Disillusionment with the main political parties led 28% of the British people who bothered to vote in this week’s European Parliament elections to choose UKIP. Sadly, electing a bunch of casual bigots led by a city gent pretending to be “anti-establishment” is a futile gesture. UKIP offers an array of policies even more absurd than the ones the Daily Mail makes up and attributes to the EU. Is “making sure the Circle Line goes back to being a proper circle” really the answer to our problems?
UKIP’s only coherent proposal is to follow even more extreme market-fundamentalist policies than the ones that have got us in to so much trouble over recent years – with the added twist of withdrawing from the EU, a market on which much of our economy and millions of our jobs depend.
In practice, the vote for UKIP will achieve nothing beyond enabling their MEPs to gorge themselves on Belgian beer and chocolate at taxpayers’ expense. By their own admission, their only intention in Brussels is to paralyse the parliament, rather than work to produce positive improvements. They have nothing creative to offer beyond their expenses claims.
At first glance, UKIP’s success seems to represent a shameful failure by the main parties to expose their lies and dismantle their feeble arguments, as James O’Brien did on LBC last week. In fact, it is even worse than that. Rather than being duped, many voters are well aware of UKIP’s faults. But they are so frustrated, their desire to give the main parties a kicking took precedence.
In the aftermath of this car crash of an election, those main parties must now promote a positive agenda to get Europe working in the interests of its people. They cannot afford to fail again because the risk is that Britain will soon take the suicidal step of storming out of an organisation that, for all of its frustrations, serves its interests well. In practice, this burden falls on Labour, with the Tories having become UKIP-lite and the Liberal Democrats self-destructing by association.
Fortunately there are plenty of constructive ideas available. These include the excellent proposals for “A Different Europe” recently published by Compass, a campaign group and think tank.
The Compass paper recommends massive investment in renewable energy technologies, public transport, fuel technology and environmentally sustainable house-building to stimulate an economic recovery and create new jobs without destroying the planet. These industries also have huge export potential.
Compass proposes that this investment be paid for by a new round of “quantitative easing” by central banks – but this time designed to have a positive impact by creating jobs, rather than filling in the enormous black hole dug by the financial sector. Further funds could be found by scrapping wasteful agricultural subsidies, implementing a financial transactions tax and a collective EU-wide clampdown on corporate tax avoidance.
“A Different Europe” also advocates tackling the “race to the bottom” for ever lower wages for all but the top 10% of earners by instituting a minimum wage across Europe, set as an agreed percentage of each country’s average earnings. As well as ameliorating inequality, this would have the effect of reducing immigration by equalising living standards across the EU and diminishing the incentive to leave one’s home country in search of a better wage.
Work also has to be done to restore faith in the EU as an institution. One of the ways that this could be done is to open up the proceedings of the European Council, which is where national heads of government and ministers meet. This sounds obscure but is significant. The EU is being damaged by the perception that unpopular decisions are imposed by faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. Making these meetings public would show that much of what the EU does is actually the result of elected national politicians seeking cooperation in the common interest.
The EU is far from perfect. But it did play a big part in producing peace and prosperity in Britain and the rest of Europe for sixty years, in stark contrast to what went before. Destroying everything good that has been achieved since World War II, as advocated by UKIP and its fascism-flirting counterparts around the continent, would be a disaster. What the EU does need is an overhaul and a renewed focus on improving the lives of its everyday citizens. Pursuing positive ideas like the ones outlined above is the way to achieve that.
Paul is the Foreign Editor of Sabotage Times. Follow Paul on Twitter, @PaulKnott11.