|I never saw myself disagreeing with the late Tony Benn, a man whose principles I deeply respect.|
As the European referendum approaches, both sides are ramping up their campaigns to persuade the British people in advance of June 23rd. Although I understand many of the pro-Brexit reservations, including opposition to unlimited immigration, I like many am generally in favour of unity: building bridges and working together for the greater good of a mankind without borders - not putting up walls to segregate, or keep out those we see as undesirable.
I was recently accused of being a "sensationalist" for saying the majority of those leading the Brexit campaign are some of the most odious, deeply oppressive and insidious people in our political sphere today, and provide more than enough reason for us to remain in. That may perhaps simplify a complicated debate, but I do believe the Brexit "clientele" speaks volumes.
However, today on Facebook, a friend named Marcello presented me with a conundrum. Marcello and I share a great deal of political sentiment, so I was surprised to see he'd posted a video encouraging Brexit - featuring a man whose ethics and beliefs I deeply respect. That man was the late Tony Benn.
Here is the video:
I believe when presented with a coherent pervasive argument that contradicts your own position, you must either bow to its reasoning, or argue laterally why you think it flawed. So I'll opt to attempt the latter.
In relation to the great man's comments, I think there are a few dimensions that need to be considered. I agree with his description of the EU as an "empire"; in fact I've philosophised for a long time that it's a modern day Roman Empire, albeit one conquered by trade deals and stock markets instead of testudo formations. It makes no difference to the conquered what nationality their conquerors are, or whose soldiers are slaughtering their families, a foreign emperor's or the local governor's. Violence is violence. In the same way, what does does the nationality of he/she who writes the laws really matter? Surely we should rather examine whether those laws are oppressive or fair and equitable, and judge whether we want them or not on that basis? I for one don't care if the laws come from Brussels if they're making the UK a better place.
This notion of empire-building only has such awful connotations because empires were historically forged by violence and oppression, at the point of a sword or bayonet. Long term though, ultimately the flip side to empirical conquest is that it's often advanced mankind as a species, and provided great progress and security for normal citizens. There is nothing to fear in a title alone, it's how that title is used. To be part of a greater union, much like a trade union, can affect better conditions for all within its fold. That's a principle I tend to agree with.
Britain faces a stark choice, as it has for the past century and more - to ally with its neighbours in Europe, or a superpower across the Atlantic. The difference is that now, unlike in the early 20th century, that superpower is now a completely corrupt entity. It's no longer "land of the free", it's a military industrial complex intent on global financial domination. What's more, that same superpower is in decline, and would be willing to do a deal with our neighbours and completely sideline us if it proved to their benefit. If a union or "empire" of financial ties and common markets can ensure peace in Europe where religions and colonial muscle-flexing failed for so many centuries, I really do consider it a small price to pay. So should we all. The younger generations of today may have never known a Europe at war, with death and destruction on the very door step, but my parents' and grandparents' generations certainly do.
If Britain abandons the EU, we will either be completed isolated (and most likely despised), or have no viable alternative but to jump into bed with the U.S, Russia, or China. We will be forced to do pretty much whatever it takes to guarantee good diplomatic ties with at least one (or perhaps all) of them: that's just "realpolitik". None of those powers seem to me to be any more "democratic" or "humane" than Europe, nor do they offer any geographical frontline defence to us in the UK either.
We have far more in common culturally with Europe - or we really should do, any way. I say that as someone who's spent a great deal of time in both Europe and the United States: I certainly know where I felt more comfortable, generally speaking. China and Russia are different cases entirely, and what worries me is our UK government have been bending over backwards to the Chinese for a while now, pursuing policies overtly detrimental to us but seemingly characteristic of "appeasement" to an aggressive superpower. It's almost like the UK is hedging its bets with regard to future alliances in a very uncertain world.
Even if we ignore wider geopolitical/financial repercussions of a Brexit, Tony Benn here talks about his love for "democracy". And the simple fact is, I doubt Tony Benn would EVER have predicted a British government would be as oppressive and dictatorial as to completely disregard any notions of democracy - certainly not in the way this Tory government have since 2015. The man sadly died in 2014 when Britain still lived under a coalition; he did not live to see the snake in the grass rear its head.
"In Britain you vote for a government and therefore the government has to listen to you, and if you don't like it, you can change it."
These are Tony Benn's exact words, and his fundamental reasoning why our politics were supposedly superior to Europe's. Except there's one colossally large fly in the ointment: that being that the post 2015 Tory government doesn't listen. At all. They simply change the rules, and make jibes and run smear campaigns if they're met with opposition. They're taking steps to silence any and all dissent, including the power of trade unions. They are quite literally re-drawing the political map and rigging the democratic process to ensure a continued grip on power for generations to come. They've sold out the UK's assets and democracy to corporate/capitalist interests to a much much MUCH greater extent than the very European neighbours we now consider disassociating with. It's a preposterous hypocrisy. We of all countries are considered the nation of shop-keepers/merchants and bankers, even pre-dating Napoleon and his famous indictment. (Damn those pesky French and their notions of "liberté".)
Major changes to the social and political landscape of the UK since 2010 demonstrate despite pretences otherwise, a UK government clearly does have the power to alter our society and allocate funds when/where they see fit. It's exactly because they've done so, that we also know they cannot in any way be trusted to protect the less fortunate in our society, or uphold the best interests of the British public. Not their privacy, their justice, their health or education services, or the average household's financial security. What in God's name makes the Tories more trustworthy than the EU commission? Even if you're deeply sceptical and believe both entities to be oppressive in nature, surely some counter-balance is a good thing? Better that the Tories are accountable to someone? (Look what was unleashed when they no longer had the Lib Dems to rein them in.)
The EU, for all its faults, is government to a far greater and contiguous body of people. There's many more bodies to demand their rights are observed. Many of our EU laws imposed in the UK have been for the equitable protection of citizens, including civil and consumer rights. Those big and notoriously exploitative corporations that supply our housing, our energy, water, our communications and food (eg: the type typically with a Tory on the board of directors), do you trust them? Because most of them have only been put in check by EU laws, not UK. We are the realm more under the whip of big business and money than any other in Europe, if not the world. I definitely wouldn't trust these Tories to observe any human and/or civil right above the lure of corporate profit - after all, it's profit that usually ends up in their pockets.
On the contrary, I fear they'll send us all back to the workhouses if given the chance.