The Tories and Europe: a moral reckoning

We cannot rely on Obama to shame Cameron over Europe

Jonathan Freedland is right to call the media out in his column today on their shameful silence over the Conservatives' sinister European alliance. The mainstream media, most notably the BBC, have consistently failed to scrutinise Michal Kaminski's disturbing political record. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that journalists are putting their Tory sources before their ethical responsibilities.

As he writes:

[W]here is the outrage? Where is the revulsion at David Cameron becoming partners with men who cheer those who fought for Hitler and against Churchill? The Guardian, the Observer, the New Statesman and now the Jewish Chronicle have been shining a light in this dark corner, but from the rest of the media there has been little more than silence.

Despite the attempts of Kaminski's apologists, including Iain Dale and Stephen Pollard, to present the head of the Tories' Eurosceptic group as a moderate Atlanticist, it is clear he is nothing of the sort. This is a man who first denied and then admitted to wearing the Chrobry Sword, a notorious fascist symbol. This is a man who still defends his past membership of the far-right National Revival of Poland. This is a man who not only believes his country should not have apologised for a 1941 massacre of at least 300 Jews but suggests that Jewish involvement with the Communist Party is morally equivalent to this crime.

That the Obama administration should be troubled by this state of affairs is no surprise. Obama is the most pro-European US president for decades and, like his predecessors, wants to deal with a Europe that is united and strong. So the question remains, why has Cameron taken this bizarre risk?

It's important to remember that Cameron's pledge to withdraw from the European People's Party was first and foremost a political move, designed to outflank his right-wing leadership rival Liam Fox. But beyond this, his Eurosceptic alliance reflects the revival of the debased realist belief that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend".

Just as Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were prepared to support General Pinochet and the Contras as bulwarks against communism, so Conservatives today are willing to align themselves with the far right in opposition to a united Europe.

The US is clearly troubled by the geopolitical implications of Cameron's decision, but there is unlikely to be a moral reckoning. In any case, it is not one we should outsource to the Obama administration. As a political issue Europe has never detained either the electorate or the media for long. In response, the Conservatives believe they can masquerade as progressives at home while supporting reactionaries abroad.

The challenge for all Europeans is to destroy this moral complacency -- and soon.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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After the leadership battle, immigration is Labour's new dividing line

Some MPs are making a progressive case for freedom of movement controls. 

After three brutal months of infighting, culminating in another sweeping victory for Jeremy Corbyn, the buzzword at the Labour party conference is unity. But while Corbyn’s opponents may have resigned themselves at least temporarily to their leader, a new fissure is opening up.

Considering it was sparked by Brexit, the Labour leadership contest included surprisingly little debate about freedom of movement. In the immediate aftermath of the EU referendum, Corbyn declared he was “not afraid to talk about immigration”.  Owen Smith, his rival, referred to the “progressive case against freedom of movement”. But ultimately, the contest embodied a clash between the will of the membership and the parliamentary Labour party. 

Now, though, the question can no longer be dodged. What position should Labour take on freedom of movement? And is it time for a fundamental shift on immigration?

Labour’s 2015 pledge to “control immigration” was widely derided by its own party activists – not least when it appeared on a gift shop mug. Apart from making a rather authoritarian present, one of the flaws in this promise was, at the time, that the only way of really controlling immigration would be to leave the EU. 

But an increasingly vocal group of MPs are arguing that everything has changed. Heavyweights from the Miliband era are now, from the back benches, trying to define limits to freedom of movement and immigration. Chief among them are Rachel Reeves and Chuka Umunna. 

Reeves makes her case from an economic perspective. She argues that freedom of movement from the EU has depressed wages (the cause and effect is disputed). At a Resolution Foundation event during Labour conference, she recalled visiting a factory in her constituency where workers complained the jobs went to foreigners. 

Umunna, on the other hand, argues unease with immigration has a cultural element as well. He has said that immigrants need to stop leading “parallel lives”. At the Resolution event, he declared of Brexit: “This isn’t all about economic equality – it is about identity politics.” Umunna's tough talk on integration may coincide with his bid to chair the Home Office select committee, but his observations about the underlying distrust of immigrants rings true. 

How Labour copes with freedom of movement depends on which view prevails. It is possible to imagine the party coming up with an answer to the freedom of movement question that involves Corbynite economic themes, such as protecting wages, labour rights and restrictions on agency recruitment. Lisa Nandy, another speaker at the Resolution event, rallied the audience with a story of workers on low wages standing “in solidarity side by side” with migrant workers. It would be a distinctly left-wing argument that critiques the Government’s tolerance of zero-hours contracts and other precarious employment practices. 

But if, as Umunna suggests, Brexit is also an articulation of a deeper anti-immigrant feeling, Labour is entering more dangerous territory. On a tactical level, it is hard to see how the party can beat the May Government when it comes to social conservatism. It undermines any attempt to broker a "soft Brexit", which many of Labour's members, who voted Remain, will want. 

And then there's the prospect of the party most closely associated with ethnic minorities condoning xenophobia. Labour activists point out that some of the Brexit backlash is plain old racism. Speaking at a Momentum rally during the leadership contest, Diane Abbott, the shadow health secretary and one of Corbyn’s closest allies, declared: "Anyone who tells you maybe you have to do something about these Eastern Europeans, it's not about skin colour, what we've seen since the Brexit vote gives lie to that. 

“If you give ground to anti-immigrant politics, it will sweep away all of us. And we cannot give ground to that stuff. You cannot as a Labour movement take a position that one part of the working class is a problem of another section of the working class."

More pragmatic MPs too, still remember the ill-fated immigration mug. They see the new “tough on immigration” line as an uneasy alliance between working-class MPs on the Labour right, and a group of middle-class metropolitans who have spotted a gap in the market and jumped on it. Should this second attempt, Labour MPs will have achieved nothing except alienating their activist base. 

Ultimately, the initiative lies with Corbyn. If he can set out a radical agenda for protecting workers’ rights, he may be able to bring the party with him. But if this fails to shift opinion polls, immigration could be the next issue to disunite the party.