Over the last few weeks Nigel Farage has done everything short of endorsing Jeremy Corbyn as labour’s next leader. This may seem strange until you hear of Corbyn’s euroskeptic views. Farage and UKIP are to some degree chafing at the bit. Regardless of what Cameron comes back with from the EU, even if France agrees to call itself something with the word smelly or frog in it, UKIP will still campaign for a no vote.
But the problem for UKIP is that they know that Farage and his dog whistle politics act is popular with some, but very unpopular with the majority. So UKIP have been trying to come up with someone else to lead any no campaign. The problem for UKIP is that given that the EU is a club run largely by centre right governments its very difficult to come up with convincing right-wing arguments against the EU. Most of their attempts to do so generally don’t add up, as I’ve discussed before.
For example, the idea that Europe makes lots of laws. Well the proportion of UK law coming from Brussels is closer to 7% (not 70%) and most of those relate to what constitutes as a round cheese and creating safety standards to make sure household electronics don’t kill people. Quite obviously, someone will still need to pass such laws post-Brexit (unless you think shops should be allowed sell dangerous electrical goods to children?). But as the UK will want to trade with the EU (and the US and other trading blocks) presumably it will need to make sure its trading standards match those in Europe. So all leaving will do is mean that the French can insist on re-branding Cheddar as de fromage rôti boeuf and the Brits will have no veto over that.
The only anti-EU arguments that UKIP have come up with that seems to resonate with some section of the public all relate to immigration. But this is more of a national socialist argument than a traditional right-wing one. And furthermore the bulk of what migrants are blamed for doesn’t tally with reality. And also the majority of recent migration to the UK has come from Asia (notably former UK colonies, in particular Pakistan and India), so its not really accurate to blame the EU for such migration.
By contrast, historically the bulk of opposition to EU membership has traditionally come from the far left. Recall that in the last EU referendum the no vote was led by Tony Benn and it was Margaret Thatcher campaigning for a yes vote. The left wing are skepticial of the EU largely because they see it as pressing a neo-liberal agenda. Issues such as TIPP’S and recent events in Greece demonstrate what worries them about the EU.
However that said, I’d argue that anyone in the labour party campaigning for a no vote is arguing that we should throw the baby out with the bath water. As with everything EU you have to take the good with the bad. The EU has done a lot to benefit the UK’s workers….quite apart from the obvious (increased trade meaning they still have jobs!), most notably that very health and safety legislation that has the Daily Mail throwing tantrums.
When I was a lad, and that wasn’t that long ago, it was quite normal within the small(ish) town of Cork where I grew up, for a couple of builders to die every year. It was a given throughout Europe that any major building project would involve a couple of builders dying and that was that. The EU has gone along way to changing that and making work places safer. And vehicle safety has improved significantly thanks to the EU, with road deaths declining at a time vehicle numbers are rising. It is very difficult to envisage any individual European government achieving any of this, given that they would have had to take on several very powerful lobby groups to do so.
And then there’s issues such as climate change, third world poverty, banning of land mines and WMD’s, the international criminal court, etc. Again its doubtful that any progress would have been made on any of these issues without the EU. Any individual government or campaign group would have faced massive opposition to such policies from the US, Russia, China and corporations. The reality is that if you are even vaguely left wing, the priority should be to stay in the EU and seek to reform it. Withdrawing would likely have the opposite effect intended.
But is there still the chance of us seeing Corbyn and Farage on the same platform campaigning for Brexit? Probably not. I’d argue that Farage and UKIP’s position is one build on retoric and outright lies, which if anything serves to create a compelling case for staying in the EU. They fact they are looking for someone else to lead the no campaign kind of proves their irrelevance to what is their core political issue. Its the equivalent of the SNP subcontracting out the yes vote in last year’s referendum to groundskeeper Willie.
And if Corbyn was to campaign against the EU, as leader or otherwise, he would likely be signing his party’s death warrant. There is simply no way the majority of the party (or ironically the unions backing him right now) could go along with that. The party would likely see mass defections to the lib dems, greens, SNP or even conservatives. The party might even split down the middle. Keir Hardie would be rolling in his grave at such a thing.