Support for a British exit from the European Union is rapidly growing on the left. Some trade unions and politicians are now even considering forming a campaigning organisation to lobby for an ‘out’ vote in the referendum on membership.
The Times has today named Jon Trickett MP, who is a member of the shadow cabinet, his fellow Labour MPs Kelvin Hopkins and Graham Stringer, “senior union figures”, the left wing commentator Owen Jones and “senior figures in the Scottish party” as being amongst those understood to be in regular discussions about the issue. Although it notes that none have definitively made up their minds about membership of the EU; they are all known to be sceptical.
It also lists the unions GMB and RMT as the two most likely to support an out campaign, although again they are uncertain in their support for a British exit. In addition, a number of figures in the ‘United Left’ wing of the trade union Unite have expressed hostility to continued British EU membership.
No official meetings of the wider group have yet taken place, but they are considering meeting in the coming weeks under the provisional banner “Left Out”. They are eschewing Kate Hoey MP’s “Labour for Britain” as they believe it to be arguing for an exit from a right wing, rather than left wing perspective.
Others are concerned about right wing influence on Labour’s ‘in’ campaign, as it’s leader, Alan Johnson is being advised by two MPs seen to be on the Labour right: Mary Creagh and Emma Reynolds. A source said “that doesn’t reflect the trade union movement.”
Their reasons for favouring an out vote are varied, but mostly centre around the perceived inability to implement radical left wing policies whilst tied within the EU structure, and horror over the way Greece has been treated during the Euro-crisis.
Self-proclaimed long-term sceptic Owen Jones, writing in a recent Guardian column, asked: “David Cameron is now proposing a renegotiation that will strip away many of the remaining “good bits” of the EU, particularly opting out of employment protection rules. Yet he depends on the left to campaign for and support his new package, which will be to stay in an increasingly pro-corporate EU shorn of pro-worker trappings. Can we honestly endorse that?”
He too notes that “Britain’s left is turning against the European Union, and fast,” pointing to recent columns by fellow travellers George Monbiot, Nick Cohen, Caitlin Moran and Suzanne Moore, all of whom have expressed Euroscepticism recently.
“Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage,” lamented Monbiot in a piece titled “Why the EU’s increasing failure to protect nature means I may vote no,” while Moran mused on Twitter: “All my life I’ve been pro-Europe, but seeing how Germany is treating Greece, I am finding it increasingly distasteful.”
Nick Cohen wrote: “Europe brings peace, then. Europe brings a break from a totalitarian past. Europe brings compassionate environmental and labour policies. Europe brings relatively uncorrupted government. No wonder the centre-left admires it.”
But continued: “The Euro crisis is breaking down old certainties. Looked at from an economic perspective, the Euro is such an insanely right-wing project it is a wonder British Tories aren’t endorsing it. It locks incompatible countries into the single currency.
“As the cruelty of a 25 per cent cut in GDP and a 50 per cent youth unemployment rate drags on, as the absurdity of expecting a country to repay debts that no country could repay continues, the old, vague leftish assumption that the EU is a benign institution is dying.
“The growing awareness on the Left that the EU is turning everything we thought was true about it on its head will have political consequences. In Britain’s case, the change in perspective will make it is more than likely that there will be significant left-wing support for a ‘No’ vote in the European referendum.”