Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tony Benn on Britain and the EU

The late Old Labour politician Tony Benn speaks below on the European Union and why he believed that Britain should not be a member.

It is mystifying to me why so many people on the left in Britain are so bent on defending the EU and keeping Britain in it.

It is, first of all, a simple matter of democracy: why give up your sovereignty and democratic power to the EU and give away the power to change government policy on many substantive issues, when the EU is so clearly anti-democratic?

Secondly, the EU is a neoliberal train wreck: it was designed on economically conservative ideas and the worst neoclassical economics. It was designed to be a monetary union without a powerful central fiscal authority: an unworkable and disastrous idea. The Eurozone has led to catastrophe on the fringes of Europe in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain and Portugal and Baltic states. In the larger states like Germany and France the situation is somewhat better, but hardly anything to boast of.

If Britain had joined the Eurozone, it would have been a terrible mistake, and might today look something like Ireland.

The evidence suggests that many members of the British public are highly sceptical of the EU and want a referendum on whether to remain in it.

Tony Benn also speaks on UKIP in the video above. The UK Independence Party (UKIP) has recently taken advantage of the opposition to the EU and may do well in the 2015 general election that Britain will have in May of this year.

UKIP is a curious movement. It is a right-wing party. It strongly opposes the EU and wishes to take the UK out of it; it also wishes to end mass immigration from the EU and replace it with a “points-based” immigration system as familiar from Canada, Australia or New Zealand. Many people, conservative voters especially, seem to be in favour of these policies (some evidence here and here). But on economics UKIP is essentially Thatcherite, perhaps worse than the Tories, and even more worryingly has a libertarian wing with all the extreme laissez faire nonsense familiar from American libertarians.

The rise of UKIP is just another symptom of the utter bankruptcy of New Labour, especially on economics.

It seems to me that a genuine leftist or Labour party in Britain should be opposed to the EU, on democratic and economic grounds alone.

Finally, in honour of the late Tony Benn, who was a great social democrat, here is an old but lovely video of him tearing into Thatcherism.


  1. I'm a fan of unified currency systems, and, so, am mostly in favor of the Eurozone. I do think the ECB's monetary policy is a bit too tight, but the economic integration it helped bring about probably brought more good than harm. However, I'm skeptical the E.U. should include Eastern Europe, and even more skeptical that it should include the U.K., as over-expansion may later threaten the E.U.'s stability. I also agree with much libertarian economic policy, as you already know.

    1. It's quite extraordinary how you just casually brush off the appalling situation in the eurozone. Obviously you don't have to suffer the consequences of the policies you support.

    2. Yes, I know about the horrible job and GDP losses in Greece and Spain and about Italy entering a triple-dip recession. But Germany (and, to a lesser extent, Austria) has weathered the EZ crisis just fine. So all Europe should imitate Germany's wildly successful supply-side policies.

    3. There is a whole universe of wrong in your comment. There's something deeply wrong with you people.

    4. "So all Europe should imitate Germany's wildly successful supply-side policies."

      What? Gut wages and attempt to get export led growth when you also gut demand?

      Good luck with that wild and mad fantasy.