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Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Labour and Tory EU attitude shifts

It’s hard not to find the idea that the EU could be moving in to the old Tory Smith Square HQ quite amusing, considering the decided shift against Europe in the party during the last thirty years.

The Tories moved in to number 32 Smith Square back in 1958 – the year after the EU was founded – before moving round the corner onto Millbank earlier this year. It was the time of Macmillan, the chap the Tories brought in to sort out the messy legacy of Churchill and Eden. Macmillan, the chap who first attempted to get Britain into the then EEC after Eden singularly failed to take any interest in the new alliance, and Churchill – despite being one of the prime instigators of the idea of European integration – deliberately ignored the new developments. Macmillan, the man who tasked Edward Heath with the job of buttering up our European cousins – a task Heath kept up with dogged determination for more than a decade until he finally managed to usher us in to the union in 1973.

It’s still quite bizarre to think that it used to be the Tories who were the party of Europe. But it was only with the onset of the rebate dispute from 1979 – with Maggie taking the then fair enough position that Britain was contributing too much to the EEC’s coffers – that the Tory love affair with Europe began to sour. Even then, the party remained largely keen on membership right up until the late 1980s (the EEC after all – and unlike the UN or USA – gave Britain its full, official support during the Falklands war), when Maggie set out her stall opposing further integration. It’s been downhill ever since, the Tories seemingly having given up any hope of the EEC/EU returning to the relatively simple customs and trading union they always wanted it to be.

Labour, meanwhile, though now painted as rabidly pro-European by the majority of anti-EU types, were constantly opposed to membership throughout the first 25 years or more of the EEC’s existence – campaigning for a “no” vote in the 1975 referendum, for Britain to leave during the 1983 general election, and for the rejection of Maastricht in 1992.

The Tories’ shift to opposition to the EU is, for me, entirely understandable. Its seemingly ever-expanding powers and swelling budget, not to mention the various aspects of the EU which have stifled free trade over the years, have increasingly begun to make it look like everything conservatives dislike – big, protectionist government.

But why have Labour shifted towards supporting the EU, having been so massively opposed to it for so many years? The rest of the radical policy changes the party’s gone through during the last twenty years make perfect sense – they’ve increased Labour’s electoral viability. But support for the EU is – rightly or wrongly – an electoral liability in the UK.

If you take the usual line that the shift from old to New Labour was designed to bring the party closer in line with the thinking of the country at large, jettisoning unpolpular socialist rhetoric in the process, how to explain the shift to favouring the EU, when the EU is supposedly so unpopular with the public? It’s something I’ve never quite understood.

14 Comments

  1. Part of the reason for the switch is that it is easier to bitch about things from the outside, but when in power, the reality of the ACTUAL situtation requires a rethink.

    The big change is that Labour have gone from being an ideological party (with nutty lefties) to a pragmatic one, while the Tories have gone from being a pragmatic party to an ideological one (with nutty righties).

    If the Tories got in, the danger is that they would be far to willing to cut the UKs nose off to spite its face….doing real and long term damage to our economy and relations with the rest of Europe.

  2. Small anorak incident: now, now, Nosemonkey, I’m sure you are fully aware of the fact that the Treaty of Rome, or rather Treaties of Rome, was signed in 1957, but came into force on the 1 January 1958. Consequently, the EEC came into being on that date. And that’s why my Institute is having its major conference to mark the anniversary on 19 January 2008… And, of course, as you well know the European Union came into being in November 1993, when the Treaty of Maastricht entered into force…

  3. If you take the usual line that the shift from old to New Labour was designed to bring the party closer in line with the thinking of the country at large, jettisoning unpolpular socialist rhetoric in the process, how to explain the shift to favouring the EU

    Actually large swathes of the New Labour programme are enormously unpopular – NHS privatisation, PFI in education, GM crops and nuclear power would struggle to get 51% in a plebiscite (not to mention Iraq). If you think in terms of bringing the party closer in line with the thinking of the BBC, the press and the civil service it might not seem like such a contradiction.

  4. The reason for both parties original opposition to membership was because of its supranational nature. There was no way either party would give up decision-making to such a body.

    Labour’s love affair with the EU began in the 1980s when they feared they would never return to power. They heard Thatcher talking about ‘socialism through the backdoor’ and figured that was better than no socialism at all.

    The tories are not anti-EU, but they know the majority of their voters are, so they throw a few bones their way.

    “the Tories seemingly having given up any hope of the EEC/EU returning to the relatively simple customs and trading union they always wanted it to be.”

    Please go and do some research. You can start with the Treaty of Rome, and you can see the papers on Heath’s discussions with Pompidou, now declassified. It was never a simple customs and trading union. Economic measures have been used to further political integration. Do you honestly think that Jean Monnet wanted merely a trading union?

  5. Was Jean Monnet a Tory? You learn something new every day…

  6. No, he’s the god at whose altar you worship

  7. Oh, do grow up…

  8. You can give it out, but you can’t take it.

  9. *sigh*

    Do you have anything actually constructive to add, or does it all revolve around ridiculous conspiracy theories and vague, unfounded and unsubstantiated assertions?

    I’ve spent the best part of the last three days trying to have a rational debate with you, yet you’re still falling back on the same old nonsense and still seem to think I’m some stereotypical rabid europhile, which I’m quite blatantly not. It’s got highly tedious. Be constructive or don’t bother, there’s a good chap…

  10. “Was Jean Monnet a Tory?” (snicker snicker)

    That’s constructive is it? Ignoring the other points I make?

    Tell you what, I won’t bother. I’ll leave you to debate with those that share your views.

  11. And I suppose the ridiculous conspiracy theory that Labour have a grand plan to force socialism on the UK via the EU was constructive? The attempt to conflate Edward Heath’s notoriously, unusually europhile views with those of the Conservative party as a whole?

    Come off it. It was looking promising for a while, and I was enjoying the debate, but if you’re still going to resort to cliche and write off anything I say as being the usual europhile nonsense what’s the point, eh?

  12. Nosemonkey,
    You are right, the common market was an idea launched by J H Beyen,then Dutch foreign minister, to relaunch the process of European integration which had been stopped by the Franch National Assembly’s refusal to endorse the Pleven plan for a European defence community.
    An unknown little bit of trivia: when Heath was negociating Britain’s entry in 1962, he wanted so many exemptions from the EEC’s tariff that some Community negociators quipped that his motto was “Dieu et mon droit nul”…

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