THE AGE OF INSECURITY
- by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson, Verso Books, 1998. ISBN 1-85984-843-5
RRP about £17.00 (hardback)
This is yet another in the never-ending list of books by people who are dissatisfied with things and have an alternative policy in mind. This one is at least entertaining, well-written, and guaranteed to attract such smears as 'old Labour' and even 'loony Left'.
Larry Elliott is Economics Editor of the Guardian, Dan Atkinson is an Economics Correspondent). They believe that British membership of the EU has proved an economic disaster; a small trade surplus has become a colossal deficit and the fishing industry destroyed.
AN ECONOMIC DICTATORSHIP
The EU gets a whole chapter to itself, which should cetainly be read closely by Labour's Europhiles. It seems that the European Round Table of Industrialists is the driving force behind the aims of an internal market, single currency, and cuts in welfare to prepare for them. The centralisation of power in Brussels gives multi-nationals an enormous advantage over social movements. This, no doubt, is one reason why corporate interests fund organisations like the Action Centre for Europe and the European Movement.
Labour Europhiles are deluding either themselves, others, or both. They hoped that the EU might be the way to "save Britain from Thatcherism" , forcing the government to change policy in their direction. For instance, Neil Kinnock spoke in 1991 of the EU's pushing through social policies so far blocked by Britain. Labour visualised a Left-dominated EU standing up for workers' rights, ending social dumping and competitive tax-cutting, and EU-wide reflation to stimulate demand.
They were unfortunately, overlooking a few trifling facts. One - that it was politically impossible.Two -that "bigger was not necessarily better", as a cursory glance at the Scandinavian countries would surely show any socialist.
Of course, not all Labourites took this view; for instance, former Minister Eric Deakins wrote in 1988 that the Single Market "will mean the end of a Labour government being able to carry out radical economic and financial policies.[Opponents] recognised long ago that the EC would effectively neuter the Labour party."* Tony Benn claimed to have observed back in 1963 that "the Treaty of Rome entrenches laissez faire and bureaucracy"*.
The authors also point out that at one time the right saw the EU as a way of stopping the Left, "ruling out for all time possible domestic radicalism by a Labour government."*. They claim that "Right-wing Euroscepticism, as a quasi-movement did not exist prior to the Labour party's moving to the Right after the 1987 General Election"* - an exaggeration, as I know from my own experience. However, it was pretty insignificant in the 1980s, when Margaret Thatcher made Lord Cockfield and Leon Brittan Commissioners and forced through the Single European Act basically unopposed and unnoticed. And, they point out, even today not one front-rank Conservative Eurosceptic openly supports withdrawal from the EU.
The authors' view is that the EU is neither progressive, socialist, federalist nor internationalist but an embryonic centralised superpower run in the interests of big business, with a deflationary single currency and economic dictatorship by central bankers. The mass unemployment, increased centralisation of power, and bureaucracy are how it's supposed to work.
THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE: SECURITY AND FREEDOM
Their alternative is one of genuine internationalism -to quote socialist Eurosceptics Will Podmore and Phil Katz, "sovereign nations trading with each other [with] mutual respect for each other's territorial and political integrity."
In addition, they favour the passage of a 'UDI Bill', asserting the supremacy of Parliament over all external courts, legislatures and treaty obligations - withdrawal from the EU in all but name. These internationalists, it should be noted, are also 'little Englanders'; they "do not want Britain to engage in great-power games, whether on her own account or as a shareholder in the EU."
As for their views on other matters - they're basically a couple of Left-wingers who haven't changed. Their view, unremarkable in the 60s but unfashionable today, is that capitalism is not the best thing since sliced bread. They want what it hasn't provided - security. Full employment, a high wage economy, job security, 'fairer' distribution of incomes, and a well-protected environment. These ends have been put back rather than brought forward by the events of recent years - one might cynically surmise that the lack of a visible alternative meant that capitalism didn't have to be nice any more!
Leaving this aside, the authors believe in what they call 'green Keynesianism'. They take the unfashionable view that governments do matter and do have the power to control big business, even the multinationals. They support protectionism; apparently, steep tariffs combined with internal competition worked in America. They want to control capital flows, tax speculative deals, and pursue a radical monetary policy. They would limit the power of banks to create money, return the power of credit creation to government, and in general reassert popular control over the monetary system in order to pursue a monetary policy "in the interest of the economy as a whole[rather than] the owners of wealth."
The authors hold that things have been turned on their heads -as capital has been made freer, the citizen's freedom vis-a-vis the state has been reduced. Closed circuit television, tests for drink and drugs, more government interference in people's lives, more identity checks, the end of the right of silence, calls for compulsory ID cards, attacks on the right to trial by jury(a right far from universal in the EU), more search and seizure powers, either a South Yorkshire police campaign against dark-tinted car windows. The new 'securiocracy'(page 93) will never, it seems, be satisfied- and we're all used to their arguments. Protection, public safety, the fight against crime/fraud, and "the innocent have nothing to fear". As the authors put it, "It is not [the citizen] who has been set free, but his money."
THE SPIRIT OF THE AGE
To their credit, they are for the liberty of the subject and against Tony Blair, whom they describe as a "communitarian social moralist" with the air of the house captain at an Anglican boarding school. They deplore the Clinton/Blair axis' willingness to get tough with everybody but the rich and powerful - the classic bully, in fact. Nor do they have any time for the new workaholic and uncaring culture of the 1990s or for the new totalitarianism of political correctness; on the contrary, they write with nostalgia of the late libertarian-minded socialist Tony Crosland and believe that the government should protect workers from interfering management, rein back police powers, and "decontrol completely what is known as 'leisure' and what we prefer to think of as social life."
Nor would we have to put up with compulsory seat belts, crash helmets, or the 'war on drugs', to name but three. Eurosceptic, basically neutralist, looking after our own people first, supporting the welfare state, upholding civil liberties, genuinely rolling back the state, support for the little man against the big battalions, protecting the environment. Their programme certainly has its appeal. The only problem is that it's ahead of its time.
There is no chance of either this current 'New Labour' Government or the Conservative Opposition being converted to it. The Liberal Democrats might be open to persuasion on some issues but are hardly likely to become Eurosceptics, aside from the strong 'nanny state' tendency far too prevalent among them. The only parties that might conceivably adopt it would be either the Green Party or UKIP - neither of whom have any Parliamentary representation at the moment!
Overall I can highly recommend this book, both for its interesting and controversial ideas and its readability.
* = [abridged] - About the author: Mark Taha is a freelance researcher into British and European history and politics. A National Committee member of CIB, he is writing in a personal capacity.