As I’ve written before, I used to be a member of the Liberal Democrats and served for a short period as a local councillor. I have mentioned before on The Needle, that I took the decision to join them in 2002 because they were the only major political party that were opposing the Iraq War. As I saw this drive to war to be illegal, immoral and a massive strategic mistake – given that the, at the time, successful invasion of Afghanistan following the 9/11 attacks had not yet been consolidated and, as it turned out, would not be consolidated for another decade as a consequence of misdirecting resources to the Iraq theatre – I wanted to do everything I could to oppose it.
Another notable feature in the run-up to that catastrophic war, which bears thinking about today as we approach the 23rd June and the EU Referendum, was the contempt with which the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and the majority of his government had treated the British people. The destination, in this case war and unconditional support for President Bush, had already been decided upon and there was no deceit, no psychological fear trigger that they appeared incapable of stooping to in their efforts to dupe the British public into supporting them.
I expect there are many today, looking back at that time, in parliament, the press and the public at large who bitterly regret allowing themselves to be deceived into supporting that war but I for one do not blame them; it is difficult to discern the truth when the entire apparatus of government with all of its authority is hell-bent on perpetuating deceit to an end that they have already determined.
What I have never written about before is the reason why I resigned from the Liberal Democrats in November 2011. It was not, as might be thought, because of their decision to enter into a coalition government with the Conservatives – on balance and under the circumstances I felt that that was the only proper decision to take for the good of the country, difficult and ultimately electorally damaging as it was – no, I resigned because of some rather disturbing developments in southern Europe and the Liberal Democrat leadership’s unequivocal support and defence of them.
Being a member of any political party is always a compromise, no substantial group of individuals can hold exactly the same view but I had not, on the whole, found myself in disagreement with the Liberal Democrat’s policy of broad support for the EU. I had travelled widely and worked in many European countries and genuinely liked the people I found there. I wanted, and continue to want, nothing more than to have a friendly and mutually beneficial relationship with them but then in November 2011 two events occurred which brought me to the sudden realisation that the European Union, or at least in its current unreformed incarnation was not the way of achieving this noble end.
In that month, due to the mounting Eurozone crisis, Greece and Italy were forced to appoint as unelected Prime Ministers, two EU banking insiders. In Greece on the 11th November 2011, the economist Lucas Papademos was appointed as Prime Minister, having formally been Governor of the Bank of Greece (1994 – 2002), before leaving to become Vice President of the European Central Bank (2002 – 2010). While a few days later the Italian economist Mario Monti, formally European Commissioner (1995 – 2004), was appointed as Prime Minister. Neither man had ever stood for election, neither man had any kind of democratic mandate; both had been effectively appointed by the European Central Bank with the sole purpose of circumventing the democratic process and ensuring that both Greece and Italy complied with the EU’s demands.
Of course, I understood perfectly well why the EU had taken these unprecedented and drastic steps. If either Italy or Greece had not complied then they would have had to withdraw from the Euro and it would have been a very serious setback for the Eurozone currency and the European project but it left a very bitter taste in my mouth along with the dawning realisation that the EU would always justify any means to achieve their desired end.
Ironically, it was just this same mindset that had led the EU to accept both Greece and Italy join the Eurozone, despite the very obvious massaging of economic data to comply with Eurozone entry criteria in the first place. As I’ve said, I understood very well why this was done but I’ve never supported the proposition that the end justifies the means – an end can be aspired to but it can never be known and means must be guided by at least some elementary principles and one of them must surely be the right of a people to elect their own decision makers. Sacrifice this, the most basic of human rights, and what else may be sacrificed to achieve a desired end ?
My own disbelief at these anti-democratic developments in Italy and Greece turned to shock and disappointment as senior figures at the head of the political party that I was a member of appeared in the media to justify and defend them. How, I asked myself, could people who I admired and looked up to and who led a political party with the word ‘Democrat’ within it not see that these appointments were contrary to the principles the party professed to uphold ? And then, more profoundly, how could the Liberal Democrat’s policy of localism, de-centralising power, ever plausibly exist side-by-side with its policy of being pro-EU which centralises power, disenfranchising the public when the two positions are obviously contra to each other?
Once faced with this political paradox, I knew that without doubt I was for democracy and there could be no compromise and I immediately tendered my resignation. Support for the EU has always been a Liberal Democrat shibboleth and there was little point in remaining.
Having read the above, I’m sure it will not come as a surprise to readers that on June 23rd I’ll be casting my vote to leave the EU but that does not mean that I support or agree with the way that the leading figures advocating that the UK leave the EU have conducted the campaign. Boris Johnson’s remarks comparing the EU with Hitler and Napoleon’s attempts to control Europe were particularly unpleasant and hurtful to the German and French people whose continued support and friendship the UK will need to depend upon if the UK, as I hope, votes to leave the EU.
Nevertheless, by attempting, and failing, to express an appropriate and tasteful historical allegory for anti-democratic EU hegemony and expansion, Boris Johnson does give some expression to the potentially ominous consequences which seem all too likely for any nation state that remains within this current unreformed incarnation of the EU, especially those countries that are part of the Eurozone. With national populations disenfranchised and vital regional interests and economic needs subordinated via qualified majority voting – it is not too difficult to imagine a situation where a population becomes increasingly disillusioned, dis-empowered, and there is civil unrest. It is also not too difficult to imagine that, under circumstances where a population feels that it has a genuine grievance, that country’s national police force might not act as the EU wish and put down such civil unrest. It is not too difficult to imagine that, if the economic survival of the majority of other Eurozone or EU countries is threatened, then security forces from other EU countries might be requested by the threatened leadership of the country in question and that from this genesis a civil war, or even another wider European War, might be the consequence – a war that the UK, as a member of the EU, would assuredly be dragged into.
If the distortions and exaggerations of the official OUT Campaign are disappointing then the outright lies and fearmongering of the government-backed IN Campaign are atrocious. More on that in a moment but I just wanted to take this opportunity to note that it is a very sad indictment of the current post-2015 political landscape in which the traditional opposition have elected as leader someone who could never receive enough support in the UK to become Prime Minister; where Scottish Nationalists dominate north of the border and the traditional centre party has been decimated; that the most important political decision the UK has had to make in over 40 years is dominated by campaigns almost exclusively featuring the Tory-Right and the Tory-Lite. It just is not a situation that is conducive to informed debate (moan over).
As I alluded to at the beginning of this article, David Cameron’s leadership of the government’s IN Campaign bears a striking resemblance to Tony Blair’s deceitful campaign to establish public support for the Iraq War. Putting aside the bogeymen like Putin and ISIS that Cameron has conjured up to scare the public into voting to stay within the EU, what about Cameron’s claim that if the UK were to vote to leave the EU it would likely precipitate World War Three ? Is this the pronouncement of a Prime Minister capable of leading one of the greatest countries in the world, a member of NATO, a permanent member of the security council, a member of the G7 as the 5th largest economy in the world, part of the Commonwealth or is this nonsense indicative of a madman or perhaps the utterances of some who thinks the British public are fools, someone prepared to use any means to achieve a desired end regardless of however dishonest and unscrupulous ?
Incidentally, while we’re touching on the topic of how the EU has been a force for peace in Europe since World War Two, would it be inconvenient to remind readers that the very last European War, that in the Ukraine, was in part precipitated by EU and US interference which funded and supported opposition groups, which led to the overthrow of the Ukrainian government and which in turn led to the civil war there ? Yes, probably a little inconvenient. I’m not suggesting that Russia was blameless but to ignore the roles of the EU and US in that humanitarian disaster would be totally dishonest.
During this piece I’ve alluded on a couple of occasions to this current ‘incarnation of the EU’ which I hope makes clear that I’m not against the principle of a forum for European co-operation. I’m not Europhobic by nature and I can recognise that the EU has brought benefits. As ever, it is not a black and white issue but varying shades of grey. There will be some who read this who will accept that the EU needs reforming and will argue that it is far better that the UK remains within the EU so that it can help reform it. Sadly, the facts do not bear out this optimistic and well-intentioned desire. Though it often seems like it, the UK is not the only nation that has advocated EU reform; Denmark, the Netherlands, Sweden, even Germany recognise that there is an institutional problem that needs to be resolved and if the UK and all those nations together can’t make any progress on the reform issue then I think everyone needs to accept that reform of the EU, as it is now, is all but impossible.
Ironically, if the UK does vote to leave the EU, the economic consequences to the EU of the UK leaving, and the potential threat of a domino effect, whereby other peoples and nations also seek to leave the EU, would force the rest of the Europe to confront these issues and provide the impetus that finally does precipitate much needed EU reform.