Back in May, the Lib Dem candidate for Thurrock, Rhodri Janieson-Ball, claimed that “the only people who want a referendum, to put it blunt [sic], are extreme right wingers”*. It was a ludicrous statement, quite obviously so, but it betrayed a common assumption: that euroscepticism is the preserve of right wing politics. Today, no-one could be forgiven for making that assumption. The Lib Dem vote collapsed whilst half the electorate voted for pro-referendum parties. Since then, Kate Hoey MP has set up the pro-Brexit Labour for Britain group, Guardian columnist Owen Jones has switched to the eurosceptic camp, and even Jeremy Corbyn has expressed some ambivalence. The better leftists are coming out for British independence and have every reason to do so.
What does it mean to be a leftist? The concepts of left wing and right wing have been mangled almost beyond recognition since their origins in the French Revolution, but I think a broad definition can be given: a leftist is critical of power structures; a leftist wants to undermine and transform them. The leftists in monarchical France were anti-aristocracy and pro-democracy, pushing for revolutionary constitutional change, pushing for freedom. In modern times, leftist politics has become near synonymous with statism, mostly as a result of leftists thinking the end justifies the means. Nevertheless, the anti-authoritarian left maintains a growing presence, carrying the torch of true leftism into today’s political arena. They are the ones eurosceptics need to reach if we want to win the referendum.
Apart from a tiny residuum of revolutionaries, most of the modern left support some kind of democratic transformation of society. Even for the revolutionaries, some kind of democracy is seen as the ultimate ideal. Leftists want to democratise wealth, to democratise capital, to democratise institutions, to bring power back to the average man or woman. How then can leftists support the EU when it places itself squarely, explicitly, against any form of democracy?
“Elections change nothing” said Wolfgang Schäuble and, as we saw in Greece just two months ago, neither do referenda. The Commission displays total contempt for the will of the average voter. No leftist who wants to empower the ordinary, working citizen can possibly reconcile that with support for a technocratic, elitist EU.
Not only is the EU killing democracy, but it’s also propagating corporatism. The pharmaceutical industry alone spends €40m per year lobbying the EU.
The estimated total number of lobbyists in Brussels has doubled in the last 10 years from 15000 to 30000; thousands of separate interest groups have installed permanent staff in the city to always be on hand to acquire more influence. Large companies, who are more able to cope with new regulations, encourage their imposition in order to hurt smaller companies. Tobacco companies that don’t sell e-cigarettes, in order to hurt their rivals that do, encourage the EU to clamp down on them. The private companies are not the only ones to blame here; none of this would be possible without the Commission’s bottomless money pot. Leftists and rightists may disagree about the ideal economic system, but surely none of us can abide the EU’s corporate welfare and cronyism. It is not a system; it is economic war.
Whilst big business continues to rake in the largesse, people across the continent are increasingly turning against the EU’s imposition of austerity programs. Once again, the left and right may disagree about the proper solution to economic crises but there is one thing we can definitely all agree on: the unfairness of the modern bailout system. Big banks take big risks (enabled by the State), fail and then get bailed out (as happened in Spain). Big governments borrow tonnes of money, go bankrupt and then get bailed out (as has happened in Greece – three times). And who picks up the bill? Of course, it is always the ordinary, productive, politically disempowered people. The EU is an inverted welfare state: those at the bottom are bled dry in order to prevent those at the top from having to endure the consequences of their own recklessness. Any leftist who believes in holding governments and bankers to account cannot justify continuing with such a system.
These are the main areas where right and left wing eurosceptics see eye to eye. There are other important reasons that a leftist might have for opposing the EU, such as opposition to free trade and globalisation. Since I don’t agree with such arguments, I won’t promote them here. But they exist, and many on the left will find those arguments persuasive.
Whatever you want out of politics, whatever your stance on the economy or society, the change you seek can be achieved in two ways: democratically or undemocratically. EU officials have demonstrated, time and again, what little respect they have for the will of voters and elected institutions. A Yes vote in the referendum is a vote for the anti-democratic cause. It is, in fact, a vote against voting. The statists, the champagne socialists, the social democrats and progressive liberals – they don’t care for democracy. The true leftist does care, and cannot reconcile their views with anything other than a big fat No.
* No, really—that is what he said. Go to 3:06.