Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Kelvin Hopkins (Luton, North) (Lab): First, I congratulate the hon. Member for Wantage (Mr. Vaizey) on his maiden speech, which was very impressive, indeed—[Interruption.] Yes, I did agree with much of it. It was confident and competent. Although it is the custom not to intervene on maiden speeches, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would have dealt with any such interventions very readily and brushed them off with ease. He has a significant future ahead in the House and his reputation goes somewhat before him. I greatly enjoyed listening to his fine speech.

The hon. Gentleman's predecessor, Robert Jackson, who latterly joined this side of the House, came over for specific political reasons, but I did not agree with him on any of them. He obviously did not move very far to the left; in any case, he certainly did not reach me. He moved over specifically on account of his support for the EU and his support for the war. I cannot remember the other issues—[Hon. Members: "Tuition fees."] Yes, tuition fees. I clearly remember not agreeing with a word he said, but there we are. Once again, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his enjoyable maiden speech.

The hon. Member for Stone (Mr. Cash) is no longer in the Chamber, but I was impressed by the fact that he had read Erich Fromm's book "Fear of Freedom". I read it in my youth, and another book by the same author entitled "The Sane Society". As presently organised, the EU is not a sane society, and we ought to try and make it saner in the future.

I welcomed the no votes in France and Holland, as they presage a new beginning. We must not pretend that the verdicts were passed simply by the people, as specific sections of those societies voted against the constitution—working people, socialists, young people, and trade union members. In other words, it was people of the left who voted no as a specific rejection of neoliberalism. They rejected the deflation of the eurozone, and they objected to the drive towards a world of unconstrained market forces. Many of them when interviewed said so specifically, and I agree with them.

People in France and Holland have seen unemployment rise to unprecedented levels in the post-war era, while growth has weakened. In fact, in the last quarter of last year, the economies of Italy and Germany contracted, while welfare state provision has been salami sliced and future pensions threatened. Moreover, the word "reform" has appeared again and again. In the past, that word had a progressive flavour. In 1832, it meant increasing democracy and the power of people over their Governments, and that Governments had more power over their economies.

Nowadays, reform seems to mean handing back power to the market and away from people and their elected Governments. I do not accept that. That trend is most obvious in the eurozone, and many people believe that the post-war social democracy that worked so well across the whole of Europe is now under threat.

The crisis goes deeper than a mere rejection of the constitution. People are increasingly aware that the direction being taken by the EU is not what ordinary working people want. They are saying no to the broad drift of Europe. They want a different Europe—the sort of Europe that I want too.
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1301

I supported enlargement precisely because I thought that it would provoke the sort of difficulty that I have described and bring matters to a head. Two of my colleagues on this side of the House who take a Eurosceptic view voted against the Nice treaty on the grounds that it was pro-European. I voted in favour of it, because I thought that enlargement would weaken the EU's central core, against which we have railed for so long.

Indeed, one of the last speeches made in this House by Sir Edward Heath—who, as a matter of fact, used to sit in the place occupied by the Leader of the Liberal Democrat party—was against enlargement. He thought that it was impossible for countries with very different economies to merge in a single economy. He wanted a deeper and stronger western European alliance—what one could consider to be the old core Europe. I think that he was right. Retaining the old Europe strongly controlled from the centre meant that member states' economies had to be very similar. I think that it will be impossible to bond 25 separate countries into one economic unit and, given Turkey's possible accession to the EU, the number may be even greater.

We must reassert democratic control by elected Governments over governance by right-wing bankers and eurocrats in the European Commission and the European Central Bank. Interestingly, after the French referendum decision, the French President replaced former Prime Minister Raffarin with Dominic de Villepin. The new Prime Minister is allegedly a Gaullist, or at least his Gaullism is stronger than his economic liberalism. He is committed to the state—l'état—which he sees as being above the market. That represents a significant change in French politics. He may not remain in post for very long, but his appointment at least represents a shift back towards Gaullism rather than towards economic liberalism.

De Villepin is a true conservative and not a liberal. The posters in the no campaign across Europe urged people to say no to liberalism. In this context, the word liberalism does not mean slightly left of centre. It is used in the sense of economic liberalism.

Mr. Hendrick: Is not my hon. Friend concerned that Mr. de Villepin has never held elected office?

Kelvin Hopkins: Yes, and in our constitution such an appointment would be unacceptable. However, under the American constitution, for example, Cabinet members are frequently appointed who have never stood for election. I do not approve of that approach, but it is in the French constitution and the Assembly and the President are elected democratically.

The Conservatives are equally divided. The history of Conservative policy on Europe over the past 20 years or so    reveals an internal struggle between traditional Conservatives—I hesitate to call them Gaullists—and the neo-liberals. Mrs. Thatcher had political schizophrenia, because she could not make up her mind whether she was a neo-liberal or a nationalist Conservative. She gave way to the neo-liberals in accepting the Single European Act. I opposed that Act—I was not a Member of Parliament but I wrote and spoke against it—and the same was true of Maastricht. However, her successor, John Major, was a neo-liberal and was pro-Europe. Indeed, he still says much
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1302
the same today. Had Mrs. Thatcher chosen not to support the Single European Act history might have been different, and the issue might have been easier to deal with now than it is.

I was opposed to both the Single European Act and the Maastricht treaty, and I would have been happy—had I been a Member of Parliament—to work with the Labour Opposition against the latter. Unfortunately, we did not have quite enough votes at the time to defeat it, but had we done so we would have solved a big problem and saved a lot of trouble in the future.

Like many other hon. Members, I believe strongly in a looser association of democratic member states, co-operating for mutual benefit, and not in a bureaucratic, neo-liberal superstate, which is what others have in mind.

John Bercow: The hon. Gentleman raises the spectre of an essentially economically liberal European Union, but it has been extraordinarily well disguised in recent years, unless there is something wrong with my eyesight. Given that globalisation is driven on the one hand by the development of technology and the demands of commerce, and on the other by the rules of the World Trade Organisation, the hon. Gentleman is engaged in an ultimately futile mission if he thinks that objecting to a treaty will prevent that process. He might better attend to the argument by dealing with the issue of the volume of legislation that is driven from Brussels rather than from this country. On globalisation, I suggest to him politely, that he is fighting a losing battle.

Kelvin Hopkins: Well, we shall see whether the people of Europe, and indeed the world, will accept a neo-liberal globalised world or whether they will react against it. We do not know what will happen, but I suspect that many people question the direction of the world economy and the rules governing trade. At this very moment, demonstrations against the G8 are being planned. I do not want to broaden this debate too far, but I believe that working people across the world question that direction. As I have told the House before, I was on holiday in Portugal some five years ago and saw a notice on a building site saying:

At least, that is my translation from the Portuguese. The authors of the sign were clearly aware that flexible labour markets meant less security and lower wages, and they did not want that.

The Keynesian world created after the second world war was fairly structured, controlled and regulated. It involved redistribution of income, a degree of public ownership of public utilities and big welfare states, and it worked—at least, until 1970 when we started to unravel it all. The 19th century liberals got hold of the world again and started to get their revenge on the Keynesians. It was a political struggle even then and to this day there are three tendencies in this Chamber. There are the Labour party democratic socialist-social democrats. There is the Conservative party that wants to stand up for the country but still believes in a bit of inequality and noblesse oblige. And then there is a neo-liberal group with members in all three parties—and I think the Liberal Democrats are split three ways. Those are the three political tendencies in this Chamber and
8 Jun 2005 : Column 1303
across the world, and we must recognise the struggle between them. It is not recognised properly at the moment, because two of the tendencies are represented in my party, two in the Conservative party and all three in the Liberal Democrat party.

I have heard debates in this Chamber about Europe and about world trade rules, and I have heard the same speeches from all three Front-Bench representatives. None of them represented my view, or indeed that of the European workers who have just voted in the referendums.

There is a real problem. People are realising that giving away control of one's macro-economic policy by joining the eurozone was a disaster for Germany and Italy. It was beneficial to Ireland because it joined at low parity for its currency. It was forced to cut its interest rates and received a 5 per cent. net fiscal transfer to its economy from the European Union. Imagine if the British economy had received a net transfer from the EU of £55 billion every year. We should be doing pretty well, too. In fact, we are doing well without it.

Next Section IndexHome Page