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October 25, 2007

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Igor Belanov

You have to remember that Labour is only 'pro-Europe' in the sense that it believes coming out of the EU would do more harm than what it sees as the unpalatable process of incremental supranationalism that the EU represents. In most ways its European policy differs little from that of Thatcher. She was a great enthusiast for the Single European Act, while opposing almost everything else that the EEC did. Basically this is what the Labour government has done- talk up market reform and oppose any other measures.
Take into consideration also that amongst the elites there is at least a cautious acceptance of Europe and this is what 'New Labour' has sought to appease, as well as the tabloid-exacerbated xenophobia of sections of the public.
Labour's opposition to the EEC in 1983 was seen as an electoral liability because it went against what was regarded at that time as a vital national interest. That view is still prevalent now among important groups. Thus while New Labour would like to appeal to the xenophobes and is opposed to Euopean supranationalism in the institutional and social sense, it doesn't want to be 'left out' in Europe.

Matthew

Being pro the EU is not an electoral liability, surely? If it was the Tories would have ditched that long ago. All opinion polls shows a majority (of those expressing an opinion) remaining in favour of membership.

ejh

I think it's one of those odd things where the electorate don't actually want the politicans to agree with them - sort of like why Michael Howard did so badly at his election. A bit like the way football supporters demand changes in the line-up but would never respect a manager who actually went along with them....

Nick L

Blairites were genuinely pro-Europe because it goes hand in hand with all the talk of globalisation and being beyond left and right, beyond the national state, being beyond the balance of power etc. Boring old trade unions, nations and classes, they are in the past; the future is a shining world of supranational governance, dynamic enterprise and economic integration!

Blame Giddens, that's what I say.

ejh

Giddens, Giddens. I used to work, for a few weeks, in the warehouse of his distributors (the same warehouse where Norman Geras' Marx and Human Nature lay covered in more dust than I've ever seen on any book anywhere). All over the shop floor there were pallets and pallets carrying copies of Sociology, ready to be shipped out all over the world like the pods in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It was like working in Giddensworld. Even now, if I see a copy of Sociology (as I did this week, in my local library) all I can think of is pallets.

Bert

You're spot on, I think.
The key group in the 80s was the 'moderate' leadership of the trade union movement. There was a big-deal speech by Delors to the TUC conference in 1988 - it sealed the pro-EU commitment that Labour's had ever since.
Organised labour saw no prospect for anything good coming from Westminster via national politics. And there was a ready-made agenda waiting for them at reception in Brussels.
Whatever the subsequent disappointments of this route, the national debate is hardly much more favourable to pro-union labour legislation than it was in the late 80s.
Some, like the RMT, are now kicking against the pricks; most stick with the moderates' non-confrontational approach. But industrial conflicts take place within a European-regulated context that nobody questions.
Business (a key New Labour constituency) is pro-EU. It nudges the political class away from social Europe. The unions lobby in the other direction, and have developed relationships and alliances that encourage continued engagement. Meanwhile The Sun rallies working class europhobia around the flag - it's nationalist rather than class-based.
Bennite anti-europeanism, of the type that's so strong in France for example, is nowhere in Britain.

jamie

"Being pro the EU is not an electoral liability, surely?"

It always works for Labour because the subject doesn't come up without sections of the right immediately going nuts. It's as though somebody talked about airport expansion and half the Tory benches rose and demanded to know the "truth about area 51"

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