Thursday, 28 May 2009

UKIP: claiming the spirit of Churchill is a step too far.

The UK Independence Party is tipped to do well in the Euro elections on 4th June. The party, which proudly follows an isolationist line, is set to take advantage of voter disgust at the major parties in wake of the expenses scandal and is setting itself up as an alternative to the stale policies of the major parties.

On the positive side, at least they are (slightly) preferable to the racist BNP. But on the less positive, this is a reactionary party whose worldview is not based on any kind of reality.

Yes, we need to have a debate about Europe, but we moved on from debating whether or not Britain should be part of a European Union. The public voted for membership in a referendum in 1973. The real question is not "should we play an integral part in European politics and have a central role in shaping the future of Europe?" but "What kind of EU do we want? A bureaucratic and burdensome political club or a union of societies and communities based on co-operation and mutual understanding?" Or "How does the EU adjust to the realities of 21st century European politics?"

I am not a Eurosceptic and never could be, but I don't necessarily claim that the EU is perfect in its present form. I'm naturally distrustful of centralised bureaucratic power. UKIP are right to a point when they talk about wastage and the huge unnecessary costs associated with the EU. However, the EU has the potential to do so much for workers rights, Trade Union rights, to promote diversity in a practical way and to find multi-lateral solutions to problems such as immigration and the economy.

I'm an internationalist. I believe in co-operation between nations and it is vital that Britain remains at the heart of Europe.

Winston Churchill figures prominently on UKIP's current election propaganda. UKIP claim to have the "spirit of Churchill", standing seperate from the rest of Europe, firmly resisting the oppressors, refusing to surrender. What UKIP fail to realise is that Britain's isolation after 1940 was due to a miltary catastrophe and is no basis on which to plan foreign policy almost 70 years later.

They also fail to understand Churchill. In fact, Churchill, proud as he was of Britain, was an internationalist. He was hugely in favour of increased European co-operation after the war, and advocated the development of an organisation which eventually became known as the European Union. After the war, he became convinced that a united Europe could guarantee peace, and that the most effective way to contain the expansionist aims of certain countries was to create economic co-dependency between European states. He felt this would also eliminate the risks of rampant Nationalism and Fascism.

Churchill famously stated, in a speech in Zurich, "There is a remedy which ... would in a few years make all Europe ... free and ... happy. It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe." On a personal level, I think Mr Churchill's remedy goes more than a bit too far - but the spirit of Churchill is there for all to see. He was not a reactionary and an anti-European in the UKIP mould but a man with a progressive vision to rebuild Europe to assure peace and stability.

It is a shame that UKIP's political vision and their blindness towards political reality has led them to distort history in this shameful way. UKIP want to identify themselves with Churchill but are wrong to misrepresent the him as an isolationist.

We need an alternative to Labour and the Conservatives on European issues, but UKIP's approach is too blinkered, founded on a peculiar notion of British "splendid isolationism" that is based in fantasy rather than reality. The EU should be based on co-operation, not endless directives and regulation. And for this we need more people with Churchill's pragmatic approach to Europe.