Let the gormlessness begin. After horrifying his own party – and the rest of the country besides – over his utterly moronic refusal to sing the national anthem at the Battle of Britain memorial ceremony (of all the things I thought everyone might agree on, brave resistance to Hitler would be it), new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn found himself in his first serious spot of bother. Deciding to throw a bone to the incensed, sane wing of his party, in the person of shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, Corbyn made it clear that, despite his murmurings to the contrary during the leadership contest, he would tow the majority Labour line over Europe. He and the party would doubtless campaign to keep Britain in the EU, whatever reform terms Prime Minister Cameron might cobble together.
Why would Corbyn think otherwise in the first place? Left-wing euroscepticism is a curious beast; but then Corbyn is a curious man. From the Labour leader’s unreconstructed socialist point of view, Europe is a menace. Here, he oddly finds himself at one with right-wing eurosceptics, but then their paths quickly diverge. For Corbyn and left-wing eurosceptisicm’s fear is that the EU has neglected its social (meaning socialist) component in favour of becoming what he likes to call “market Europe”. In other words, Corbyn is afraid that Europe won’t let the UK be socialist enough, once he ascends to power (shudder).
This view is diametrically opposed to the standard Labour narrative, which has the EU riding to the rescue, undoing the hated tenets of Thatcherism that have so permeated British life, and remaking the UK as just another, nice, inoffensive, social democratic European country. In essence, Corbyn is worried Europe won’t let Britain be socialist enough, while pro-Europeans think that the EU will let the country become socialist by the back door. Both entirely miss the point; in the end it’s being socialist that’s daft.
Let’s look objectively at the record over the past few decades of the corporatist, social market economy of Europe. It is the only region of the world that has not been growing. Even during its current “upswing” – wherein the EU is set to grow at its fastest pace since 2011 – its predicted GDP increase this year is only an anaemic 1.4 per cent, which doesn’t pass the laugh test. The euro crisis – which has evolved into a political crisis between the bloc’s northern and southern countries – is wholly unresolved. And despite a good start by Germany, the current refugee crisis, which is fast morphing into a political crisis between the bloc’s western and eastern countries, looks well on its way to becoming endemic.
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If we dispassionately look at the place analytically, Europe is unravelling before our very eyes. It has no control of its borders or any sort of coherent immigration policy, its currency is in perpetual peril, it has no collective army, nor does it possess a shred of political unity. If ever I saw an emperor not wearing any clothes in my years in political risk, Europe is it.
So both mainstream Labour hopes and fears about Europe are wrong. It doesn’t possess the political heft to somehow sneakily compel Britain to become social democratic. But then again, nor is it characterised by the free market ethos that makes Corbyn weep at night. Instead, it is the sick man of the world. And that is why, ultimately, Britain should get out. In reality, the country can thrive far better globally, diplomatically, economically, and geopolitically shorn of this ball and chain, in closer alliance with the swiftly recovering US, and the rising powers of the world, such as India.
But as ever in geopolitics, the answer lies in the mirror. Labour is right about one thing. Life outside the EU would be pretty isolated, but only if you have a Corbyn in charge, destroying the British economy, ruining the country’s overall strategic position, and corroding its strengths. A Britain confidently led, with strong free market principles, will not find itself off any other great power’s dance card, should the country choose to leave.
For in the end, Europe is only shorthand for the larger existential pickle Britain – for all that its citizens healthily hate such amorphous questions – finds itself in. Resolving the Europe question does not remove the necessity to tackle the more fundamental questions of where Britain wishes to go in the new multipolar era, what sort of country it wishes to be, and how it wishes to be governed. Despite Corbyn, despite even Europe, these are the questions that matter.