openDemocracyUK

Thoughts on the coalition - a reply to Anthony Barnett

David Marquand
14 May 2010

My feelings on the Lib-Con coalition are pretty close to Anthony's, but I'm a bit less sanguine. I totally agree about the tribalist twaddle coming from the archaic grotesques in the Labour Party. In fact I think I would go further on one very obvious but apparently now largely forgotten point: Gordon could have achieved a progressive alliance two and a half years ago if he'd done even half of what Anthony and I were urging him to do on a new constitutional settlement just before and just after he became PM. And the reason he didn't, despite his flirtations with constitutional reform going back to his Sovereignty Lecture, was that the Labour Party had constitutional conservatism deep in its DNA. So Labour attacks on the Lib Dems for getting into bed with the wicked Tories are deeply hypocritical.

My other worry is over Europe. Anthony mentions the German Constitutional Court. What he doesn't say is that the German Constitutional Court is now a deeply reactionary body; and that its judgement on the Lisbon Treaty derives from an essentially tribal conception of democracy, horribly reminiscent of the ethnic nationalism that did so much damage to Germany and Europe between the wars. Much more important than that is that the EU is now in a state of profound crisis, which risks destroying the most hopeful political project of the second half of the twentieth century. The Greek crisis is only one manifestation of this.

What we've seen is that the whole idea of Europeanising monetary policy while leaving fiscal policy on the national level was absurd. The Eurozone will have to move towards drastic reform, in effect Europeanising fiscal policy, as the MacDougall Report advocated in the mid-seventies. The alternative is more Greek-style crises whenever the sharks of global finance scent blood. I agree that it would be madness to join the Euro now, but to rule it out for the lifetime of this Parliament is equally crazy. We don't know what Europe will be like twelve months from now, leave alone five years!

So I'm afraid I don't think Cameron can be described as a 'whig europeanist'. The ultimate choice has always been between partnership in Europe and subservience to America; that's been so ever since Suez. We can't have a true democracy in this country so long as we choose the latter. And that, I fear, is what Cameron - like virtually all his predecessors apart from Edward Heath - seems to me to have done.

So, yes, two cheers for this Government on civil liberty and constitutional reform, but only one on political economy and a boo on Europe.

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