EU: Choosing the Lesser of Two Evils

The EU referendum campaign has hardly been inspiring. For the left it poses some awkward questions with few simple answers. DAVID CONNOLLY casts his eye over some of the better contributions and opts to vote Remain. Just.

There can be few people on the left who aren’t finding the EU referendum campaign a pain in the backside. Realistically, this debate was never going to be highly nuanced or particularly sophisticated but the torrent of misleading statistics and highly contentious predictions from both sides has been crude, to say the least, all topped off with a hefty dose of racist scaremongering by some leaders of the Leave campaign.

Another-Europe-tshirtIn fact the most considered statements have come from the left with important contributions from Jon Bloomfield, Yanis Varoufakis, Enrico Tortolano and Jim Sillars, among others, but nationally the argument has been dominated by essentially right wing visions of the future. For a variety of reasons a distinctive Labour Party voice has struggled to be heard, at least to date.

As for the vote itself, we are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. If we vote Remain, for me, it feels like we are turning a blind eye to the heinous handling of the Greek crisis by the EU elite. But if we vote Leave, as a protest against that kind of policy, we could end up with the dreadful Nigel Farage triumphant on 24 June – it’s not exactly an enthralling choice.

For what it’s worth I will be voting Remain on the basis that a Johnson/Gove/UKIP victory represents the most negative outcome for domestic politics, a likely further lurch to the right with added xenophobia.

But as Gary Younge recently put it in the Guardian (1 June), “In the absence of a broader challenge to the neoliberal order, simply voting yes or no is tantamount to choosing a ditch to die in. I choose the ditch that offers free movement of people, limited labour protections and a court of human rights. I make no great claims for that ditch – how can I, when I share it with David Cameron and George Osborne? But I’m not in it so deep that I can’t see that there’s a valid argument on the other (Left) side.”

David Connolly is chair of the ILP and writes in a personal capacity.


  1. Kenneth R. Curran
    15 April 2017

    As I write there is a US navy battle fleet poised to strike at North Korea should it embark on a further nuclear weapons test. While the Korean War ended around 1951-52 the political squabbles have continued for 65 years. In spite of numerous meetings hosted by the UN, we are no closer to resolving the Korean problem than we were 65 years ago.

    I am forced to ask what have we done as a political party to try and resolve an issue which began in 1945. I have taken into account the fact that Britain is no longer a superpower and that automatically
    has reduced our influence. My concerns are over our lack of intellectual influence as a political force on the world stage. There is very little new thinking taking place inside the Labour Party about what role democratic socialists should have in the increasingly technological world. We find the party responding inadequately to almost every challenge we face, the great advocates of pragmatism within Progress and the PLP have nothing new to offer.

    This should be a time for the ILP to produce some new thinking in order to shake the Labour Party out of its topor. The ILP has to take some bold steps very soon to help lead Labour out of the wilderness.

  2. Kenneth Curran Snr
    1 July 2016

    Hello comrades,

    I write this piece while the TV News is reporting on the 100th commemoration of the battle
    of the Somme. In my view, as we who purport to be socialists we shall betray the thousands of men from
    many lands who gave their lives in a senseless struggle where those engaged battle had far more in common
    with each other than with their generals had with their own men.

    We must continue to pursue those basic ideals of those men and women who founded our Party. While I can think of many objections about the EU, its existence is perhaps the greatest reason why we have been able to live in peace with our neighbours in Europe since the days of the crusades. While Farage & Johnson were declaring that June the 23rd should be
    Britain’s independence Day, the reality was they want to turn back the clock of history.

    Yes we have had a set-back, but the struggle for economic and social justice must continue.

  3. Harry Barnes
    23 June 2016

    Ernie: We might know the referendum result by this appears, but apart from blocking various two-way migration between the United Kingdom and other EU nations (with its pros ans cons), the things you complain about could also have been tackled within our own political system – but they have not. Whatever – there is no utopia, only mobilisation and long hard slogs to try and improve matters. That task remains whether in or out. It is only that we have a somewhat smaller canvas under greater isolation.

  4. Ernie Jacques
    17 June 2016

    David’s reasons for choosing Remain, but with little enthusiasm, is to my mind, wholly unconvincing and fails to answer the fundamental issues regarding who the winners and losers are in this EU capitalist club. He does that while wringing his hands over the “heinous handling of the Greek crisis by the EU elite”.

    Unlike David, I don’t want limited Labour protection. Perhaps someone would explain how that works for the millions, growing by the day, working at Sports Direct, Poundland, private job agencies, et al. People on precarious zero hour contracts, minimum wage rates and who are nominally self-employed but all working without sick and holiday pay or any pension entitlement and often subject to the most outrageous and disgusting workplace bullying. So Labour politicians (and to trade union leaders) trumpeting on about EU worker rights is pure baloney and dishonest political spin.

    David also suggests the EU’s free movement rules are a positive thing. Well, as I explained in my previous comment, that is OK if you can afford to hire a nanny, cook, gardener, servant, etc. but not if you are at the bottom of the pile and cannot afford a mortgage, ridiculous rents for shit holes, or if you are forced out of your community by regeneration projects that fail to cater for working people struggling on slave wages and precarious contracts.

    How does “a court of human rights” protect the millions of working people cruelly exploited at work, suffering inhumane living condition and being socially excluding from the towns, cities and communities they grew up in?

    So, the question Labour Party members and the ILP should answer is why are they in denial vis-a-vis the consequences of free movement and apparently divorced from what is happening up and down the country in working class communities who are the UK citizens paying the price (as ever) of the EU capitalist club and its free movement rules.

    Harry, wanting EU reforms based on social democratic and inclusion principles and wish lists is fine, but if Labour has not managed that in 40 years, and after decades in government, it’s unlikely to happen. Meanwhile, the people they claim to represent must live in the real world and you cannot eat principles and wish lists or rely on prayer.

    And if anyone mentions xenophobia, they are spectacularly wrong, have their heads buried deep in the sand and are delusional.

  5. Harry Barnes
    15 June 2016

    Whilst I appreciate that Labour faces a mainly hostile media, its failure to run effective electoral campaigns is now a serious matter of concern for which it is itself basically responsible.

    For the last European Parliamentary elections, the Party of European Socialists (PES) produced an acceptable and progressive policy programme. But although Labour is a member of the PES it made no use of the programme and instead ran a low key campaign which made little mention about what role Labour MEPs would play once they were elected. It then ran a lack lustre campaign in the Scottish referendum and Gordon Brown had to push his way forward to seek to rescue matters.

    When it came to the general election we had a detailed set of policy statements which late in the day were finally drawn together into a manifesto. Without these proposals being perfect, they at least offered avenues which would have unlocked the door for pressures from ILPers and similar minded people. But Labour just sat on its proposals until it finally settled for that misguided concrete slab photo opportunity. The rank and file were never mobilised around the ideas they were supposed to have shaped, nor were serious efforts made to push matters through the media or via advertising avenues.

    The same disorganisation is now occuring in the European referendum campaign, even though recently a belated panic response gained some publicity. Yet the seeds for an effective campaign were planted some time ago in this speech by Jeremy Corbyn – But until the recent effort he (and most of the rest of the leadership) just seemed to go to sleep. The material circulated to Labour Party members mainly being appeals for funds, rather than pushing of key policies and seeking to enthuse people.

    Of course, the EU has many serious faults, as does the UK’s political system and the world’s international instututions – including the United Nations. But what we need are national, European and international avenues through which we can push for social and democratic reforms. Given the international powers of financial and capital interests, this is not the time for us to move to modern forms of Balkanisation.

    GDH Cole’s pamphlet ‘World Socialism Restated’ was published in 1956 and helped to stimulate the formation of a short-lived group called the International Society For Socialist Studies. Its initial committee contained members from 10 nations (including Stuart Hall). The approach then called for by GDH is needed more than ever now, so that socialists can communicate within and across boundaries and mobilise for commonly agreed purposes. Wherever capital organises (and destroys), socialists need to be organised together as a counter force to pursue its alternative objectives.

    I, therefore, fundamentally disagree with the Ernie’s comments. Our arguments on the matter can be found in the comment boxes in the link which I provided earlier.

  6. Jonathan
    15 June 2016

    The problem is that the left has lost touch with the working class and lower middle class. it no longer speaks their language. It has very little contact with mainstream working class/ lower middle class life.

    I think this article hits the nail on the head:

    The “moderate” left is not trusted because of the Blair/ Brown years and the more radical left lacks credibility. This is partly the fault of ‘the conservative culture’ and partly its own fault for its sometimes unreasonable ravings, and partly because of the collapse of socialist economics.

    There is a new left economic thinking, but it has no roots in the working class.

    Result: Brexit.

  7. Ernie Jacques
    15 June 2016


    So the Labour establishment wants to build a fair, democratic and inclusive European Union. Well, good luck with that one! But in truth they have about as much chance of democratizing the European Union and reforming its overarching corruption and neoliberal agenda as King Canute did with his tidal plans.


    I joined the ILP during the 1975 referendum on the common market because the ILP and most of the left were on the NO side, primarily because they opposed a capitalist club with its free market agenda enshrined in the Treaty or Rome. The EU was a rich man’s club in 1975 and things have gone from bad to worse, insofar as it run by the plutocrats on behalf of big corporations, finance, derivative traders and the super-rich.

    Back then we were lied to by Tory Prime Minister Ted Heath and Labour’s Harold Wilson and the Westminster establishment who, as ever, promised jam tomorrow. But of course, tomorrow never came but the lies, deceit and spin just got bigger and more brazen but less and less convincing.

    David Connolly make the point that “a distinctive Labour Party voice has struggled to be heard”. Well that’s an understatement because despite the usual political spin about the EU being a guarantee of employment rights and Labour values the Labour Party position is virtually indistinguishable from David Cameron and George Osborne.

    Weasel words now coming from Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell (by far the best of a bad bunch) are wholly unconvincing when, as the polls turn against Remain, and in a last ditch echo of project fear, they warn that a leave-vote threatens more public sector jobs and hard won employment rights. Really!


    So it’s worth reminding ourselves that under the Blair / Brown administrations, inequality and food banks grew exponentially while the rich and powerful, non-doms, tax avoiders and crooks were rewarded handsomely and many, like the head of RBS, got gongs. Neoliberal apologists glibly promoting trickle-down economics and merrily outsourcing living wage jobs to the private and voluntary sectors for zero-hour, minimum wage, precarious contracts.

    So watching Labour grandees such as Gordon Brown say Labour voters have the ‘most to gain’ from a vote to Remain laced with sound bites such as ‘Not leaving Europe but leading Europe’ and ‘Remain is stronger for jobs, for rights at work and maintaining a British voice on the world stage’ is cringe worthy especially in the context of the Brown legacy.

    Well we can all shout banalities like that and as the old saying goes ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear’ and while accepting that the EU has many things to recommend it, it is fundamentally a club for the super-rich, tax dodgers and corporate crooks and as the Greek people have discovered to their cost, one hell of a pig’s ear.

    [To read the rest of this Comment, click here … ]

  8. David Connolly
    14 June 2016

    I should add that Bloomfield and Varoufakis argue that the Left must urgently explore much greater powers for the European Parliament while “respecting national self-determination and sharing power with national parliaments, regional assemblies and municipal councils” with Varoufakis stating in the DiEM 25 manifesto that, “We, the peoples of Europe, have a duty to regain control over our Europe from unaccountable ‘technocrats’, complicit politicians and shadowy institutions.” Ambitiously, he wants a “democratic constitution that will replace all existing European treaties within a decade” – no small task.

    Tortolano and Sillars on the other hand believe that reform of the EU is a “dream” and a social Europe “meaningless”. They see the future as one of intergovernmental collaboration based on the United Nations principles of peaceful co-existence and respect for the self-determination of nation states. In their view, “the task of organising real international solidarity has been neglected by some who have been starry-eyed about the EU”.

    Even at this late stage it’s worth reading, or in Sillar’s case listening, to all four of these contributions to the debate.

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