Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Rebellion in the ranks!

After such a long absence, I've been thinking for a while it's time I got back into blogging again. You may have thought the most significant political changes in the Arab world's history might've stirred me from my unproductive sloth. So would I have. I suppose, because the Arab Spring is a long, ongoing process - and as Xhou Enlai said wittily of the French Revolution it is rather too early to tell of its full significance - there will be plenty of opportunities for posts on that momentous issue. And, inshallah, there will be many.

The event that has succeeded in providing the necessary firework-up-arse is an uprising of a different kind, the parliamentary kind! (Yummy!) On Monday, as those of you that relish this sort of thing will know, David Cameron endured not only the biggest rebellion from his party in his time as leader, but the biggest in his party's history, at least on the issue in question. The issue in question? Why, that Tory favourite of course: Europe. Until Monday, the biggest rebellion over Europe had been that over the Maastricht Treaty when 41 Conservative MPs defied John Major's party whips. This time around the numbers have as good as doubled to 81!

However, this should not be regarded as a purely Tory affair, a point stubbornly missed by the likes of New Statesman blog's Steven Baxter for whom serious debates about the state of our nation's sovereignty and democracy are simply "a bit of a spectator sport for everyone who isn't in the Conservative Party". somehow a further 19 rebels were found to belong to the Labour Party. We even have a solitary Lib Dem (Adrian Sanders, never heard of him but kudos) who felt the need to honour his leader's previous pledge to a referendum. How soppily liberal and democratic of him... Plus several Unionists and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, altogether making up the wonderfully symmetrical figure of 111 (against 483).

Why is that left-wing commentators like Baxter seem to want us to forget the Left's own Euroscepticism which looms from a not so distant past? It was Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell who condemned Britain's the idea of Britain's entry to the Common Market as promising "the end of Britain as an independent nation ... the end of a thousand years of history". As recently as 1983 it was part of Michael Foot's manifesto to withdraw from the EEC. Talk about parties tearing themselves apart, as the anti-anti-EU crowd often describe the squabbles of today's Tories. That manifesto was not called "the longest suicide note in history" for nothing. It seems to be that only after 1988 did Labour become pro-Europe overall. Yet now some of that old Eurospecticism has bubbled back up again, even on the Labour front benches with Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander being particular exemplars of this. Peter Oborne charts that story pretty well here:

There is no logical reason why the Left should be more pro-EU than the Right. At least not the Left that isn't prepared to pursue vaguely defined internationalist utopias at the expense of demcratic rights and sound economics, that is...Perhaps in the sphere of debate on Europe we are seeing the return of that Left. Not a moment too soon.

My own conscience on the prospect of an EU referendum - not that, in seriousness, one is on the cards for the foreseeable future - is, like the Conservative Party itself, wracked by internal division. I think that, deep down, I have always been a Eurospectic of a sort; even in the 2009 European elections, aged 19, I seriously considered voting for the front organisation cobbled together by Bob Crow, the Communist Party of Britain and assorted other far leftists 'No 2 EU, Yes 2 Democracy' (I voted Green in the end).

That was not down to any lingering sympathy for radical left-wing politics; by then that was dead in me. It was down to a) finding an organisation that had to ask the Irish people a second time in a Treaty referendum after receiving the answer it didn't want the first time strange at best, contemptible at worst; and b) well...I was hardly at a point in my life where I was going to vote UKIP was I? I do think there is something strange - contemptible - about much in the way the EU behaves. There is a very strong yearning in me to see some kind of democratic slap in the face of the EU's unelected 'President' Herman van Rompuy and 'Foreign Minister' Baroness Ashton. Or should that be 'Presidents'; let's not forget Jose Manuel Barroso. That slap may just come from a popular mandate from Britain saying "we've had enough". Poll after poll suggests such a result would not be beyond the realms of imagination.

And yet, and yet, I can't help but fear the consequences of that course of action. It is true - as the 'lets get out' Eurosceptics continually point out - that countries have done perfectly well outside the EU, (Switzerland and Norway seem to be the favourites) but the only country to have left the EU having previously been a part of it is Greenland, and that only by default when it left Denmark. Admittedly they too seem to be doing alright ( but, for me, a nation with a population of around 56,000 is hardly a reassuring model for a nation of 60 million.

So while I salute the principle of the 'glorious 111', especially Adam Holloway and Stewart Jackson who have laid down their careers over the issue, I have yet to be convinced that the logical ends of their case - in what after all is a very Eurosceptic country - should be similarly applauded.