Bryan Gould
Bryan Gould, CNZM, writes an occasional column on current events

Bryan Gould: Brits forge path to better Europe

Wonderful that nation has refused to be bullied into betraying experience, judgment.

For more than 45 years, and based on my early involvement with the issue in the British Foreign Office, I have contested the issue of Britain's membership of what was the Common Market and then the EU, and I was always on the losing side.

It could be argued that my own political career, and my bid to lead the Labour Party, were adversely affected by what was often seen as an aberration. I argued over this whole period that the EU is not Europe and that the very particular arrangement offered was not only inimical to Britain's interests but was not the way to build a better and more lasting European co-operation and identity.

It is amazing and wonderful that ordinary British people have at this late stage - after 43 years of membership - refused to be bullied and patronised by their supposed betters, by so-called experts and powerful financial interests, into betraying their own experience and judgment. The result is a new start for both Britain and Europe and a new and better prospect for both.

It is important now, for the left in British politics, that all those good and decent people on the left who wanted to stay in the EU accept there always was an equally good and decent argument on the left for leaving. That argument received virtually no coverage during the referendum campaign, and was submerged in the insistence in much of the media and in the mouths of British leaders that the decision was essentially a contest between a disreputably racist focus on immigration and the superior moral and rational perspective of the people who naturally knew better and whose views had always prevailed.

But Britain should have taken, and did take, courage from the lessons of experience. Similar arguments led Britain to join the European Monetary System, which proved disastrous, and were then repeated in respect of the euro. Most people in Britain will offer daily thanks the country had the courage to reject those arguments and to stay out of the euro, and there is no reason to suppose they should have had any greater weight now. Britain's trading partners in Europe need Britain at least as much as Britain is said to need them, as post-Brexit negotiations will surely demonstrate.

In any case, a decision in favour of Brexit does not mean, as is so often alleged, Britain turning its back on Europe. It will signal instead the opening of a new agenda, aimed at developing a better and more constructive Europe, and one with a greater chance of success.

A new Europe would not operate, as it has done since its inception, as a living manifestation of free-market capitalism, serving the interests of big business rather than those of ordinary people. It would not impose a policy of austerity in thrall to neo-classical economic doctrine. It would not run a hugely diverse economy in terms of a monetary policy that suits Germany but no one else. It would not impose a political structure decided by a small elite, but would allow the pace of co-operation and perhaps eventually integration to be decided by its people as they and we became more comfortable with the concept of a European identity.

If Britain has the courage, it could, in other words, not only benefit itself but help the development of a Europe that truly does serve the people of Europe.

The British Labour Party, in terms of domestic politics, has clearly missed a major opportunity. Analysis of the voting pattern will surely show that a majority of Labour voters favoured leaving. The Labour leadership had the chance, not only to reflect and lead that preference, rather than distance themselves from it, but also to place itself at the head of that majority fed up with the obvious, serious and growing deficiencies of the EU as a model for European integration.

Jeremy Corbyn has - through timidity rather than conviction - put himself on the losing side and missed the chance to exploit for Labour the unavoidable blow to the authority of the Tory Government that the Brexit decision represents.

He took refuge in an argument for remaining that should surely have no place in the vocabulary of a Labour leader. He urged Labour supporters to vote remain on the surprising ground that there were provisions, particularly concerning workers' rights, that were beyond the reach of democratic change by an elected British Government.

How odd that Labour should endorse the concept of government by an unelected European bureaucracy. How much more constructive and politically astute if he had faithfully represented the views of Labour voters (and almost certainly his own personal preference) as a step towards a democratically elected Labour Government that would have been the best protector of workers' rights.

For Labour voters, and for the majority of voters more generally, including all those who value a European role, there is a comforting aspect of the Brexit decision.

Where Britain now goes, others will follow. For all those who want to see a better European future, that is an enticing prospect.

- NZ Herald

Bryan Gould is a former British Labour MP who subsequently became vice-chancellor of Waikato University.

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