Saturday, 17 May 2014

Revisiting No2EU

If it wasn't for UKIP, it's fair to say most people wouldn't know European elections are in the offing. Yet while the media buzzes about Farage's one-man party and what the mainstream are doing about it, the ballot paper is littered with anti-EU also rans. Here in the WestMids there's the BNP and English Democrats fare. We are also blessed with sitting ex-UKIP MEP Nikki Sinclaire for 'We Demand a Referendum' and Mike Natrass - another former 'kipper - for the naughtily-titled 'An Independence from Europe - UK Independence Now' list. Hopefully, this Little England gang bang will see them take a few UKIP votes and cost them a seat. After this quivering mass, there is one other slate. I am talking about the only leftist participant who was prepared to toss its keys into the salad bowl: No2EU. Or, to give its full title, No2EU - Yes to Workers Rights.

Yes, it's back to provide a left Eurosceptic option for those who do not read the ballot paper properly and put their cross next to No2EU instead of UKIP. Again, just like 2009 it is a cobbled-together slate of the RMT, the Morning Star's Communist Party of Britain and the Socialist Party. And no doubt the folks involved will be looking to get a better vote than last time. Five years back No2EU polled 153,236 votes - one per cent of the total cast. That's at the bottom of the 1-2% range far left challenges can typically expect at election time. Nonetheless it was a disappointing outcome for those of us who worked hard in that campaign. A cheeky cameo from Tony Benn in the party election broadcast, the endorsement of former Labour MP Alice Mahon and the hearty backing of Bob Crow did naff all. Even the name, which you might expect to be an asset among Eurosceptic naifs who don't follow politics, proved to be nothing of the sort.

Also, No2EU got a barracking from within the labour movement. Its vote share in the North West was greater than the difference separating Nick Griffin and the Greens' Peter Cranie. No2EU was made the whipping boy, the reason why the BNP won a seat. A case, in other words, of voting far left and getting the far right. That argument doesn't really stand up to scrutiny, though it's an easy enough supposition to make. It was also criticised by others on the left for its opportunism, its fossilised programme, its lack of seriousness. Remember, these elections came after the brouhaha of MPs' expenses. Perhaps the sharpest arrow in No2EU's quiver was ex-Labour Militant Tendency MP Dave Nellist, who won wide recognition in the 80s for refusing an MP's full salary and taking only the average wage of a skilled worker. Instead of running with something like 'a worker's MP on a worker's wage', No2EU pledged not to take up any seats in the European Parliament in the unlikely event of their winning. A bizarre own goal that fought shy of the public imagination.

Given the low vote, what was the point? At that time I was an enthusiastic and active SP member. For instance, here's me putting a brave face on the results. Nevertheless, there was a certain logic to No2EU from where I was then standing. The SP's immediate strategic objective remains the foundation of a new workers' party to replace Labour. This will come about not by cobbling together "the sects" but via trade unions breaking with and moving into independent electoral activity. Therefore, when the RMT and CPB approached the SP about standing with them on an anti-Labour, anti-EU slate the SP's exec jumped at the chance. Here was an opportunity to influence the country's most militant union, deepen its break with Labour and demonstrate to other labour movement activists that an independent political existence was possible. The questions surrounding No2EU's politics (in all essentials no different from the official Communist Party's platform circa 1974) were spun by the SP as "not ideal" but the party was prepared to accept them as its participation was asked for "at a late stage".

The election came and went. A "marker was put down", "new layers of workers saw No2EU material", and it was "a step toward a new party". But how did the SP's perspectives bear out? There was immediate excited talk of a new project involving the SP's partners and other trade unions. If memory serves, these mysterious organisations were the FBU, POA and (leading SP members in) the PCS. However, very quickly the fading CPB dropped out and union backing did not materialise. So by the time the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition launched in January 2010 all that remained was the SP, Bob Crow with some leading RMT'ers, and a few senior people in the POA. Since then there has been progress of sorts. The RMT and SWP have formally affiliated, the coalition has contested quite a few elections - including a seminal beating by Elvis Loves Pets in the Eastleigh by-election - and, um. that's it. Also, TUSC are making a big effort at this year's local elections, but more about that once the votes have been counted.

In all essentials, No2EU fulfilled its objectives. It cemented a good relationship between the RMT, CPB and SP. It nicely slots into the SP's narrative of unions breaking from Labour, and paved the way for a successor organisation. So why is it getting another outing after five years of accumulating mothballs? Consulting my former comrades is no use. You could be forgiven for thinking the SP have forgotten they're affiliated. TUSC is everywhere on their website. No2EU, on the contrary, is conspicuous by its absence. There is no article justifying its existence. No explanation why it is just as provisional and amateurish as last time, despite having five years to prepare. Deputy general secretary Hannah Sell has served some warm-ups on the EU, but there is no linking of No2EU with an overall strategy, apart from a desire to "exit from the EU on the basis of socialist policies". But when No2EU's site can't be bothered to list its own candidates, why should anyone expect its affiliate to take up the slack?

Needless to say, I think it's all a waste of time. But if you're going to challenge Labour, at least be serious about it. As local council elections are taking place on the same day as the Europeans, every party has the opportunity to benefit from "double-ticketing". For instance, as UKIP are projected to do well they have stood as many council candidates as they can. They know people who will vote for them for Europe are likely to vote for them in the locals too. They are using one to leverage the other. And this, of course, is common practice. The splitting of the far left ticket into No2EU for the Europeans and TUSC for the locals won't make much of a difference to the usual poor results, but betrays a basic amateurism, if not incompetence. If you're the proletarian vanguard you do yourself no favours being seen to lag behind the "bourgeois parties" on political ABCs.

To be fair to the SP though, this is a matter of positioning rather than sound politics. There are some in the RMT leadership who, unlike most leading trade union tops, detest the EU. While the scepticism and critique of the EU's constitutionally embedded neoliberalism is widespread in the labour movement, there are leading RMT comrades who combine this with a left Little Englandism. This is reflected in No2EU's points on the repatriation of powers independent economic policies, unequal trade agreements, etc. As the SP historically has comparatively little to say about constitutional matters, and think stuff like sovereignty is so much flim-flammery (socialism is always the answer to such things), it is quite prepared to indulge their partners' proclivities to keep the show on the road. Since the sad passing of Bob Crow there is a fear the RMT might withdraw its formal backing from TUSC in the absence of good results. If carrying on with No2EU is a price to pay for continued good relations and influence, the SP will do what it takes.

There is a whiff of groundhog day about all this. But I suppose I ought to be grateful for No2EU. Despite the furious spin I gave it at the time, the experience did focus my mind on the problems of socialist strategy in Britain, and the relationship between Labour and the labour movement. It led me to conclude there is no political room for a mkII Labour Party. It also eventually dawned that Trotskyism and revolutionary politics are not just ill-suited to an advanced capitalist society like ours, but absolutely incompatible with a socialist strategy appropriate to it. If there are SP activists who get disillusioned because of No2EU's poor results, I hope they find alternative ways of building the labour movement rather than retreat into private life.

Image from the No2EU Facebook page.

8 comments:

Robert said...

Sadly there is more chance of a flying pig levitating over the Palace of Westminster than there is of TUSC and its associates ever replacing Labour. However unlovable Labour is, and they are pretty unlovable in many ways there isnt anything else, at least not in England.

howard fuller said...

Expanding their (SP) influence into the unions is probably the reason they now wish to merge the one union controlled by them (PCS) into Unite.

I fear a withdrawal from the EU will undermine what little remaining TU rights we have left.

It will not lead to socialism, not that I'd want that anyway.

Loz said...

The point about NO2EU standing for election only to not take a seat if they win is very striking. The SP and co. would take elected seats when it comes to Westminster (instead proposing a workers MP on a workers wage) or even local councils. So why not the European Parliament?

I think a large amount of the hostility to the EU is born of the fact that our media simply doesn't cover the workings of the institution. People are, correctly, fearful about an organisation they know little about. It is not very easy, even for an internet savvy person who wants to find out what is going on, to keep up with the machinations of the EU, let alone analysis of the political positions being taken.

Contrast this with the swaggering, bleating, pathetic public school debating chamber in Westminster. Prime Ministers Questions, an awful piece of pantomime theatre, is treated with such reverence by the media that you would think the entire engine of British capital turned on the performances given by the party leaders.

If indeed it is true that the EU makes all of our laws as the NO2EU grouping seems to imply, I would argue that it would make more sense to sit in the EU Parliament than Westminster. In spite of this, NO2EUs supporters seem happy to try to get people elected to Westminster but don't want anything to do with Brussels.

This is why at the root of it all is a sad Little Englandism which propagates the idea that Westminster as an institution can be reformed for socialism, but the European Parliament must be destroyed.

Whatever you believe over either institution, to say that it is worth sitting in one and playing along with it, but not sitting in the other, is disingenuous and deeply inconsistent.

Anonymous said...

I don't think we should exit the EU, even if they introduce anti union laws, which could happen.

But:

We should be clear to mock those who think staying in the EU somehow advances socialism. Prove it!

We should not be fooled into thinking that having a US style organisational structure will improve economic efficiency. If we compare, say France, to the USA then the USA produces far more output. However if we compare the USA with a territory and population of similar size (Western and Central Europe) then Europe wins hands down. So there is an argument that the USA set up is economically more inefficient that the European model of seperate nations.

Peter Cranie said...

There was no blame from me about NO2EU standing in the 2009 elections in the North West. My complaint was that Labour had actively leafleted areas of strong Green support with the misleading claim that “only a vote for Labour” could stop the BNP. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2009/may/05/greens-bnp-euro-election

These actions had the unfortunate effect of switching some people back to Labour, despite the Greens being much closer (less than 5,000 votes away from beating Griffin compared to nearly 60,000 votes away for Labour).

I’ve been disappointed to see similar tactics this time in the North West, with leaflets in Manchester claiming Labour were just 3,000 votes away from stopping the BNP last time, and that only a strong vote for Labour can beat the BNP and stop UKIP. This is misleading and I’ve written to your main candidates about it early in the campaign, but it has continued. This is really disappointing given what happened last time. It’s one of the reasons we had www.greennotgriffin.org.uk ready to go, because we expected this tactic once again.

The issue about NO2EU is different this time. They have chosen not to stand in the South West region, but have actively stood a list in the North West despite the result last time.

Alec McFadden, one of the NW NO2EU candidates in 2009 campaigned against this and is saying that socialists and trade unionists in the North West should vote Green.

I’m sometimes critical of my own party, but at this time, in this region and in this election, voters on the left can make a critical difference.

I’ll work constructively with the 3 Labour MEPs in this region but we are making the positive arguments that a Green vote will ensure Griffin is out, and we hope to limit UKIP to just 2 NW Euro MPs.

Chris said...

Anyone who thinks staying in the EU somehow advances socialism is living in cloud cuckoo land.

A more integrated EU could become more economically inefficient, too big to organise. By any measure the EU outperforms the USA currently, if we take a like for like comparison, i.e. compare the USA with Western and Central Europe.

Though I would stay in, even if they introduced anti Union laws.

asquith said...

I did notice NO2EU came back and wondered why they bothered. The bag I'm in is that the coalition have lost me, but (AS A LIBERAL KLAXON) I'm not prepared to support Labour as I recall their past and don't look forward to their future (Miliband seems to me Francois Hollande 2, which is not a compliment: I do admire his political skills and regard him as a potential winner- but I don't see how that's good for the country or anyone but him).

The Green Party are too socialist and have too many stances I consider wrong, for instance their kneejerk opposition to nuclear power, which as a keen environmentalist myself I regard as one of the least bad options.

I could have voted for the Liberal Democrats, despite not liking them, because I am so filled with hatred for Farrago, whom I consider possibly the single most hypocritical and dishonest operator today. But not after seeing how so many of them reacted to the Maajid Nawaz incident, which reinforced my view that true liberalism is too often replaced by people like David "the Jews" Ward and his sort.

"Reluctantly" and "with a heavy heart" I am drawn inexorably to my first ever taste of not voting.

Worthy of note is this. I once tried to contact all my MEPs. Bennion (Lib Dem), Nattrass (An Independence from Europe) and Sinclaire (I Demand the Dole on Friday) all responded con structively. The rest ignored me. And the closed list system means virtually no one has any idea who they are, doesn't it?

Anonymous said...

I recently left the SP last year and felt their attitude towards elections and the constant over optimism of TUSC drove me to despair. There is no measured approach they made a big deal out of getting 560 odd candidates to stand this year in locals but very few came out with any credit standing largely as paper candidates. I once stood for TUSC while in the SP in a big tory area but i was simply making up the numbers. The silly idea of standing but not taking your seat if you win is boneheaded. I do think the no to EU project is left nationalist and looks to divide workers not link them with solidarity across the continent.