The EU referendum from a low-impact perspective

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Posted Mar 13 2016 by Dave Darby of

We’ve got a referendum coming up in June that Cameron didn’t want, but was forced to promise at a time when it looked as though votes lost to UKIP might have cost him the election. His arguments now are largely based on the number of jobs that could be lost if we leave. But what kind of jobs?

I listened to a debate on EU membership on ‘Any Questions’ on Radio 4 on Friday evening, broadcast from Spalding in Lincolnshire – it was like listening to people arguing about where to put the deckchairs on the Titanic. Global ecology or democracy weren’t mentioned, but there were lots of bogus arguments about jobs from dodgy politicians and businessmen.

The jobs they were talking about were mainly backbreaking, exploitative migrant agricultural workers’ jobs; and the audience in Lincolnshire clearly didn’t want them over here. But the thing is, they don’t want to be here either. They don’t come for the weather, or the culture – they’re desperate. It’s not the kind of world we should be encouraging. And the type of jobs Cameron is talking about for British people are those geared towards exports or in the financial sector.

From a low-impact perspective, gearing our economy towards exports is a bad idea. A low-impact economy would be based on small businesses providing goods and services for their local communities, not for communities in other countries. This kind of system would provide far more jobs – and more interesting jobs too. Large-scale agriculture and corporate supermarkets destroy more jobs than they create – see here; plus it’s damaging to small farms in Eastern Europe – see here. Large machines, pesticides, huge fields, monoculture, cheap labour – that’s no way to farm. It’s bad for people, for communities and for the environment.

Britain has lush farmland, perfect for fruit and veg in the west, cereals in the east, sheep, cattle and trees on the hills, and surrounded by seas teeming with fish. and yet we don’t produce much more than half of our own food. We find ourselves in the crazy situation of selling as many tonnes of spuds to Germany as we buy from Germany – but it’s all good because it makes those all-important export figures look better.

As for the financial sector – let’s wind it down, and let’s enourage the people in it to do useful work instead. It’s a cancer, destroying real wealth for most people, sucking money from taxpayers, enriching the worst kinds of people, strengthening the corporate sector at the expense of small businesses and destroying the environment.

One member of the ‘Any Questions’ panel (owner of a multi-million pound food import and export business) complained that British people don’t want to get up at 4 in the morning. Well, neither do the Poles – but they’re desperate, which is why they have to. It’s rich hearing that people are lazy from someone who owns rather than works – who gets wealthy from the work of other people. People work hard if they have their own business or smallholding, but doing that in the face of competition from the corporate sector and large-scale agribusiness is becoming more and more difficult. Let’s base the agricultural economy on smallholdings producing for local markets, and let’s stop focusing on exporting food when we don’t produce enough for ourselves.

People in Spalding said that they don’t like the fact that they hardly hear English spoken in their town any more, and I understand that. But trying to stop immigration isn’t going to work if we don’t question the corporate system, that destroys small farms in Poland so that labourers have to come here to work in terrible conditions away from their families. Let’s help migrant workers (as well as British people) to have smallholdings and small businesses in their own countries.

Back to the EU: taxpayers are currently stumping up £13bn per year for another layer of corporate insitutions. We have a corporate-dominated national government and now we also have a corporate-dominated EU. It’s a ‘rock and a hard place’ situation, that will only ever be resolved by replacing this whole rotten corporate capitalist system.

But would it be easier to challenge capitalism from within the EU or from outside? The Greens want to stay in, because EU environmental legislation is better than our national legislation. But the legislation is only necessary in the first place because our growth, investment and export-oriented system damages the environment. And in the end, the EU exists to promote that system – to encourage growth and make it easier for export-oriented industry and agriculture to thrive.

Also, any directives ‘protecting’ habitats or species are ultimately greenwash in a global economy primed to grow forever. Manufacturing has been exported to China et al, and any vague protection we have over here is dwarfed by the enormity of the ecological damage being wreaked over there. This scene isn’t unusual for Chinese rivers:


It’s much easier to keep beaches clean over here (for example) when we don’t have any manufacturing. But having said that, even in Europe, extinctions are happening at a rapid pace, and even if not extinct, wildlife numbers are shrinking rapidly. Globally though, it’s apocalyptic.

And as I understand it, if Jeremy Corbyn wins the next election, he would be unable to re-nationalise any parts of the economy that have been privatised since the 80s (I’m not commenting on whether that would be a good thing or not – I’m just using it as an example), without the unanimous support all EU countries – and that’s not going to happen. It’s locked in. The only exception is the railways, but there’s a bill going through the EU at the moment that will lock them in too. TTIP would be the same – locked in, and there would be nothing that a radical government elected anywhere in the EU could do about it.

On the positive side, European history is a catalogue of mutual butchery. It’s difficult to imagine that continuing within an ever-closer EU, in the same way that it’s impossible to imagine Kansas declaring war on Colorado. I don’t know if Europe is the world’s most violent continent, historically, although it would take some beating. But since 1945, wars in Europe have been few, and within countries, rather than between them – apart from recent shenanigans in the ex-Soviet Union.

Ultimately, I’d like to see a united Europe, but not united under a corporate-dominated institution. That would be very difficult at the moment, living as we do in a corporate-dominated world. Maybe the coming together of countries that have shed the corporate yoke will be possible at some point in the future. But for that to happen would seem to require the break-up of the EU as a precondition.