The enthusiasm of Britain’s political establishment for the European Union – echoed so enthusiastically by the TUC – is not shared by the people. UKIP, proving that all publicity is good publicity, burst that bubble when it topped the poll in the elections to the European Parliament in May.
Even more deflating was the turnout, a scant 34.19 per cent, just lower than the meagre figure attained at the previous elections in 2009. So try this, the results expressed as a percentage of the electorate: UKIP 9.4, Labour 8.7, Conservatives 8.2, Greens 2.7, LibDems 2.3.
The media love elections, and the headline on the BBC website on polling day was “Voters head for the polls”. Not so. Voters were heading for work, to the pub, off for an early Whit break – anywhere but the polling booths.
Add UKIP’s 9.4 to the 65.8 per cent of abstainers, and less than a quarter of the electorate were motivated to cast their votes for parties with any love for the European Union. That’s hardly a surprise to anyone who talks to the people around them.
The EU is no friend to the workers of Britain. It exists to hamstring the ability of workers to combine and improve their lot. Its main weapon is the free movement of labour.
It is blindingly obvious that unless unions can control the supply of labour, they can’t control its price. The results are all around us: low wages, zero hours contracts, limitations on the right to strike, lack of protection.
Yet we have allowed our unions (with some honourable exceptions) to act as cheerleaders for Brussels. Worse, many unions talk as if every advance workers have made has been gifted by the EU.
If a fraction even of those who voted in the election turned up to their union branches to demand their own organisations speak on their behalf, that would represent a real political earthquake. And that is what workers are going to have to do.
For all the hatred and distrust of the European Union, workers in Britain are not yet ideologically, politically or organisationally equipped to force an exit.
And we might not have long to get our act together. If there should be a referendum in 2017, a failure to win a No to the EU vote would be a disaster: integration with the euro would surely follow. We might have just three years to reach the level of organisation and thought required, or face the consequences.
That’s if there is a referendum. Labour don’t want one, and nor do the Conservatives, who have always wrapped themselves in the Union Jack while selling Britain out.
Recalling what he learnt as a journalist in the early 1990s, Boris Johnson told the Daily Telegraph shortly before the election that Margaret Thatcher’s rhetoric was often a cover for conciliation, and worse.
As we know, Thatcher (with US encouragement) played a leading role in the formal completion of the European single market guaranteeing free movement of goods and labour throughout the EU, including signature of the Single European Act of 1986. That also laid the foundations of a single currency – and led, disastrously, to joining the Exchange Rate Mechanism.
Thatcher was merely anticipating the advice from the “socialist” candidate for the Presidency of the European Commission, Martin Schulz, in a secret meeting during the euro crisis of 2011 (German magazine Der Spiegel published a transcript of the tapes): “When it becomes serious, you have to lie.” Schulz also wants a United States of Europe, describing it as both “possible and necessary”.
We’ve had the lies and the hypocrisy. Now no country is more compliant than Britain with EU rules on ownership of industry, competitive tendering of contracts, farming and medicines legislation, and so on. Our borders are open to migrant labour. Our industries are open to foreign takeover. And we pay through the nose for the privilege.
Putting two fingers up to the EU is a start, but only a start. There is work to be done. ■