Eurosceptics are perceived as being right-wing Conservative or Ukip supporters. Sam Glover bucks the trend.
I’m not supposed to be a eurosceptic. As a nineteen-year-old, Labour-supporting Londoner, I am the “In” campaign’s core demographic; I should be eager to cast a vote in support of the European Union.
This is what is claimed, anyway, by the left-wing columnists in the daily newspapers, and their rhetoric is swaying many. If you talk to lots of liberal lefty types, you’ll often get a pretty glum analysis: “Well, there’s a lot wrong with the European Union”, they’ll say, “But I still think we should stay in”. This kind of thing stands in stark contrast with the bellicose opponents of the European Union, who will often be heard to give a rancour-filled cry: “If you support the EU, you hate the UK!”
Neither side has a particularly appealing base of supporters: the “In” Campaigners will happily admit that a lot of the EU is a bit rubbish, and the “Out” Campaigners are all too often seen as slightly xenophobic retired colonel-types. It makes it hard for a left-winger to support leaving the European Union, even though this is exactly what a good left-winger ought to be doing.
Left-wing euroscepticism has a proud history. From Tony Benn to Bob Crow, socialists throughout history have had beef with the “eurocrats” in Brussels. Not many people know that the founder of Ukip the timid intellectual Alan Sked, was a left-winger who left the party on the basis that: “[Ukip] are racist and have been infected by the far-right”. I suspect that even Jeremy Corbyn is a closet eurosceptic, although of course he couldn’t possibly say so. Many of Labour’s new young members who joined to vote for Jeremy Corbyn will not remember that Labour opposed Britain’s entry into the European Union in 1973.
The reasons today for lefties to be opposed to the European Union are as good as at any point in the past. For starters, the idea of a European Union, a racket of rich European countries uniting to exclude poorer countries goes against left-wing ideals of equality and fairness. The tariffs imposed by the EU against African and Asian countries make it much harder for poor African farmers, for example, to export grain or other goods to European countries. The idea that we should leave the EU-club so that we can trade with the rest of the world has been trotted out time-and-time again by the right-winger “Brexiteers”, but few realise that not only does the UK stand to gain from increased trade with fast-growing BRIC countries, but millions could be lifted from poverty outside of the EU if we left.
There are also pernicious trade deals like TTIP being forced upon the people of Europe by the all-powerful, unelected European Commission. Millions have signed petitions against the trade deal, and hundreds of thousands marched in Berlin against it, but to no avail. The European Commission showed no interest in complaints; they decided to pass it against the interests and the demands of the people of Europe.
This is the problem: many on the left believe that, because the continent is slightly more left-wing than Britain, the left will stand to benefit from an undemocratic European Union. But when trade deals like TTIP are on the cards, there is nothing that can be done to prevent them, given that there is no possible way to kick out Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission. Many are unaware that the biggest party in the European Parliament is the European People’s Party, a centre-right grouping that often tries to pass right-wing legislation, and that the president of the European Commission is also a member of this right-wing group.
If you think that this blatant lack of democracy has no real impact on anything, think again. When Greece elected Syriza, the anti-austerity party, they could do very little to prevent austerity being forced upon them by Angela Merkel and her EU toadies. Similarly, in Portugal, the left-wing government was initially not allowed into power, and the conservative government was allowed to remain, because the left represented anti-European forces. Imagine if Jeremy Corbyn was elected in 2020 but refused power on the grounds that his economic policy was not compatible with the will of the European Union: the left would rightly be up in arms.
So, if you are a young person who is planning to vote in the referendum on June 23rd, do not vote to stay in the European Union on the grounds that most of those who oppose it are right-wing loonies. Listen to the seldom expressed left-wing arguments for leaving the European Union, because there are lots of things that are wrong with the EU that are not often publicised in the mainstream media. Remember that the likes of Tony Benn did not approve of the European Union, and that you have no obligation to approve of it either.
A version of this article originally appeared on The Huffington Post UK on 24 March 2016.