Original post here.
The fault lines in British politics were exposed by the June 2016 referendum on membership of the European Union. Both the main political parties are deeply split by supporters of and opponents of the EU; it is not a straight left/right issue. I have mentioned before that I recall the 1983 general election when the Labour party went to the country with the express policy of withdrawal from the European Economic Community whilst the Conservative government of Margaret Thatcher supported continued membership. Strange how things turn out; in the referendum, the most fervent Leavers came from the Thatcherite right, whether UKIP or Conservative.
The EU has always been a creature of big business and the banks. It is not, and never has been, a ‘leftist’ or ‘liberal’ organisation. And yet, the loudest voices raised against the result of the referendum have come from people who loudly proclaim themselves to be ‘progressives.’ Unfortunately, real leftists – like the current leader of the Labour party Jeremy Corbyn – have always been skeptical of the EU.
A contributor to another website I read shared a link to a BBC ‘On This Day’ page entitled 1975: Labour votes to leave the EEC. The Labour government of Harold Wilson was so hopelessly split over membership of the EEC that the prime minister was forced to allow cabinet ministers to campaign on both sides of the issue in the 1975 referendum – just as David Cameron was forced to do in 2016. The Labour left was bitterly opposed to the EEC. The Industry Secretary Tony Benn was delighted when the unions and a special conference on EEC membership voted to leave, whilst his fellow left-winger, Employment Secretary Michael Foot, blamed high unemployment on what he said was the damage to Britain’s domestic market from European imports. Foot went on to said that he read the unemployment figures with “horror” and “shame.”
Unless you are going to claim Benn and Foot are rabidly right-wing xenophobes then you must at least acknowledge that the original left-wing position was opposition to the EU. Unfortunately, the Labour party in the UK is no longer the party of Benn and Foot and hasn’t been for a long time. It was the Callaghan government of 1976-79 that first introduced monetarist policies in the UK not Margaret Thatcher. Except under Foot’s leadership from 1980 to 1983, Labour has been a economically right-wing party since the mid-1970s.
I am not making any particular point here but I think it is interesting to look at the real history of Britain’s relationship with the EU. I do not believe, as some of the wilder Remain fanatics would have us believe, that the vote in June 2016 was caused by prejudice or that the average Leave voter is a knuckle-dragging, thicko racist who is itching to fire up the ovens.