“There’s too much uncertainty if we leave the EU.”
This is the battle-cry of the Remain campaigners.
It is clear that there is no certainty provided by remaining in the EU. The persistent threat of another Euro crisis and further bailouts threatens financial stability; the EU economic slump delivers 50% youth unemployment across southern Europe; the near election of Norbert Hofer in Austria and industrial unrest across France demonstrates the potential for political upheaval; the free movement of people is being undermined by the erection of borders across Europe; EU foreign policy has led to a disaster in Ukraine; the people of Greece continue to suffer; the Czechs are thinking of leaving and Serbia is thinking twice about joining. People all over Europe are voting for anti-EU parties because they see the EU as a contemptuous distant elite without a plan. The EU provides little in the way of stability and plenty of uncertainty.
Moreover, there is no sense among the peoples of Europe of being ‘European’. There are no pan-European trade unions, political parties, newspapers or TV channels. So when each crisis occurs, there is no pan-European discussion and no collective response. The EU’s answer to each problem is to centralise more power, to exert more direct control and to issue dictates from distant committee rooms.
If the EU is unable to provide certainty, why do the Remain campaigners argue for it?
Firstly, the experts. Organisations including the Bank of England, The Treasury, the CBI, the LSE and the OECD have applied their computer models to the matter. They have modelled uncertainty and it doesn’t look good. Interestingly, the economists doing the calculations use the same basic model. Their understanding of economic factors and how they inter-relate is common. Different results are produced because varying assumptions are fed in. Put simply, they apply their judgement. What is also common is their assumption the economy as largely outside of our control. Their pessimism stems from their assumption that Britain, unlike Switzerland, Norway, Iceland, the US and most other countries on earth will be unable to trade with other countries on mutually beneficial terms.
More importantly, the ‘experts’ all assume that we are unable to dramatically transform our economy. Let’s remember that, less than 200 years ago, the early Victorians built 6,000 miles of railway in 18 years and we are still living with much of the infrastructure that they built. In the 1970s we developed the fastest passenger train in the world and we still use it 40 years later. In collaboration with the French, we developed the fastest passenger jet and we haven’t replaced it. In two generations, whole populations have moved from rural poverty to relative wealth in towns and cities, including 600 million people in China. We have un-precedented computing power which is enabling diseases to be de-coded and cures found. We have more potential now than at any time in history. In the UK, big strategic investments in new industries – from robotic house-building, nanotechnology or biotechnology to exploiting the substantial oil and gas reserves through fracking – could foster a new industrial revolution. The economic ‘experts’ have failed to predict every economic shock from the ERM, the financial crash or the Euro crisis. If they were honest, they would tell us that there is little that is certain, in or out of the EU. More crucially, they are unable to forecast a transformative future. The economic experts fear ‘uncertainty’ because they are unable to see beyond what exists now.
Secondly, the Left. With a few notable exceptions, left-wing politicians and activists are campaigning for ‘certainty’. The claim is usually supported with a list of benefits bestowed and guaranteed by the EU. Each claim has little basis in fact. For example, maternity benefits in the UK are better than in every other EU country. Paid maternity leave is twice as generous in the UK than in Germany. Mobile roaming charges have been falling across Asia and Africa following initiatives by the International Telecoms Union (ITU) and local competition. The ITU has been frustrated that the EU has been so slow.
But the broader question is why do so many people on the left call for certainty? Historically, left-wing people have called for radical change, to transform the world and to challenge the existing social and economic order. Left-wing campaigners can rightly claim the credit for improving the lives of women and winning better working conditions, wages and benefits for workers. Why are they asking the EU to claim the credit and outsourcing the defence of these rights and improvements? The EU referendum campaign has demonstrated that most of the left has now lost all confidence in it’s own ability. By outsourcing authority to the committee rooms in Brussels, the left has shown that it no longer believes that it can win the arguments nor muster the strength to defend, let alone advance, the interests of working class people. Whichever way the vote goes on 23rd June, the left is now thoroughly compromised. It has sided with the argument against democratic control and it has outsourced its authority to a higher body, the EU.
“Voting for Brexit is a vote for Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. They will destroy the NHS / welfare system / workers rights and EU workers will be sent home”.
This line or argument is becoming increasingly common – a vote for Brexit will lead to a right-wing Tory government which will act with impunity. The left’s lack of self-belief is now palpable. Let’s put aside the fact that no-one has actually argued for any of these policies as part of the referendum campaign, no-one is standing on a policy manifesto. More importantly, if we regain democratic control from the EU, the left believes that it will fail to win any of the arguments on issues ranging from government spending to immigration. It fears its own weakness and seeks sanctuary by outsourcing whatever authority it has left to the EU.
If we leave the EU, decisions will need to be taken on the big issues: civil rights, trade deals, immigration policy, the economy. Politicians will need to win arguments. They will be forced to appeal to the public and build a base of support. This is the ‘uncertainty’ that most of the left fears most.
The future is uncertain. It can and should be nothing else. The question is how we mould it to our benefit. Our future will be determined by two things: how we choose to shape it and how we react to events. If we start to develop a clear understanding of what we believe in and a desire to act, the future can be what we want it to be. Events will create challenges and opportunities. Whether we benefit or suffer will be determined by our level of self-belief, clarity of thinking and collective purpose. A good starting point would be to embrace experimentation, adventure and discovery and treat the fear of ‘uncertainty’ with the contempt that it deserves.
Voting to leave the EU creates uncertainty. If we want to feel alive again .. bring it on.
© Andy Shaw, 3rd June 2016