12 December 2011

How will the Kingdom of England fare outside the EU?

AS I have already said on some other blog comments, I refuse to cheer on the likely UK withdrawal from the EU.

This is not because I have some misguided faith in Brussels or some sort of sudden acceptance of dictatorship by markets.

Neither is it because I am some sort of obnoxious head-banging Daily Mail-fed Tory hate-monger desperate to disguise my contempt for any sort of workers rights by wrapping myself in a St George's flag and screaming "democracy".

My belief that us leaving EU is bad is because I have little hope that England standing as an isolated country apart from Europe will advance the interests of ordinary working people in this country in any meaningful way. In fact, I now believe England is going to go into the fastest and most destructive material decline of any country in modern history for ordinary people.

The socialist left and the EU

A large number of my fellow trade unionists and most political left-wingers have stood on an anti-EU platform for many years, culminating some years ago in the disastrous and embarrassing No2EU electoral campaign.

Leading Labour left MP John McDonnell, Tony Benn and the leadership of the RMT union amongst others are some who have always taken a hard line against the EU. Similarly the Socialist Party and SWP, arguably the two largest "outside-Labour" left organisations have characterised the EU as a "bosses club" that should be resisted - arguing instead that we should be in some abstract "socialist federation" of Europe but without really explaining how we reach that point.

But this is a fringe argument that does not fit with the narrative of most workers in the UK. The fact is most working people have been conditioned over years to learn to hate the EU like the devil itself.

Why most people in England hate the EU

The awful truth is that many working people have become convinced that the reason all the "bad things" happen is because of the EU. So when all the supposed immigrants come in and take "our" jobs, when we can't lock up rapists and murderers because of "human rights", when we "hand over billions without getting anything back" and are instead told we have to cut back on public services and jobs, it is all because of those nasty meddling Eurocrats who have got it in for us.

Years of hysterical propaganda in a British media controlled almost entirely by fundamentalist Atlanticists, has had its effect in the form of the deep public derision of the EU and the growth in popularity of extremist reactionary authoritarian parties such as UKIP and, to a lesser extent, the BNP.

What the EU has done for us


The fact is that most of our progressive workers rights on things such as equal pay, parental leave, working hours and protection of rights when businesses are sold, have never come from the boorish and braying public school debating club of Westminster. In fact it is hard to name anything positive that has come out purely from Westminster, from either Tories or Labour, in the past three decades in terms of improving workers rights that wasn't inspired or prescribed by an EU directive. The fact is the British Parliament has always been one of the least inclined to help workers with rights even in the high years of Old Labour governments.

Before the EU, workers rights in the UK were usually won at workplace level by powerful trade unions. The thing is that trade unions no-longer have anywhere near the power they once did and will not suddenly start having that power if we leave the EU. (In fact the UN's International Labour Organisation annually chides the UK for not meeting basic standards of collective trade union rights.)

Perhaps the most contentious and hated EU-directed workers right from the point of view of the vile British ruling class is the Working Time Directive that limits employees to having to work more than 48 hours in any one week. For those challenged by numbers that's five ten hour shifts, or six eight hour shifts, not including breaks, in a normal week, but averaged out over a far longer period to allow flexibility. Hardly a short period already.

Already employees can sign a form to "opt out" of these limits and many employers already force them to do so as a condition of employment. But still, the far right Tories hate the fact that minimum-wage workers have the ability to enforce a maximum limit on their hours working, perhaps to spend time with their children or care for relatives.

These rights, like those that exist against being unfairly dismissed, are hardly ever mentioned in a positive light, posed instead as evil "red-tape" that somehow restricts jobs being created even though, as I have already fully and comprehensively argued, there is not a single shred of evidence to support the notion that cutting workers rights creates jobs or prosperity.

The years of consistently negative coverage of Europe has also fed the venomous anti-worker extremists on the right of the Tory party (and within UKIP and the BNP) who it now appears have total control of our government whilst their facile Lib-Dem counterparts drive around the country ineffectually in their ministerial limousines.

Class warriors

The 2010 Tory intake features some of the most remarkably anti-working class elected representatives ever to take the parliamentary oath. They loathe the idea of independent workers organisations having any freedom, and seek to start head-on fights with workers rather than reach negotiated settlements. And for fun they prance around Nazi-themed parties in rich ski resorts in some some sort of grotesque realisation of Rik Mayall's Alan B'Stard.

Now it appears the forces of reaction have not just got their way but are also in the driving seat, coalition or no coalition.

What has not been properly considered is that in doing what they have done, they have unintentionally opened the floodgates to the breakdown of the United Kingdom too. It seems very likely now that the Euro-friendly Holyrood will seek full independence, and similarly Belfast and Cardiff will be asking searching questions about their relationship with Westminster as a result of this unilateral decision by an almost entirely English government to back out of European engagement.

What will it look like in The Kingdom of England?

As the component parts of the UK break away slowly, it is looking increasingly like The Kingdom of England will become an isolated nation outside of any European political or fiscal union. As we know there is a perpetual, unmoveable Tory electoral majority in England. This has, in fact, been solidified by the coalition. It is now pointless to vote Lib Dem as a "Tory lite" alternative as it has proven a busted flush in power. But outside of England's cities the Lib Dems are, by a long shot, the second placed electoral alternative. Labour still mops up in the urban areas and the poor north, but it is not enough to ever take on the mammoth Tory south.

So let's presume if Cameron calls a snap general election after the UK breaks up, a majority Tory government of the right-wing character we are witnessing currently gets in. Politically they will be faced with a stagnant and traumatised economy and a nervous, tired electorate.

The first step they will take will almost certainly be to tear up existing employment law in the name of making England "competitive". (For "competitive" read Chinese levels of employment protection - i.e. none at all.)

Our political masters driven by a destructive and inhuman ideology of "survival of the fittest" will pit all but the most privileged employees against each other. There will be no minimum wage (or at least not one that's enforced), no rights against being sacked unfairly, no transfer of undertakings protection for workers when their bosses sell the company they work for, no notice period for large scale lay-offs and redundancy and only token maternity or paternity rights.

A permanent job will become the exception rather than the norm as temporary, transient, dangerous and insecure labour becomes rampant. And any idea of limitations on working hours will be shelved - people will be encouraged to work without any paid leave and without any limits on their hours and many will end up "living on the job". Health and safety legislation, another headline subject that, like the EU, has been ridiculed and derided constantly by the media, will be almost entirely scapped with workers regularly killed and maimed on dangerous jobs.

Huge industrial struggles will flare up with unions engaged in a final fight to the death. There will be some small victories to force the government to back off temporarily.

But egged on by an ever-more rabid right-wing press the police will be given extra powers to deal with protestors and strikers. Industrial action will be deemed a threat to "national security" and far more extreme and violent methods will be encouraged to take on those brave people trying to challenge the power of the state and the power of wealth and capital. Union leaders will be jailed, left-wing political figures subject to routine denouncement and humiliation in the press, non-union workers given priority status.

The papers will start to call for capital and corporal punishment to become routine to address the growing crime wave as poverty becomes rampant and energy bills, food and other basic goods skyrocket in price as we are subject to further export penalties by the very countries in Europe we have turned our back on.

The health service will become merely a shell operation offering discounted access to private providers. Charges will be introduced across the piece as private companies prosper from the increasing number of industrial illnesses caused by overwork and insecurity. All but the most basic primary and secondary education will be exclusively available for the rich and a token handful of the "deserving poor". Welfare, already another area the Tories are gleefully attacking, will almost entirely end, leading to scores of deaths and suicides amongst the disabled and sick.

The monarchy will play a leading role in the new Kingdom of England with William and Kate heading up a newly emboldened, enlarged House of Windsor. Wrapped in the St Georges flag and heavy with that unquestioningly loyal patriotic rhetoric, with blanket coverage on the news and in the papers, public support for the royals will go through the roof as a welcome distraction from the misery of everyday hand-to-mouth existence.

The Labour Party, shellshocked at its defeat in the snap 2012 election despite its constant lead in the polls since the end of 2010 completes its journey towards total acquiescence to the power of capital and resorts simply to apeing Tories in a bid to try to win votes. As the Tories ban any Trade Union funding of political parties this increasing the power of wealthy individual party donors, Labour's already depleted reserves dry up and it starts to disintegrate at the grass roots.

Finally the US decides to wage it's suicidal new war on Iran. The Russians and Chinese protest and state boldly they will defend Iran from attack. As the Kingdom of England has signed its new accord aligning entirely with US military policy, we become the key staging post for the all-out attack. The Tories plan emergency war legislation and start to ban protests and dissent. They encourage individuals to build fall-out shelters and regularly have drills using the re-activated air raid siren network...

Conclusion

In conclusion, it is likely the Kingdom of England will be a deeply divided and impoverished nation, with a small strata of very rich overlords and landowners and a mass population of frightened yet stupefied workers living in daily fear of nuclear annihilation as we become the European airbase for an increasingly desperate and declining US empire.

The EU was never perfect, and its new incarnation is almost certainly a recipe for austerity and rule-by-markets. But it goes way beyond just economics.

The main reason the EU was set up was to stop wars which, imperialist adventures aside, it has largely done very successfully within its borders. It also provided most of the progressive leglislation that limits the worst exploitation of working people. It was also designed to aid understanding between nations in the battle against racism and xenophobia.

Leaving the EU, thereby possibly precipitating its collapse and making world war more likely, will actually increase the power of capital and exploitation of English workers in the final analysis.

The battle to try to turn the tide is already huge for the battered and divided English left and in leaving the EU it's only going to get a lot worse. It could be we are too late to stop the final disintegration of the very things made it worth living in this country.

3 comments:

redscribe said...

[I posted this comment on my blog about this article, and thought I should share it here also.]

Yes, it is indeed dystopian. It also elides over an enormous number of potential counter-trends and counter-events, and assumes in advance they would be defeated. There is no reason why there should be an inbuilt Tory majority in England, its not always been true and even if it were true for a while, nothing stays the same. They would be in the hot seat and would have to take exclusive responsibility for every single thing that went wrong. That’s actually a very uncomfortable position to be in unless you have a massive and continually replenished pot of gold to hand out largesse indefinitely and keep people quiet by bribing them. Which as even Lawrence’s scenario states, is the opposite of the truth.

And that is even if the Tories survived the trauma of losing the UK and managed to secure that English hegemony in the first place. Vladimir Putin in Russia is now confronting the fact that total reactionary hegemony means you are blamed for everything that goes wrong in a society. Such things contain the seeds of their own destruction.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Whilst it's perhaps a little nihilistic, somebody needs to put forward the counter argument to this anti-European rhetoric. England is not the special case that the tabloid press would have us believe (why are no other countries in the EU threatening to leave?) nor is the EU, for all its faults, quite the demon it's portrayed as. And this negative jingoistic posturing is doing nothing for our international standing. I do also believe that a break-up of the UK would be more likely if we left the EU, and the economic outcome would be very uncertain. We're not Switzerland or Norway, and talk of strengthening the Commonwealth or trading with China/India/Brazil slightly wishful thinking.

But I do share Redscribe's view that even an independent England wouldn't be a one-party monopoly. There will always be a readiness to use protest votes to unseat a Government that's been in power too long

Realist said...

Some valid points maybe, but your view of the Kingdom of England, should an EU exit occur, is a bit far fetched with some scaremongering !