“Every step forward is preceded by a suppression; every reform by the exposure of some abuse; every new idea is born because of the inadequacy of the old concepts.”
Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865)
Please don’t call us Europhiles. Please don’t call us Eurosceptics. We won’t be driven into any Manichaean pigeonholes. We might perhaps settle for ‘Euro-wary’, attentive to fresh possibilities to gut the British state from within but never fooled by warm, integrationist nonsense concealing a hard, neo-liberal agenda we can get at home. We love deeply our little bit of Europe but our attitude to the European Union could be characterised along the lines of ‘we wouldn’t have started from here’. The way to liberate the European consciousness is not to unite nation-states but to divide them. Division is what multiplies the cross-border issues and impels us towards their resolution at the regional and continental scales. (Trying to resolve them at the national scale just leads to war.)
The Right in British politics knows what it doesn’t like but doesn’t often let on what it does like. So we have the Scots being warned off independence lest Spanish centralists, fearful of the Catalans, veto their application to (re-)join the EU. Yet the same broad Right can argue that being outside the EU is a good thing, for the UK, but somehow not for its constituent parts on their own. Implicit in this is the idea not only that the UK has critical mass in a global market but that the advantages this brings are for the good of all, and not just of London and its surroundings. An idea too easily disproved by self-evident facts to require further comment.
UKIP’s results in this week’s three by-elections may have them believing that they are the new third force in British politics. A much more realistic view is that they are the new home of the protest vote and that normality will resume at the general election. UKIP, with their fanatical opposition to devolution, are just what the establishment ordered: a combination of safety-valve for the desperately disillusioned and attack dog against anyone suggesting meaningful reform of the creaking British constitution.
Some meaningful reform of the creaking European constitution would be welcome too. The auditors’ qualifying of the EU accounts, now for the 18th year in succession, has become an empty annual ritual, like something out of Gormenghast. And it’s getting worse, though the cause owes more to faulty oversight nationally than in Brussels. The European Parliament’s merry-go-round between Brussels and Strasbourg continues, at vast financial and carbon cost. It will go on until MEPs do the obvious and boycott the Strasbourg sessions. Some face-saving formula can then be devised to allow the French Republic to let go.
And the budget negotiations? Who needs UKIP when other European leaders might be happy to see the back of the British delegation? Of course the European budget should be cut, first, ahead of national ones. But national budgets in turn should be cut ahead of regional and local ones. We despise Britain’s government for its cherry-picking attitude to subsidiarity. Imagine how things SHOULD be. Regional representatives gather for talks, somewhere central within the UK. Carlisle, say. Wessex demands massive cuts in the UK budget in order to protect its own spending plans, which are under pressure from shires keen to safeguard the most essential local services. Eventually a deal is struck. Several common policies are jettisoned, with jurisdiction passing to the regional governments. The bloated Whitehall bureaucracy is forced to tighten its belt at last. Its international budget, for interfering in the affairs of other countries and generally throwing its weight around, is pared back. A transition package is agreed for regions worst hit by the contraction of UK Government spending. In the background, diplomats agree new protocols on inter-regional transport, trade and tourism.
We might even imagine the slogan. In Britain, but not run by Britain. Sounds fair?