Thursday, August 23, 2007

Coming back for the silverware

The nerve. It's as if you've just ejected a set of burglars from your house, only to find them trying to sneak in through the kitchen window. You may remember that French voters delivered a huge blow to the EU Constitutional Treaty a couple of years ago. This was a tremendous victory for the left, because the proposed treaty embraced several regressive demands made by employers organisations, sought to undermine public services since they 'distort' the market, and locked signatories into building up military capacities in support of NATO (all the better to occupy Afghanistan for another fifty years).

Europe's political classes promised they would return, and so they have. In a way, it is Blair's parting shot to a country that has grown to hate him. The rulers of Europe have decided, after much consideration, that going to impose the Treaty in all its essentials without a referendum, by diktat. Last night, a batch of politicians including the dim-eyed Jim Murphy MP explained to viewers of Channel 4 News the logic behind this latest move. Essentially, they recited, having ditched the constitutional issue, they can now impose the same programme of reforms without bothering to consult the electorate. And after all, they didn't hold referendums on other EU measures such as the Maastricht Treaty. This bizarre argument boils down to saying that we haven't been democratic before, so why start now?

Brown simply stated, with typical arrogance, that there was no need for a referendum and he was certain that parliament would pass the bill - which, of course, it probably will given the number of seats Labour has. However, it could turn very bad for Brown, because 82% of British voters, including 80% of Labour voters, would in fact like to be consulted. The unions are leading the 'no' campaign on the grounds that the reforms would hurt workers' rights and lead to a wave of privatisation. Britain's trade union leaders broadly favour the inegration of European as a capitalist bloc, provided it includes some minimal protections for labour. One of their big problems with this is that Tony Blair has opted out of clauses providing such minimal protection not only for workers, but for human rights more generally. The reason for the opt-out is presumably that the British state feels it can be much more aggressive with organised labour than its European allies.

We'll see about that. The outcome of the recent talks between Royal Mail management and union leaders is still unclear. The Post Office has made unsatisfactory offers, and so strikes are to continue. And they may soon find that health workers and civil servants are also on the picket line after their recent pay cuts. New Labour may yet have to answer to the constituency it so fears and loathes.