racist populist UKIP, a party of rich parochial Brits with a gripe against immigration for purely personal gain.

Caught between the financial sector lackeys in the Conservative Party and pressured by UKIP on the right, Cameron felt that he could defuse the tension and secure his position by promising a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU where he to win the 2015 election. It is widely believed that at the time the promise was made no one (including Cameron himself) thought he would win, therefore the referendum promise was a wonderful political ploy with no real consequence.

Alas, the wise British people voted for another 5 years of austerity (hear that Greeks? People on occasion vote enthusiastically for more pain!). The election promise of Cameron had to become reality. Cameron’s internal political games became a critical danger for the country. The majority of business, academia in its entirety and most people who know what the EU actually is and does are strongly opposed to the prospect of exit. Yet, a referendum is an unpredictable thing (hear that Mr Tsipras?). The Leave campaign in this referendum is heavily dependent on often unvoiced racist and anti-immigrant feelings in British society. Given a chance to express themselves, aligned and backed by rich financiers, who knows what might happen?

How could Cameron now step back from his promise to give the British public another (they already had a referendum on EEC membership in 1975) stab at an exit? The answer the government came up with was the famed ‘negotiation’. A completely bogus political theater designed to allow the PM to favour the Staying-In option, while at the same time heading a strongly Eurosceptic party. Do not kid yourselves, what has been happening during the last few months and the last few days in Brussels has very little content. It is an ersatz fight, whose sole purpose is to allow Cameron to sidestep his own miscalculations.

Where does this leave the Staying-In campaign? Whatever Cameron brings back from Brussels can be safely ignored. Good deal or bad deal (on Tory terms) does not matter. What matters is that Britain outside the EU is a bad idea both for Britain and the EU. There are a lot of things wrong with the EU, and a lot subject to negotiation and change. Yet, this referendum is an internal political game which has nothing to do with the deficiencies of the EU in its current incarnation.

Is Britain trying to leave the EU? The short answer is no. This is a fight between different factions of the right, that by miscalculation and mistake may lead to a political earthquake. Let us hope that it does not come to pass. Let us work towards preventing it.




Lefty zika-heads and Brexit

lefty idiots

The lack of a positive message:

The ‘stay’ campaign in the EU referendum is having difficulty finding its feet. The reason for this is the lack of a clear, easily transmittable positive message about the EU. It is possible to win on the basis of fear, scaring voters about the consequences of an exit. This seems to have been the strategy of the stay campaign in the Scottish referendum. The issue is however that this is a dangerous strategy for two reasons. First, negative campaigns do not work very effectively. Second, negative campaigns do not settle the issue conclusively.

If pro-Europeans want to win this referendum and stop the demagogues of the right from demanding another one in a few years, they need to offer a positive narrative about Europe. Can one be found however that will work for the ‘leave’ leaning British voter?

I am not so sure. We can all come up with a fairly convincing list of arguments on why Brexit is a bad idea, but can we think of reasons why staying in the EU is good, other than the velocity of existing arrangements?

EU law is positive in protecting the consumer as most lawyers know. This is unlikely to have much impact on a public ‘disgusted’ with ‘health and safety gone mad’ and other such tripe.

Should we try and convince the public that EU immigration is good for the country? It is, but good luck with that argument. So far as third country immigration is concerned and the refugee crisis, best not go there at all.

Let’s show how EU institutions have effectively dealt with economic crisis in the Eurozone… Eh, maybe not.

You get I hope the nature of the problem. The ‘stay’ campaign needs a positive narrative, for sure. How to come up with one is less sure.


Lefty zika heads:

An additional problem is the attitude of the left towards the EU

There is a problem with the Corbynite Left. Actually there are many problems with the ‘grassroots’ non-Parliamentary left, but I will focus on just one.

They are an unpredictable danger for the In-camp in the EU Referendum. The reason for this is that the condemnation of the EU as a neoliberal, pro market Leviathan, may lead significant numbers of young, newly energized voters (by the Corbyn effect) to vote for Brexit. They may do so thinking that this enables more discretion and more options in their attempt to re-balance the state-market relationship in Britain.

The idea that a Britain outside the EU may allow socialist type alternatives is a fallacy for two reasons.

Reason one is that Socialism in One Country (Социализм в одной стране in Stalin’s words) does not work. The theory held that given the defeat of all the communist revolutions in Europe in 1917–1921 except Russia’s, the Soviet Union should begin to strengthen itself internally. That turn toward national communism was a shift from the previously held Marxist position that socialism must be established globally (world communism). The British hard left seems to think that while leftist movements have failed in Europe (Syriza abandoned its leftist pretenses in Greece, Podemos is fizzling out etc), a left alternative could be built in Britain, starting with Corbyn taking power in 2020.

It will not, because Corbyn cannot and will not win in 2020. No pollster, or betting shop or academic who has looked at the numbers think that Corbyn has a better chance of winning than a snowball materializing in hell.

Reason two is that in the short term defeat in the EU Referendum and Brexit will launch the country sharply to the right. In the mayhem that will ensue, the left message will be lost in the nationalist fervor and right wing anti-immigrant, racist politicking that will dominate between 2017 and 2020.

As Corbyn will have forfeited the higher ground (pro-immigration, pro-internationalist) by not supporting clearly and unequivocally  staying-in, he will suffer even worse in the General Election.

Voting for a Britain outside the EU for the working class is equivalent to turkeys voting for Xmas. Voting for Britain outside the EU is voting for a 1000 year Tory rule (if you will excuse the unpleasant analogy).

Does the working class really want to align itself with the Hedge Fund managers who will support the Leave campaign out of unashamedly expressed self interest? Really?

Now is the time for the working class, the left, to come out strongly in support of the EU.

Thinking people of course do not like what the EU has become. Nonetheless, the interests of the working class and the left are best served by Britain staying in and working for a better future for everyone.

Socialism in One Country did not work too well for the Russians either.

Despite the obvious nature of the above, groups of fantasists like LabourLeave are digging the grave of the working class campaigning for Brexit. In what follows I try to explain why they are wrong, without becoming too offensive.


Hello, I am Kevin:

Let us explore the position of a fictional left leaning voter, currently in the (persuadable) leave group. We shall call this chap Kevin.

Kevin works as a teaching assistant at a University. He is on modest pay, but aspires to an academic career which will see a steady improvement in his salary, coupled with the security of a permanent job. He is a self-proclaimed lefty and supported Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest.

Kevin hates Europe. For a lot of the more ‘radical’ British left, Europe is a neoliberal nightmare. The ever-closer Union by stealth is building a market based leviathan that sucks away sovereignty and effectively outlaws any policy incompatible with economic orthodoxy. Kevin always held this view, but two recent events have solidified his position as an enemy of the EU.

The first is the crisis in the Eurozone and the treatment of Greece. The depression in Greece, Kevin argues frequently, gave birth to a left alternative. Syriza came to power in 2015 and fought valiantly against the forces of Euro-neoliberalism under the command of Prof. Varoufakis. The Syriza rebellion however was crushed by Merkelism and the unrelenting neoliberal fiends of the Eurogroup. Varoufakis was ousted and Tsipras capitulated after being blackmailed into submission. The EU was always seen as undemocratic, but the latest events make it worse than that. The EU, at least in its Eurozone part, will go out of its way to undermine and subvert democracy, to crush dissent. Schaeuble will roll over anyone who objects to German ordo-liberalism.

The second event is the TTIP negotiation. For decades Europe, while pursuing a liberalising agenda, had resisted American influence on full scale marketisation. Some protection remained for certain market sectors and a European welfare state survived to a degree. While this was not optimal in Kevin’s view, it was still better than the do-or-die American culture. Then the European Commission embarked on secret negotiations on a grand trade deal. A trade deal that would bring the worse of Anglo-saxon capitalism to Europe, a deal that would even lift corporations out of the jurisdiction of national courts, creating ‘special’ investment tribunals tasked with protecting the expectations of the market against the rights of citizens.

All this was too much for Kevin. He will vote for Britain to leave the European Union. His last act of solidarity to the Greeks will be to drop his ballot in the box and stick it to Schaeuble.

Hang on a second….

What would the day after the referendum be like for our friend Kevin? All polling suggests that Corbyn is set to lose in the 2020 general election, and lose badly. If Labour lost in 2010 (being accused of the financial crisis), lost in 2015 (where it tried to advocate for the poorest in society), will it win in 2020 on a classical left agenda?

Lets assume that it will not (at least the bookies do).

Kevin has proudly rejected the ‘neoliberal’ EU, so that he is tormented at home by a Thatcherite right? The Tories, if ‘leave’ wins the referendum are likely to lurch further to the right. Kevin will be left with a country turning right, lose social protections guaranteed by EU norms, lose access to the European Court of Justice, probably lose the Human Rights Act to a reduced Bill of Rights created by a revanchist right. Kevin will have shut himself off, not only from the market lovers of Brussels, but also from social movements and progressive parties that are trying to argue for a more socially inclusive Europe in the European Parliament.

Kevin will be alone, at the mercy of a domestic predatory elite that cares nothing for him.

The message for Kevin and all the Kevins of the Corbynite left out there is this: Yes the EU is flawed and neoliberal and in need of serious change. Leaving the EU will leave you at the mercy of Mr Cameron, Mr Osborne and their ‘business’ friends.

Perhaps Kevin should think about where the biggest threat to any left alternative comes from. It does not come from Europe.



PS. I will be happy to come explain this in person (at my own cost) to any LabourLeave supporters and help them come to their senses.



The revolution that never was


What Corbyn is trying to do in the Labour party seems like a revolution 7 years out of date.

Let me explain what I mean by this. In September 2008 the British banking system came to the brink of implosion. If action had not been taken immediately to support the commercial banks, the Northern Rock scenario would have spread to RBS and beyond. In a country where everyone (almost) relies on plastic entirely, we would be stuck with the cash in our pockets which would probably buy us lunch and that is it. This humongous failure came at the back of the biggest financial meltdown in history and caused a global credit crunch. I have explained all this in detail elsewhere, so I do not want to rehash the facts here — See here for a summary of the global economic dynamics that led to the crisis of 2008 and its subsequent European contagion.

At that point (end of 2008, beginning 2009) we were faced with the single greatest failure of financialised capitalism (see Lapavitsas -of all people- on the term and its uses). Everything that was wrong with capitalism was laid out for everyone to see. The state had shrunk below the point where it could make sure the economy operated in accordance with a democratic determination of the public good. Inequality in the developed world was rising steeply, with those at the top earning absurd amounts, while those at the middle and lower end struggled. Politics had degenerated into a race to appear market-friendly. The sacred tenets of capitalism, the invisible hand, trickle down of wealth, had all been exposed as the fallacies they are.

Surely we thought, this was the beginning of the end of neoliberal domination!

It was not. The US elected Obama, who then sunk in deadlock over every single bit of reform that might chip away at the neoliberal monolith. Merkel tightened her grip over Germany and dictated an orthodox response to the European debt crisis. Gordon Brown was defeated and replaced by the Con-Lib abomination that offered gratuitous austerity as a lever for implementing an ideological agenda. France elected Hollande, fair enough, but he quickly moved to sideline anyone not in tune with the German status quo in Europe. And then, in 2015, Cameron emerged victorious in the UK with a mandate for further austerity and a referendum on Brexit.

The final nail in the coffin came from the failure of the left in Greece. This blog has been pretty much devoted to the Greek problem and has shown how hope for a sensible left alternative was first chocked by the Europeans, and then ruined by the incompetence, fanaticism and ideology of those who were supposed to save us.

Against this background, we now have Corbyn energising the left in the UK in an attempt to build resistance to austerity and challenge the dominant narrative of the Conservatives. This will not work electorally because he has come 7 years too late. Now that there is a semi-plausible economic success story, Labour cannot win an election, but can try to change the public mood slowly from the left. Electorally unfortunately, even if it wins back Scotland, it can never prevail in the South. The time to ride the wave of dissatisfaction with capitalism was 2008. The radical left has missed its chance. All that remains is to put forward ideas, hoping for a change in the public mood beyond 2020.

don quixote


*Updated 16.8.15

May Election: The country’s best kept secret

There is a general election coming up in the UK in May 2015, but you would not know it unless you watch one of the late night political shows, like Newsnight on BBC. At a time when the European periphery is getting all excited about elections and the power of democracy to actually do something for once (Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain), the British elite is going through another of its stylistic, content free, zero impact election campaigns. Voter registration deadline is 20.4.15, but how would you know? It took some googling to get it and I knew what I was looking for. It is (to use a Nigel Farage expression) baffling.

At the same time, the offerings are so sad, that you may be excused for taking an ‘apolitical’ stance.

You are offered “Grumpy Austerity” (Cameron), “Smiley Austerity” (Clegg), “Austerity yes, but we thought of the NHS” (Miliband), “We are red, but look better in green” (Greens) and “I think foreigners are to blame for my problems, not the austerity pushed by a predatory ruling class” (UKIP).

Sad really, but still the total lack of campaigning a few months before a national election is… baffling.