The Europe the CBI wants to see is very different from the Europe the social democratic left wants.
Marko Atilla Hoare wrote a great piece for Left Foot Forward last week on the fact that it is increasingly difficult to pigeon-hole political positions on the basis of straightforward definitions of Left and Right.
Touching on the issues of military intervention and immigration, Marko demonstrated that there is a much greater convergence – and even a switching of traditional positions – than people recognise on many issues outside of economics.
As Marko put it on intervention:
“In Britain, old-guard Bennite leftists consider it axiomatic that to be left-wing is to oppose Western military intervention. Yet it was Tony Blair’s Labour government that pioneered liberal interventionism via Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Afghanistan and Iraq, while much of the conservative right has reacted against the idea of risking British soldiers’ lives to help foreigners.”
And on immigration:
“Hostility to immigration and Islam are the principal purposes of radical right-wingers in Western Europe today. Yet they employ the language of class to oppose immigration, and portray metropolitan elite prepared to sacrifice the culture and living standards of the white working-class in order to have more cheap baby-sitters and exotic restaurants.”
The question of Europe – or more specifically the EU – is another issue that is often confusingly viewed through the prism of Left and Right. If you are on the Left you are supposed to be pro-EU; if you are on the Right you are supposed to be anti EU.
As some of the sounds on Europe coming out of today’s CBI conference demonstrate, however, not only is this an overly simplistic way of viewing politics, but it also completely neglects the rise of the free-market – or libertarian – Right.
Due to the fact that UKIP has made recent electoral gains, the Right in British politics is currently most commonly defined by, among other things, hostility toward immigration and the European Union.
UKIP certainly sum up the reactionary Right; Nigel Farage’s party appears to wish, in William F. Buckley’s phrase, to stand athwart history yelling ‘stop’.
However myopia about the reactionary Right makes it easy to miss a trick: the liberal, free-market Right are the greater long-term electoral threat to the Left – partly because their ideas on issues like gay marriage, Europe and immigration sound a lot like our own.
Let’s look at Europe for the moment, though.
According to chief policy director at the CBI Katja Hall, who has written a piece for Labour List today, eight out of 10 CBI members would vote to stay in the EU if there was a referendum.
“For British business, large and small, the response to this is unequivocal: we should remain in a reformed EU,” Hall writes.
What’s not to like about that? I hear you ask.
And yet the Europe the CBI wants to see is very different from the Europe the Left wants. Very different indeed.
The CBI may sound ‘progressive’ when it says that “it is overwhelmingly in our national interest to stay in the EU”, but this is the same CBI which opposed the introduction of the minimum wage in Britain and has since gone on to oppose a number of the increases in the MW – despite the fact that the MW has fallen significantly behind the cost of living in London.
It is the same CBI that believes zero-hour contracts have a “vital role” to play in a “flexible economy” and which regularly files off press releases calling on the government to slash European ‘red tape’ (for ‘red tape’ see workers’ rights). The organisation was also at the forefront of the campaign for Britain’s opt-out clause in the European Time Directive, meaning that British workers work the third longest hours in Europe (male workers work the longest hours).
It probably doesn’t hurt the social democratic case for Europe to have people from the ‘other side’ singing the praises of the EU. But it would be rather short-sighted to forget that the Europe the CBI wants to see is radically at odds with the type of European Union the democratic left wants to see. A superficial convergence of Right and Left doesn’t necessarily mean that both sides are coming from the same place, nor that they have the interests of the same people in mind.
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