Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Who actually supports the EU?

Owen Jones wants to rebrand 'Brexit' as 'Lexit', the left-wing eurosceptic cause he sees the great and the good from George Monbiot to Caitlin Moran espousing. The story of Greece is not a story that shows the EU to be a harmless and reliable friend of the Left. So why should the Left be its friend?

Here is John Kay describing it as an imperialist project: "The empires of history have generally collapsed from overstretch, which led to restive populations on the peripheries, and then to doubts about the wisdom of the project in the home country itself. These symptoms are recognisable in Europe today." I detect no real sadness in his diagnosis or implied prognosis.

Here's the Economist in ironic mood: "the experts (which means economists) know better. The people are not wise enough to understand that a short-term stimulus will boost their long-term wealth; better to go ahead with it now, and have results prove the experts right. Of course, this argument (dubbed output legitimacy) is how the EU let too many countries into the euro, and ended up in this mess in the first place." 'Output legitimacy' - surely Orwell would consider that too horrible even for newspeak?

And here's Timothy Garton Ash speaking some sense: "The reality of European democracy remains national, and behind that truth is an even deeper fact: there is hardly any more of a European public sphere today than there was when I started studying and travelling in Europe 40 years ago." (I hope it is clear, Mr Garton Ash, that the 'who' in my headline means 'who in Britain'.)

None of these comments is unusual. Only Owen Jones is saying something a little new - and, as he points out, he is really resuscitating something old. But all of this leaves me wondering what the constituency is in Britain for the EU. Not necessarily the constituency in the sense of particular people, but rather the emotional constituency. Certainly not socialists, little Englanders or immigration-sceptics. If your family ties are to the Indian subcontinent, Africa or the Commonwealth then it will have no claim on your emotional sympathies. Is it the way of the future, the shining path to a bright new tomorrow? Not any more. Free-marketeers? Not nowadays. Pragmatists? No - where's the output legitimacy without the output? How many people feel 'European'? I bet TGA could fit them all in his drawing room. There are a large number of non-UK EU nationals in Britain who might be worried about their immigration status if Brexit took place, but if they were given the right assurances, would they care about the principle? (And is it really for them to decide?)

The only emotional constituencies I can think of - the only reasons you would oppose Brexit with anything more than a feeling of fear of the alternative and a mustn't grumble shrug - are (a) dislike of Nigel Farage, (b) being Scottish and disliking government from London and (c) a nostalgic attachment to those years - say from 1975 to the Single European Act of 1986 - when 'Europe' was the future. Surely the Brexiters (and the Lexiters) have more of the emotional energy. I can well imagine it might be enough to shift the inertia of the bulk of the population into their camp.

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