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Solving Ireland’s problems? An unusual suggestion from a eurosceptic quarter… May 30, 2013

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British Politics, Economy, European Politics, The Left.

Reading a piece in the Guardian by Alan Sked, a founder of UKIP who left them in 1997when ‘it became a magnet for bigots’ I was entertained to read the following. Sked is of the opinion that ‘We need a Eurosceptic party of the centre left’ in Britain. And he argues that the current crisis of the European Union and the broader ‘grand projet’ as he sees it has demonstrated it as unfit for purpose due to its reliance on ‘progressivism’ which, in his view, sees it as of a kind with Marxism.

He sums up its woes in a single paragraph:

Built on progressive myths (“It has brought peace to Europe”; “it extends democracy”; “it creates prosperity”), it is now in relative economic, demographic and technological decline, lacks accountable or transparent structures of government, and is damning future generations to unemployment and despair. It is run by a self-serving, bureaucratic and political elite, is notoriously corrupt, and is admired only by politicians from the Middle East or Africa who bewail their own lack of unity, or by Americans who see its member nations as the colonies of 1776. Its policies are undemocratic – it has forced unelected, technocratic governments on both Italy and Greece – and do not work. Its single currency has brought penury to half a continent. Its present existential crisis has brought political chaos to Italy, Greece and Spain and threatens the same in France.

And I suspect that after the last five or so years there will be many who will find that critique more than half-correct – even if some will demur at the conclusion that the only way is out (for the UK at least, though such voices are more in evidence here than they once were, albeit mostly it is an issue of leaving the eurozone rather than the EU).

Actually his criticisms of UKIP aren’t all that wrong either. He characterises it as a party…

whose vision of the future is the 1950s – a supposed golden age before the EEC, black people, Muslims and other immigrants, gays, lesbians and other products of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, desecrated this island Eden.

Sounds about right. For some reason Fargage always reminds me of Alan Partridge, but that is in a way to underestimate certain strands of reaction that are extant in the British polity.

Anyhow, for Sked the question is why there is no ‘centre left’ Eurosceptic response akin to UKIP. I think this is a misunderstanding of how Europe played out as an issue in the British Labour Party since the 1960s. In a way the antipathy towards it seems to have dissolved in part precisely due to the way it became more and more of a token of Thatcherism, and beyond Thatcher even further to to the right. Which is not to say that eurosceptic tendencies aren’t extant in the BLP – but those were often submerged by a broader caution – as evidenced in the way in which Gordon Brown effectively ruled out joining the euro in the lifetime of the Blair-led governments. There was also an element of substitutionism, particularly over, but not restricted to, the social chapter, where it was felt that in some ways the EU was expressing a part of the social democratic project.

In fairness Sked references this obliquely and in a chronologically confused fashion:

There was a time when Labour was adamantly anti-EU. Gaitskell, Foot, Kinnock and even Blair opposed it. But then Jacques Delors told the TUC that whereas they were impotent to defeat Thatcherism, he could and would overthrow it from Brussels. Almost overnight, Labour’s patriotism disappeared and the party stood on its head. Brussels had managed to divide and rule Britain.

It’s odd though, because Sked’s passion for the topic is perhaps not served well by the altogether lack of dispassion displayed in his analysis. It’s not so much that his criticisms are without any foundation at all, but perhaps a cooler assessment might strengthen them.

The Welsh windbag, Kinnock, even became an EU commissioner and made a tax-free fortune doing nothing for the public interest but sacking whistleblowers in the corrupt EU bureaucracy. His must be the most pathetic career in postwar British politics. Blair and Mandelson, of course followed suit (although Blair failed to get an EU presidency) and – amazingly – this whole discredited clique still advocates that Britain join the euro.

But anyhow, what he wants is ‘an alternative moderate party of the centre left’ that would ‘avoid the trap of deluded, world-historical progressivism’ for which read ‘withdrawal from the EU’. Good luck with that some would say, the balance of forces in the UK suggests very little space for such an approach – indeed currently I’m reading the book of Hugo Young’s interview notes (the Guardian’s late political columnist), and what’s most striking is the clear sense across the parties and politicians in the 1990s when Europe was arguably at its most potent an issue that in truth there’s actually quite a small percentage absolutely opposed to UK membership with a much larger group that grumbles but essentially agrees with the proposition that it is positive and in any likely referendum will tend to vote that way. Granted the last five years has made that tighter, but…

Anyhow, Sked argues that any new party would seek the following:

1. Direct, transparent, accountable democracy
2. Liberal values that protect the individual from discrimination on grounds of gender, race, sexual orientation, religion or political belief and uphold freedom of speech, freedom of the press and media, freedom of assembly, the right to a fair trial, and freedom from arbitrary arrest
3. A social policy which seeks to provide decent pensions, care, social housing, welfare benefits and full employment to all in need after a sound education that caters to everyone’s talents (including those with disabilities).

All very… erm… progressive. And along with EU withdrawal and ‘free trade with European friends and neighbours’ there’s this most curious final point:

5. Domestically, the most radical changes, apart from ending an austerity aimed mainly at the poor, might be constitutional. It might be wise to federalise the UK and make the House of Lords an elected federal chamber.

Perhaps an independent Britain could negotiate a confederation of the British Isles with the Irish Republic to help solve Ireland’s problems.

Yeah. Thanks.

Still COBI is an idea which has floated around in various forms and in the context of various organisations for a long time, arguably since the outbreak of the conflict in the late 1960s. Some will think of the Socialist Party’s approach, but I think, in fairness to them, they come from a somewhat different starting point. Funnily enough the idea is raised – and subsequently dismissed – in this document here in the Left Archive, from the British Labour Party in the 1980s.

And in a slightly different context it was floated in the early 1980s by some in an attenuated form as the Islands of the North Atlantic.., allowing for the cute acronym IONA.

The closest we’ve seen is probably the British-Irish Council which I had forgotten has its own ‘standing secretariat’ in Edinburgh which was established last year, and is probably close enough to the IONA concept. On a slightly different tangent some interpret Alex Salmond’s push to devolution max for Scotland as tipping towards a de facto Confederation of the British Isle’s albeit – obviously – without the Republic.

As to the likelihood of any such Confederation? Hard to believe that it would ever manifest itself in those terms, vastly more likely that links will accrue piecemeal between the various sovereign states and devolved entities on these islands as time progresses.


1. bjg - May 30, 2013

That bit about the “supposed golden age before the EEC, black people, Muslims and other immigrants, gays, lesbians and other products of the sexual revolution of the 1960s, desecrated this island Eden”, with apprpriate adjustments, sounds very like an early twentieth century Irish catholic nationalist vision of Ireland before the Act of Union (or Strongbow, or whoever). As I see it, UKIP is England’s (not Britain’s) Sinn Féin, starting the process of inventing a national identity: the first step in an English struggle for independence from [the concept of] Britain, as much as from the EU.



que - May 30, 2013

who doesn’t build on pre-existing notions of national identity. Every country in the world does that. Colonisers and colonised have all carefully nurtured the same.

The flip from UKIP to SInn Fein in that comment is about as deft a turn as I’ve every seen. Read you on Sunday Eoghan.


2. Jim Monaghan - May 30, 2013

Here is some of the debate across the water.
I am of the school that another Europe is possible. I am sceptical that an Ireland outside the EU would be better off.


FergusD - May 30, 2013

The left has to argue for “another Europe” in my opinion as well. I hope the left in the UK (where I am) don’t get into a “left against the EU” position as this will be essentially indistinguishable to the petty nationalism (or imperialist nostalgia?) of UKIP and the Tories.

As for IONA, I suppose it would be harmless, but meaningful? I doubt it. The driver for capitalism is surely to create a continental capitalism to compete with the USA, Japan and China and maybe exercise some military muscle. IONA or some such wouldn’t cut it.


Gé Bruite - May 30, 2013

I tend to agree with you, Jim & Fergus. But it’s a Europe where the Parliament has power not an unelected EC and a group of revolving door bureaucrats and lobbyists.


3. rockroots - May 30, 2013

The idea of a confederation might carry some weight with the faction of FG grandees who hint at support for joining the Commonwealth, but I think the vast majority of the Republic’s population would find it utterly repugnant and not even the prospect of easing the divisions among our Northern kin would persuade them otherwise. The same probably applies to Scotland, which is heading in the opposite direction. On a practical level, it would be impossible to sell the idea if it was in any way English-centric, and yet too many concessions to the smaller nations would provoke exactly the same response from the English right as is now directed at the EU. With Northern Ireland in a kind of cosy limbo for the indefinite future, you have to wonder why Sked would even think it necessary to raise the issue, if not for the very same 1950s colonial attitudes he accuses his former UKIP colleagues of having.

Some sort of post-EU free trade area would likely be more palatable but while I think it’s in the balance whether the UK will stay in the EU (the referendum is a long way off, and could be swung by something as simple as a perceived scandal among the EU bureaucracy in the run up to the vote), I think Irish voters would feel that the country would be worse off outside. And the kind of injured patriotism that guides UKIP hasn’t manifested itself in the Irish psyche… yet (although a German friend and long-time resident in Dublin tells me she has received a surprising amount of abuse in the last few years over ‘Angela and the bailout’ – anger which, frankly, might be better directed at the incompetent Irish politicians who brought us to this point).


Dr. X - May 30, 2013

If African states that had a harder time than us under the empire can stay in the Commonwealth, then it shouldn’t be too awful for us. But only in return for some sort of united Ireland (I used to be a partitionist, but I’m alright now).


4. Gé Bruite - May 30, 2013

Taking RockRoot’s point – I’m been straining hard, but I find IONA hard to picture – given the post-colonial baggage.

And given the continuing globalisation of capital, such a unit is just to small to make a difference.

Perhaps a Federation of Tax Arbitrage Nations however?


5. WorldbyStorm - May 30, 2013

There’s got to be an acronym or two we could conjure out of potentially appropriate names!

But I tend to think as you all seem to that it’s a non-starter.


6. Joe - May 31, 2013

I don’t like this IONA acronym – surely it would imply imperial designs on the Faeroes and Iceland?

I bristle at any suggestion of us joining the Commonwealth. Nor would I support RoI becoming part of a Confederation of the British Isles – unless of course it was a socialist confederation, and I’d want that expanded pretty quick.


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