Trying to get Labour MPs to make criticisms of the European Union is like trying to get MPs to admit they use poppers in a debate about making certain drugs illegal - it’s difficult, but there is definitely one who will do it. In the case of Labour, it’s Kate Hoey, who has no qualms about criticising the EU – criticising it effectively, often, and most importantly, from the left. It’s sad that there’s only one Labour MP who will readily come out and attack the injustices of Europe, because Euroscepticism has a proud socialist history. From Tony Benn to Bob Crow, many of Britain’s finest eurosceptics were, and are, left-wing. Although he won’t admit it, there’s a good chance that Jeremy Corbyn is a secret eurosceptic. Jeremy Corbyn has not made many compromises for the sake of electability, but his position on Europe might just be one that has slipped under the radar.
There is a worrying gulf between the views of most Labour MPs and the people they are supposed to be representing. The socially liberal, Europhilic, urbanite MP is vastly overrepresented in parliament and the socially conservative, eurosceptic, working-class MP is appallingly underrepresented. Although the bulk of the four million votes that the traditional parties surrendered to UKIP in the general election came from the Tories, a sizeable chunk was the white working class people who were left behind by New Labour. When you check the statistics, you can see that while 45% of UKIP voters opted for the Conservatives in 2010, they were evenly divided between Kinnock and Major in 1992. They voted for Blair in 1997 in their droves, but support dropped off in 2005. The implication is this: these people are not necessarily very economically right-wing, but rather, they are people who were turned off Labour by its modernisation and embrace of social liberalism and Europhilia.
The Out Campaign would benefit from having a Labourite amongst its lead campaigners. The white working class who remain loyal to Labour rather than switching their allegiance would be encouraged if there was a bellicose Labour MP amongst the Tories and the kippers making the case to leave. The white working class aren’t the only people to be won round, however, there are also the die-hard leftists and Trots who have long had concerns about our continued membership of the EU, as well as their younger, bearded and tattooed progeny. The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) has always opposed the European Union, and there are some left-leaning Labour voters and Green voters who could likely be swayed. The Greek debacle and the terrible treatment of Portugal by Angela Merkel and her EU toadies forced some of the younger supporters of the EU to reconsider their pro-EU instincts. Having a Labour MP, or even a prominent Green figure call for a Brexit could be the green light needed for many to vote out.
The Out Campaign has thus far been a total shambles. The fact that there are two independent campaigns for Brexit and neither of them has a left-wing streak is evidence of the incompetence of the campaign to leave the European Union. In contrast, the In Campaign, having distributed over one million fliers about the benefits of the EU, is the Bayern Munich to the Out’s floundering Chelsea. There is also a problem with any potential leader of the Out Campaign – most of the people who like the leader will almost certainly be voting to leave anyway. If Farage leads the campaign to leave, it is very unlikely that anyone who likes Farage would have been voting to stay anyway. The In Campaign have sussed this out, and made Alan Johnson, a white working class Labour MP (i.e. someone who appeals to floating voters on the issue of Europe), the leader of Labour’s In Campaign.
The message is this: of course Tories and Kippers should play a big part in the campaign to leave the European Union, it would be insane for them not to, but those from the left must also be involved. There is a huge demographic who will be much more put off by a right-wing campaign against immigration than they will be swayed by it. The alternative argument must be made: the EU has a huge democratic deficit that allows eurocrats to impose pernicious trade deals like TTIP on European citizens without their consent, the EU is a protectionist racket designed to protect the interests of rich European countries at the expense of African and Asian countries, and the EU has the ability to impose right-wing economic policy on its countries even if they vote against it – it doesn’t matter if Greece vote for Syriza, as long as they have the euro and are in the EU, they will get austerity. These arguments must be made, and there has to be a left-wing figure in the heart of the Out campaign who can make them.