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Will Parliament turn on the people?

We fought long and hard for a democracy we could fully participate in – only to have the Tories devolve the nation’s economic soverignty to the EU. Brexit puts us back on track, but that too is facing a subversion of democracy, writes DOUG NICHOLLS

THE last thing on the mind of a generation of politicians who grew up imagining the neoliberal agenda to be the norm was our history.

It is no surprise then to find so many of them in Parliament rejecting that history and allowing a new authoritarianism to emerge in which Parliament dictates to the people.

The civil war was waged in the 17th century to place property and landowners in charge of the House of Commons and not the king. A step forwards.

As industry rose manufacturers wanted a say in Parliament and slowly but surely the rotten boroughs and power of the landed aristocracy were replaced. Another step forwards.

Importantly, as trade union democracy developed, so the demand for political representation and the universal franchise took hold.
The demand for full voting rights for women led to some of the bravest and most influential acts of sacrifice in our history. Further steps forward.

As young people increasingly came to centre stage in our unions, culture and consciousness, so the demand for votes for everyone over 17 began.

From the first presentations of the Charter in 1832, to votes at 18 in 1969, our predecessors fought to make Parliament reflect our views and respond to our needs as a nation.

But no sooner had the franchise been fully extended to all adults, than the Tories were hatching the plot to take us into what was clearly planned as a European super-state. This would be impervious to the democratic demands of nations. Our newly won voice was being silenced.

Socialists opposed the move and the Labour Party, even as late as 1983, called for withdrawal from the EC in its manifesto.

The Tories loved the move into the EU and this led to their first catastrophic act of national betrayal in 1979 when Thatcher pioneered the key neoliberal act of removing exchange controls on the flow of capital. Our wealth drained away into the global finance casino.

So began the globalisation agenda that glorified the freedom to move capital, labour, goods and services and replaced national democracy.

To say that the deindustrialisation, denationalisations, deregulation and privatisations and pulling apart of our social fabric since 1976 were the result of the nasty Tories alone and nothing to do with our EU membership is just plain wrong.

Thatcher destroyed the industrial economy to make us a dependant nation and Tony Blair gave up our public services and political independence.

A series of major EU treaties from Maastricht, which introduced austerity, the Single European Act, which brought us mass unemployment and limits on state aid, to the Lisbon Treaty which installed the unelected in charge of our affairs, were all introduced without a referendum.

Along the way some even tried to get Britain into the disastrous, now collapsing, eurozone. This was stopped both by active campaigning and the relatively recent memory of the collapse of Exchange Rate Mechanism in 1992.

With this background it is hardly surprising that Parliament, when faced eventually in 2016 with its biggest ever mandate, has fused.

While 64 per cent of parliamentary constituencies voted to leave the EU, about 74 per cent of MPs voted to remain. To their credit, many Remain voting MPs have recognised they must follow the majority voice nationally and in their constituencies.

But some MPs have, it seems, set about frustrating the will of the people in a new and worrying way.

Forget the rabid right on the streets, Parliament could seek to rule directly over us on behalf of the EU. A bid for unelected power is in effect being made. In a cruel irony, it is seeking to put those we don’t elect in charge in the name of parliamentary sovereignty.
The most bizarre paradoxes some of us have ever experienced are taking place.

The Parliament our predecessors in the movement fought and died to democratise is in danger of rejecting our strongest-ever demand on it. So-called nationalist parties want to break a national majority vote bigger than that which brought their assemblies into being.

A Green MP conjures up the virtues of cross-continent, just-in-time production, the goods equivalent of zero-hours contracts, one of the most environmentally unfriendly things there is, to warn of the calamity for big business. Scaring us all about chlorinated chicken, some MPs conveniently forget that British animal welfare, food safety and veterinary practices are superior to the EU’s.

Then there is Ireland. Sinn Fein wants Brussels to rule Dublin and Belfast. The DUP has less ambitious objectives and just wants Westminster to run Belfast, which it is now having to do because the DUP and Sinn Fein can’t form a governing body to run things in the north.

If no country on these two islands had been in the EU, then customs and trading border issues would have been sorted out amicably long ago to the benefit of our mutual production and trade.

To justify the great wisdom of MPs, various versions of the stupidity of the people have been played out by the patricians. First we heard Leave voters in the main didn’t have university degrees. Then we heard that most of them were racist, then that they were misled by buffoons, then that they were so frustrated by being left behind and ignored by the elite they rebelled in mindless frustration and anguish.

We now have a new variation. It is said that there are new facts about the EU emerging and it is so terribly difficult to leave the EU and manage trade agreements. The fact nearly 90 per cent of our economic activity is not with the EU, being either focused on our own domestic circulation or trading with non-EU economies, is conveniently forgotten. And besides, from our point of view, we want a new set of arrangements for fair trade with the world.

New facts about the EU have emerged since 2016. It has got worse. It has adopted the Pesco military arrangements and set about building an EU army.

It has helped sell off the national assets of Greece. It has stopped governments like Italy from passing anti-austerity budgets. It has aided and abetted the most severe attacks on workers’ rights and collective agreements. It has tried unsuccessfully to get Switzerland to adopt uncontrolled free movement of labour across its borders. It has lurched to the right politically. And it still can’t clear up its massive internal frauds and scandals, or get its own budget audited.

Significantly, its engine rooms in Germany and France are running out of steam — and their workers aren’t happy. This means the euro is collapsing. Unemployment in the EU still stands at 8 per cent and that includes 3.5 million young people and a nearly 20 per cent general unemployment rate in Greece and 15 per cent in Spain.

For those of us in the trade union movement who are internationalists and democrats these are disturbing times.

Above all, in still hoping for a better future for our grandchildren, we find ourselves having to defend more strongly the struggles of our grandparents to win the right to vote. A new deal for workers and their unions and employment law will also be needed because Jacques Delors didn’t quite save us from the onslaught we faced.

We voted by majority to leave the EU. We voted by a bigger majority in a general election for two parties committed to implement this and they then voted to make it happen by triggering Article 50.

Denying these votes would undermine democracy and thereby our nation.


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