Marc Glendening: Invasion of the Euro-McCarthyites --- EU sceptics should be prepared to be smeared.
Marc Glendening is Political Director of Democracy Movement.
One week ago, at the Fabians’ Why Europe? The Left’s Answer, sponsored by the European Commission, Labour MEP Richard Howett said that those opposed to the EU were ‘racists and xenophobes’. I asked him from the floor if he included in that category Tony Benn, as well as Labour MPs Graham Stringer, John Cryer, Kelvin Hopkins and Kate Hoey? He refused, revealingly to answer this inconvenient question and instead said:
“Mark Reckless, Bill Cash, William Hague, Nigel Farage and Nick Griffin are racists”.
Mr Howett then said defiantly, playing to the Fabian audience: “I will not back down and apologise.”
He has been challenged subsequently to repeat this allegation and to provide firm evidence to back up his oafish accusation. He has now gone silent. He has failed to respond on twitter to those challenging him to back up his claims. Not quite so brave now. Howett’s intervention is one manifestation of the campaign the mainstream pro-EU lobby has been waging for some time and which they can be expected to intensify in the long run up to the possible referendum in the next parliament. The New Labour inclination has always been keen to play the man rather than the ball.
What was strange about an event advertised as being an intra-left discussion on Europe was that nobody critical of the EU from the Labour movement was invited to participate. The only anti-EU speaker in a whole day of ‘debates’ was Stephen Woolfe from UKIP. No doubt the organisers were disappointed to hear him say that he had been a former member of the Labour party and the Fabians twenty years earlier. Last year’s Fabian Europe conference similarly featured no left EU-sceptics, but, yes, you guessed it, a UKIP MEP.
If the BBC had been so keen to interview a member of the European far-right about Europe why didn’t Newsnight interview Gian Franco Fini, the former Italian foreign minister, pro EU enthusiast and leader of the ‘post-fascist’ Alleanza Nazionale? He was the individual who on a state visit to Britain during the Blair years harangued John Prescott for not getting a move on about joining the single currency. Perhaps he would not have given quite the responses about Europe the BBC was looking for with the Le Pen interview.
Another characteristic of some on the modern centre left, as well as Fabians going back to the Sydney and Beatrice Webb, has been an elitist, disparaging and culturally superior attitude to the working and (non-intellectual) middle classes. At the Fabian conference Peter Kellner speaking on another panel predicted that many of the people who don’t like the EU because they “don’t like foreigners, foreign aid, are against globalisation will end up voting to stay in because they are shit scared of the consequences of leaving.” The great pollster never provided any statistical evidence to back up the EU-sceptical stereotype he was glibly articulating to the smug self-satisfaction of the audience.
Throughout the day speakers and members of the audience made references to the horrors of the tabloid media’s coverage of the EU issue. This was advanced as one of several reasons why the so, allegedly, intellectually gullible, unwashed masses must not be allowed to vote on Britain’s collective constitutional future concerning the EU. This was a theme Shirley Williams enthusiastically devoted most of her speech to at last year’s Fabian Europe conference. A dissident member of the audience reminded the grande dame of the centre left that the logic of this argument could be applied, rather dangerously, to general elections as well. And did she consider herself to be the sort of idiotic voter who could be swayed by tabloid coverage alone of major political issues? Again, no real response.
The master of this type of neo-McCarthyite campaign was most enthusiastically pursued by former arch-Blairite, Denis McShane. At a debate last year at Sheffield University he told the audience not to listen to his two EU-sceptical opponents on the grounds that: “They want to turn Britain white.” Neither of the speakers, one being myself, had mentioned basing immigration policy on racially defined quotas, or, indeed, even the issue of immigration at all. He, notoriously when Tony Blair’s Europe minister, accused the British people, yes all of us, of having a “dark streak of xenophobia and racism in our mentality.” He accused EU-sceptics of harbouring a ‘xenophobic hatred of the Germans or the French.” Presumably he wasn’t thinking of Labour MPs Gisela Stuart or Natascha Engel when he said this.
The Fabian conference was also instructive in terms of the weakness of the case that was actually put for remaining within the European Union. There was obsessive focus on the flawed Norwegian relationship with Brussels, but a running away from any examination of the trading relationships Switzerland, South Korea and 63 other countries have managed to develop based on WTO rules and bilaterally negotiated agreements. Nor were they keen to answer inconvenient points about the EU’s economic and demographic decline, or, indeed, on the contradictions between the single market and many cherished left principles.
Because the case for the EU is now so weak, the Euro-McCarthyites will seek to distract attention from the real issues that should form the basis of the rational, forensic debate we should be having about Europe. What they want instead is a culture war in which they can present themselves as being on the right side of history and those of us who oppose them as antediluvian racists under the bed. Those of us who favour change will need to devise ways to ensure that this debate takes place.