For me, the European Union is the most important experiment in human relations ever conducted, a principled effort to explore how diverse groups of people can best share a continent. It tests whether we can compete economically on fair terms without exploitation, whether we can agree international rules and then abide by them, and whether we can resolve inevitable conflicts of interest through negotiation, without resort to threats and violence. This experiment began after centuries of painful experience of what happens when we fail to follow those principles. So I was concerned when it appeared that our Prime Minister had decided that Britain must stand on the sidelines, while the rest of Europe works and learns together.
Now, I don’t pretend to know the significance of that decision for Britain nor how much it matters in terms of the continuance of the European Union and its currency, but I do worry about David Cameron’s motivation. This seems not to have been a matter of great principle or of serious practical importance, but rather a concession to those conservatives who’ve always been against our membership of the EU and make no effort to conceal their satisfaction that the experiment may be on the brink of failure. Worse still, the MPs applauding Cameron appear to be supported by a clear majority of the British public and will no doubt continue to be encouraged by the people who run our most influential newspapers. These are forces which ought not be appeased, but it would have needed a good deal of the ‘bulldog spirit’ to stand up to them.
I should like to see our Prime Minister promoting the principle that we’re all in this together, both at home and abroad, not giving in to vain hopes that we can protect our own interests at the expense of other people’s. The crises we face were not brought about by sincere efforts at co-operation between governments but by a dominant ideology that favoured competition and argued that markets must rule. Because that ideology has failed we’re entering a post-Capitalist phase without any clear sense of what sort of new economic and social order will emerge. I’m still hoping it can emerge through negotiation and compromise. Sadly, for the moment at least, Britain is choosing to stand aside from that essential process.