Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Brexit is a blow against the tyranny of progressives


The case for "lexit" (left wing Brexit) is not one I have much sympathy for. Certainly the economic arguments made by lexiters are problematic. The EU does have rules regarding state aid but once we peel the EU layer away we are then subject to WTO rules and the labyrinth of terms and conditions tucked away inside a patchwork of free trade agreements. Unilaterlaism is ill advised and absolute sovereignty over such matters does not exist. Lexiters are also on shaky ground when asserting the EU exposes the NHS to market forces.  

Then there's the argument that freedom of movement drives down wages. In some respects yes it does but you have to do a multivaried analysis and you find that there are winners and losers. We may find that by ending freedom of movement some wages recover but to the detriment of household disposable income meaning others take the hit, possibility wiping out a number of low skilled jobs. 

The decision to end it, therefore, is not an economic one per se, rather it is an intensely political one depending on who the losers are and how much electoral clout they have. It really depends on your political and social objectives. 

I am of the view that freedom of movement has given business the convenience of casting the recruitment net wider without having to train and that is one reason why so many are economically excluded. As much as government won't plug that training gap, low end skills training provided by government is low quality and of little use to the recipient. There may be alternatives to ending freedom of movement but the government has had twenty years to act on it. If it hasn't acted by now then it isn't going to. 

The strongest argument for Lexit, though, is not really a left wing argument at all. I was recently directed to a speech by Michael Foot whose politics are a million miles from my own. 
People didn't fight for the vote just to have the fun of electioneering. They wanted to see that the vote that they used at the ballot box could change things, stop things, alter things, remove governments when necessary. That's one of the principal reasons for having a vote. But that's not going to happen if we're gong to stay in the Market and if we become enmeshed in the whole of their machinery and apparatus - because what will happen then is that you can go an have an election in this country in which you can vote out the government here - but you won't voting out all the governments that meet in Brussels to decide what is going to happen to us. [...] It is that precious inheritance given us by the people who fought for the right to vote, fought for the right to form trade unions, fought for the right to establish their own institution, fought for the right to have an elected house of commons which should be the supreme authority in this country and answerable to nobody else. It is those things that are at stake in this campaign. We will have plenty of problems to solve after June the Fifth, but let us make it clear that, not merely to our own country, but to the other countries that we believe here in Britain we can solve these problems by using the strength of our democratic institutions instead of casting them aside in this trivial wanton way.  
These words sear into my brain as though spoken by god. This is not a left wing case for Brexit. This is a case for democracy. This is right at the heart of the Brexit debate to which all other issues are fringe. This is what the modern left have lost sight of. 

A piece in The Guardian yesterday asserts that "There is a strong, progressive case to be made for the European project these days. Brexit will be a social amputation for Britain – not a moment of emancipation for its lower middle classes. It will not deliver anything worthwhile to those who feel left behind. “Independence day” will be a blow to workers’ rights, to the struggle against inequality, to the fight for the environment. It certainly won’t bring protection".

The faulty assumption here is that is that top down rights bring any protection at all. There are always unintended consequences. A concept that completely escapes remainers. Business is adept evading workplace regulation and through a two decade long game of regulatory whack-a-mole we find that on paper workers have better rights than ever but in practice, hardly any at all - and certainly no real world protection in the absence of functioning unions. Since the function of labour market regulation has been offshored our own government will do little to remedy this.

But it is not "protection" we seek from Brexit. Rather it is the power to define our own protections, forming unions, using our institutions, having our say and fighting for the rights we want instead of making do with what is done to us. The restoration of politics over technocracy whereby the laws we have reflect our values and not those of a "progressive" elite in thrall to fads and fashions.

The Guardian argues that the European "social pillar" is a plan designed to promote fair wages, a minimum income, healthcare, gender equality, a better work-life balance, data protection, unemployment benefits, access to transport, and rights for disabled people. While it may be no more than a list of intentions, the social pillar is a good roadmap all the same".

Firstly, it is hardly a roadmap. It is hard coded into the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights and there are a number of legislative instruments on the books and in progress to consolidate EU authority in these competences. 

There question is, who decides this? Who steers it, and what informs this? Who decides what the optimal work-life balance is, who is choosing for me? Who lays the moral framework for gender equality? Given that the conventional thinking pushes for equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity, EU level measures in that domain opens the door to a whole raft of distorting interventions attacking the natural equilibrium and imposing a value system on the public.

This is ultimately why the progressives want the EU. It saves them the trouble of having to win the argument. They can go around the public without having to persuade or even make their case. With the EU assuming the role of social guardian, it is little wonder our unions have become inert, bloated and conformist. The Guardian concludes:
Labour’s leadership is embroiled in tactical games. It has also appeared unable, or unwilling, to reach out to progressive voices on the continent to help to stop Brexit and to shape an argument for a socially minded, fair and citizen-oriented Europe. Instead, it makes incomprehensible noises about the single market and the customs union. But as Delors once said, “no one falls in love with a market” (or a customs union, for that matter). What people can relate to emotionally is a collective struggle for values, decency, social fairness – and they can be made to feel proud to be part of something larger than their own country, if that something is made to work for the common good. In this globalised world, the EU is our common shield against the negative impact of unregulated capitalism, and the manipulations and illiberal practices of big corporations and large hostile powers.
Except that with the EU gradually taking control of of the social agenda, social rights become a technocratic domain and increasingly subject to harmonisation under the aegis of the ILO. Added protections can be viewed as trade barriers thus the ECJ can award the Commission the authority to order us to weaken our protections and feed our trade defences into the shredder

Whether or not the EU gives us added protections is neither here nor there. Brexit is about the repatriation of decision making over trade and social issues. It is a political statement that says our laws should be reflective of the values of the people, not the elites, and that the people should be able to usefully influence the laws they must live by. 

Though there are many grey areas and every trade deal cedes some sovereignty, the right to say no is fundamental to democracy, and while we remain in the EU that right is muted. Though the case may well have been made for economic liberalisation the consequences are felt most by those left behind. It is therefore a moral obligation that we are governed by consent and that the public are able to choose.

The Brexit debate, therefore, comes down to one estimation. Either you believe in the top-down imposition of law or whether you believe that law should be by the people for the people. You either believe in democracy or you don't. 

What the europhiles of the Guardian advocate is a Europe wide social order of their design according to their values from which the public are excluded, where popular movements have no influence. Benevolent in intent it may be but its effects are far from it. That Europe is more socially fragmented than ever and populist movements springing up all over comes as no surprise. This is what the EU calls a worrying resurgence of populism. It's not that. It's democracy making a comeback - and they hate it.

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