Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Politics of Euroscepticism.

The strange history of Euroscepticism in Britain goes back decades, it was ironically the Conservatives who were much more keen on European integration and the Labour Party were opposed to the project insofar as it could potentially hold-back socialism. In fact, the labour movement was opposed to economic integration out of a staunch protectionist attitude towards British industry and a general fear of foreign competition. In this respect Bob Crow is a throw-back to a bygone politics. The opposition to integration within the Conservative Party first took the form of a campaign (which was led by the Earl of Sandwich) to prevent Britain from entering the Common Market in the early 1960s. It was based on a superstitious nationalism which elevated the British above the "frogs and huns" of the continent. So we find that the opposition to European integration included Michael Foot and Enoch Powell, it united the opposing elements of the Left and the Right.

The anti-Politics of the Market.

The specific tendency of right-wing opposition to the European Union goes back to the roots of think-tanks and Thatcherism in Britain. It was none other than Friedrich von Hayek who convinced Antony Fisher that the only way to bring about political change is to form think-tanks, which will propagate "second-hand ideas" and shape the discourse in doing so. Fisher went on to found the Institute of Economic Affairs and about 150 other think-tanks in his lifetime. For years Antony Fisher and Oliver Smedley had sought to undermine state-planning in Britain. Fisher and Smedley were convinced that the state-planning apparatus would lead Britain down the road to totalitarianism by its very nature. For them even the Milk Marketing Board and Egg Marketing Board were innately opposed to freedom. The Common Market was just a bigger state-system of economic planning, as Smedley and Fisher had introduced battery farming to Britain they were naturally sceptical of any government policy on agriculture.

The state-planning apparatus  had a scientific guise complete with a technocratic system, the ideals of classical liberalism looked out of date by comparison. The appeal of Hayek was that he had developed a technocratic theory of the market, so the old ideals were torn out of their original context and revamped for the modern age. So Adam Smith's invisible hand becomes a metaphor for a cybernetic flow of information exchange, whereby the abstract signals sent out by millions of people forms the price mechanism; and the key to order without central planning. It would be an automatic system of signalling which would be self-directed. This is the only alternative because it is not possible to hold all information in one central system. Major Smedley went further than just help found think-tanks and actually pioneered pirate radio in order to "liberate" information from state-control. The nostalgic look back on it now as the epitome of the cultural revolution which obliterated traditionalism in the 60s. In reality the first pirate radio-station was the beginning of the counter-revolution.

Smedley ran his radio-station with great success, but he was intolerant of competition and wanted a monopoly on his new venture. So when Reg Calvert popped up it was not unbelievable just how fast the situation deteriorated into violence. The rival station was raided by thugs-for-hire and Calvert was shot dead as he tried to confront Smedley, who went on to be acquitted of murder. Even though Reg Calvert represented the kind of individualist that the think-tanks, set up by Fisher, should have praised. The truth was Smedley represented the old aristocracy, which felt entitled to manage the system through the private sector. There was no room for people who genuinely wanted to act as free individuals regardless of the power-structure. To those with the upper-class sense of entitlement the doctrines of classical liberalism remain a useful tool in corroding the welfare state. As Adam Curtis has pointed out, the neoliberal aim was never to shake the established power-structure to its core and re-order it. Even for Hayek the state has its' role in a managerial capacity, to maintain a competitive order, which is not much different from economic planning in a sense. Of course, people like Antony Fisher and Oliver Smedley detest any kind of bureaucracy except when they are the managerial aristocracy.

It was in the midst of the economic stagnation of the 1970s that the "second-hand" ideas of the Institute of Economic Affairs were welcomed into mainstream politics, along with the doctrines of monetarism developed at the Chicago School of Economics by Milton Friedman. It was not until the 1980s that the welfare state was "rolled back" to make way for the market. It was then that the ideas of Hayek and Friedman supplanted Keynes as the economic orthodoxy. Thatcher blended these ideas with rational expectations and Goodhart's Law. The economy could not be managed by the state and there was no way to achieve full employment, so it was tossed aside as a goal that should even be considered. The post-war settlement of social democracy was torn apart bit by bit. The social planners had failed and so all other alternatives could be dismissed even as options in the new era of "popular capitalism". The promised dynamism of the free-market could be unlocked through the politics of 'commonsense' rather than ideology. The irony is that this is the ideology of the free-market, it becomes even more evident when the mission runs up against serious obstacles.

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