I like Owen Jones. Sure, he’s cocky and mouthy, and I don’t think I agree with a word he orates about economics, politics or social justice. But, just like the late insurgent Bob Crow – who also had no time for the nuances of Blairite centrism or Third-Way triangulation – Owen Jones is an unadulterated Old-Labour Socialist who does exactly what it says on his shiny militant tin.
I admire that sort of honesty and doctrinal authenticity in politics: it’s been a little lacking for a couple of decades – since 2nd May 1997, to be precise.
Jones evidently speaks for the sizeable statist, nationalising faction in the Parliamentary Labour Party, not to mention the alienated union tribes and the afflicted inhabitants of Benefits Street. So what he has to say about the evils of Thatcherism, the Tory-generated injustices of poverty, homelessness, unemployment and exclusion tends to resonate widely throughout Labour’s heartlands – usually via a seemingly endless megaphone tour of all the TV studios.
But Owen Jones’s opinion on Miliband’s EU referendum shuffle is not so widely known. He didn’t take to his soapbox last week, when prominent Eurosceptics like Kate Hoey and Graham Stringer queued up to berate their leader for his “shoddy compromise” which is “so ambiguous as to be impossible to sell on the doorstep”.
He expounded his views via Twitter more than a year ago, and if you string his fragmented dialogue together you arrive at what is quite possibly the most succinct and coherent left-wing case for an EU referendum since Labour’s fractious EEC debates led by David Stoddart, Peter Shore and Tony Benn.
We begin with Jones’s denunciation:
Labour should have listened to Jon Cruddas and offered an EU referendum first. Disastrous if they go into election against one. Simple as.
So Miliband’s policy is disastrous. Simple as. And then we get a fervent defence of the democratic rights of the workers:
Why is offering the British people a vote they want the wrong thing? Can’t just keep saying the electorate are wrong… the EU has to change to be run more in the interests of working people. Why is agreeing to a referendum by 2017 wrong for workers who want one? We argue to stay in but that the EU must change. Firstly, the EU does have to change; secondly, a referendum campaign offers opportunity to make the case for it. Unless your argument is that it is so deeply unpopular the case can’t be made and therefore a vote must be denied. Labour should call for EU referendum (and) support staying in while making the case for reform to make it run in the interests of working people.
And then comes the strategic political reasoning:
The 2015 election must be about the economic catastrophe the Tories have unleashed. Labour have to defuse the EU issue. Inevitably (it) will look weak in short-term but better than alternative. We should offer a referendum we can win, satisfying the wishes of British people, and ensuring 2015 is about austerity. If Labour do not support a referendum on the EU, the Tories will simply turn the next election into one. Who fancies fighting that?
And then the constitutional philosophy:
But this is an issue about democracy. Accepting the overwhelming desire among the electorate for a referendum is an issue about democracy. Arguments from pro-EU side against a referendum will easily be demolished as “you have no faith in your argument” and contempt for democracy. An institution which has a daily impact on our democracy should (be put to a vote). This is constitutional issues about the very nature of our democracy.
His political intuition is flawless; the Socialist instinct very persuasive. Miliband is siding with the unaccountable, self-perpetuating Euro elites against the rights of the free-born British worker.
Democracy and Socialism are inextricably fused: when unelected bureaucrats and transnational institutions supplant elected politicians and sovereign parliaments, the voice of the worker is muffled, if not muted. Owen Jones’s antennae are attuned to the wavelength of the people: he is channelling the spirits of Lord Shore of Stepney or Tony Benn, if not of Bob Crow himself, who observed almost three years ago: “It is the working class across Europe that is paying the price for monetary union through savage cuts to their jobs, their services and their standards of living.”
By ruling out an EU referendum, or stacking it with so many terms and conditions as to make it exceedingly unlikely, Ed Miliband has betrayed his socialist-democratic heritage and abandoned Labour’s workers.
Adrian Hilton tweets at @Adrian_Hilton on Twitter