Lament of a Labour Leaver
unanswered letter to Keir Starmer MP, Labour Brexit spokesman, July 26 2019
As you can see, I do not have the good fortune to live in your constituency, but I hope you might answer this letter as Shadow Brexit spokesman and as a potential replacement for Jeremy Corbyn.
I am a veteran Labour supporter. I worked in the past for two Labour giants, Gerald Kaufman and Denis Healey. In company with well over three million Labour supporters I voted Leave in the referendum. It now seems more and more likely that we will be unable to vote for a Labour government at the next General Election without voting to Remain in the EU or to rejoin it, formally or de facto. In some constituencies we may even be unable to vote for a Labour candidate, if the party stands down in an electoral pact with other Remain parties.
I have seen very little effort within the party to understand the motives of Labour Leave voters, still less discuss them with us.
Too many Remain advocates dismiss us as unreconstructed Bennites (like Jeremy Corbyn) or assume that we are against immigration or that we simply voted Leave in a fit of rage against a despised political élite, as so many American working-class people voted for Donald Trump.
These explanations ignore the strong “progressive” reasons to object to the EU.
We see an organization dominated by special interests – including its own bureaucracy – which are almost impervious to democracy, generate copious unnecessary policy and regulation, and spend huge sums of money wastefully or even corruptly.
We see its flagship policy – the euro – as an engine of misery and unemployment for the weaker economies under its thrall.
We see its agricultural policy, although improved, as wasteful, harmful to consumers and the environment, and still biased towards giant agri-businesses rather than small family farms.
We see the EU’s protectionism as a major contributor to poverty in Third World countries.
Above all, we see the EU’s governance as neither efficient nor democratic – and on a permanent and continued journey away from democratic control. Our views were confirmed by the recent choices of EU Commission President and head of the ECB – and the manner in which they were chosen. If we cling to the idea of a nation-state, it is not from narrow nationalism it is because the nation-state is still responsive to democratic control, and the EU never will be.
We do not believe that any European people actually want to cede more power to European institutions at the expense of their own country’s. I have never met any European politicians who preferred a career in Europe to one in the politics of their own country. That is true even of passionate Remainers in our own country. The best-known British EU Commissioners – Jenkins, Kinnock, Mandelson – took their positions only after failing to realize their ambitions in British politics. Mandelson leapt at the chance to get back into British politics – he even took a big pay cut.
We do not believe that the EU can ever develop into a democratic polity to match the United States. The United States began its life as a federal democracy (at least for white men) and took immense care to work out a system of checks and balances on local, federal and judicial power. As it expanded by conquest, that system was embedded in its new territories. It met and suppressed its lone national challenge in the Civil War. The United States was peopled by immigrants or freed slaves who were almost universally eager to be assimilated as Americans. Through the Federal budget the United States transfers huge sums between states to share the pain and gain of being one nation, with a common currency and interest rate. None of these conditions apply to the EU – and after over two centuries of success the United States is now showing signs of stress as a federal democracy.
Even so, Americans are willing to sacrifice personal and local interests to the United States – even to die for it. We do not believe that anyone will ever make similar sacrifices for the sake of the EU. Those of us who have been to any sort of EU negotiation know that all the participants try to advance their own interests and do down all the others. Back home, they invariably present the result as a triumph for their own country.
Of course these views are debatable, but I do not think that they are irrational – or unusual.
Now the Labour party tells us to swallow them without debate. We can have a Labour government only by voting Remain (or return). If we abandon our right to Leave we will become helpless passengers in the EU – sitting on the “naughty step” to show penitence. We will sign up for everything in the EU’s agenda – EU army, common fiscal policy, more support for the euro even if we are allowed to remain out of it, more EU direction of everything, new spending on EU projects to extract sunbeams from cucumbers (I made that one up). To resist any of these, we will have to make extravagant concessions in other areas to other EU countries.
And if we don’t want any of that, we are told to vote for the Boris Johnson-Nigel Farage coalition.
Enough already. I hope that this letter has at least helped you understand a real dilemma for many Labour supporters, and would be glad to have any response.