Sunday, 19 June 2016

The EU Referendum: Why I'm Voting Remain

So here it is: why, given the many absurdities of EU institutions, am I voting Remain with such great certainty?  After all, it's institutions are a mess. It's parliament wastefully migrates between Brussels and Strasbourg. The euro is a huge folly which has has terrible consequences already (if only Greece could simply have devalued the drachma it would not have needed bailing out...) and may have much worse in store; it is utterly fatuous to have a single currency, with a single central bank looking after the interests of such diverse economies, without political union, and political union is a pipe dream. It may have been Jean Monnet's intention for the six member states of the Common Market in 1957, but for today's EU of twenty-eight, well... it ain't gonna happen. Today's EU is about realpolitik between big European powers, not ever-closer union. It is prose, not poetry.

So, why do I so passionately want to remain a member? Well, not necessarily for reasons that follow the party line of the Remain campaign. Don't get me wrong; the diplomatic and economic consequences of leaving would be deeply uncomfortable for us all. There's a reason why every economic institution in the world wants us to stay. There's a reason why pretty much all mainstream politicians in all countries are pleading with us to remain. There's a reason why Vladimir Putin, who does not wish us well, wants us to leave. A weak, divided Europe is what he wants.

And yet... all this isn't really the point. Yes, the economy would take a hit if we left the EU. But it's not clear that this would mean doom for as after a few years of initial pain. The initial consequences may not even be that bad. Who knows? None of these big financial institutions predicted the 2008 financial crisis, after all. But, most importantly... none of this matters. Because anyone who truly wants to leave the EU would say, quite rightly, that if you oppose EU membership in principle you should be happy to weather a couple of years (or whatever) of pain. 

All this is why I despair at the plodding cynicism that the Remain campaign has been forced into, focusing on negative arguments about economic bad stuff rather than the big, positive things the EU is about. But it's not even their fault, as they were forced into it. Forced into it by the failure of politicians to make a positive argument about the EU for so many years, ceding the ground to those loathsome tabloids. It doesn't help, either, that the leading lights of Remain are despised Tory politicians like David Cameron and George Osborne. Jeremy Corbyn, as we can all tell, doesn't really give a shit and the media just ignores Tim Farron as it always ignores Liberal leaders who aren't in coalition.

But the Leave campaign... that goes beyond cynicism into some dark, dark shit. It's important to note that not everyone voting Leave is doing so for atavistic reasons, mind; the Leave campaign may be spearheaded by politicians like Gove and Johnson (much of the media may be on first name terms with "Boris"; I'm not) but let's do something that always makes Guardianistas like me feel uncomfortable and talk about (uuurgh!) immigration.

There are a lot of refugees right now. A large chunk of the Middle East is not a nice place, from Syria to Iraq to Yemen, from Assad's tyranny to the pure evil of Daesh to the Saudi bombs. This is all real. And it's happening to human beings. We have a moral responsibility to help these people. Oh, there comes a point where you can't take any more, yes, and we will have to talk about that when the time comes, but that won't be for ages yet. Oh, and none of these people have any connection with the EU. EU freedom of movement rules only affect EU citizens, mainly from Eastern Europe. And here the thing; most of them aren't here to stay, just to earn some money. The living standards in those countries continue to rise and there will be less and less need for them to come here. 

But I think what exercises most people is this; wages of ordinary people in this and other countries have not kept up either with the wages of the rich or with the cost of living, while working conditions have declined, courtesy of the Mike Ashley's of this world. And it falls people to see immigrants taking jobs for less money and under worse conditions than we would accept, driving down wages and working conditions.

And yet- can we really blame the immigrants for this? As a rule of thumb its wiser to blame those with power than those without. I blame lax employment rights. I blame the Government for making us pay to sue our unfair employers, pricing justice out of the means of many. I blame short-term corporate culture, taking dividends many times larger than they used to be and not investing in their staff, or infrastructure, for the long term. Immigrants are not the cause of low wages or poor conditions.

So... why do I want to stay in? In short, because I'm an internationalist. Because I believe in friendship, however rocky, between liberal democracies. Because, as a good Liberal, I believe in free trade, and the single market is awesome. Because many rising powers out there- China, Putin's Russia right on Europe's edge- are not liberal democracies. They threaten our values. Yes, there is also NATO as a purely military alliance, but we need to stick together. A post-Brexit, flailing Europe probably won't mean the end of civilisation, but isn't it better to build things than to break them? 

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