Scepticism about the state runs deep

May 28, 2014

–Sheila Lawlor is Director of the London think tank, Politeia. The opinions expressed are her own.–

As UKIP’s earthquake materialises, with the party topping the European poll and the Conservative party narrowly missing second place, a shift in the political landscape is underway. Even before counting of the council votes had finished, or that for the European parliament had begun, the message from voters was clear – people were returning to the values with which they most readily identify: socialist or conservative.

Britain, though not alone in having a Eurosceptic majority (the EU’s older founder countries – Germany, France and Italy – all have one), has a political tradition that has bequeathed, along with the right to vote and to enjoy freedom under the law, a scepticism about grand political projects and theories. The result is not the cynicism and extremism to which continental voters may fall prey in the hopes for change, but a wish to rein in the political classes by sending them, and what are seen as their far-fetched visions, packing.

That, for most British people, whatever their party politics, is what democracy means, and its where Europe fails. But the EU and its institutional government is not merely remote and unaccountable, arrogating to itself powers which more properly belong to individual states, but it is wrong. Not only does it fail, whether on economic prosperity, stability, “human rights” or justice, but its utopian ambitions are destroying its own member states, both economically and in terms of the cultural and social cohesion for which it  aims.

To the initial economic aim of prosperity through free trade, fostered by the pacific intentions of the post-war leaders in Germany, France, Britain and Italy, have been added ever more ambitious promises: a trans-national Europe, with common citizenship and the rights and benefits earned by any one nation to be open to all; a borderless Europe, free of passports or controls for as many countries as will buy in to the Schengen agreement; a system of “harmonisation” of goods and services which deprives individuals and businesses of the ability to compete globally by driving costs up; a system of rights for all enforced by a common judiciary, but that often infringes the natural rights of free-born people, and runs counter to the operation of the law. There is now the “green” utopia, where meeting Europe’s energy needs and economy takes second place to the pursuit of green energy.

A failed wish-list is one thing and damaging consequences are another, but the inability to send the perpetrators packing is a third. The absence of democratic accountability matters on grounds of principle, and because it renders the men and women of this and other countries powerless to remove hopeless, self-aggrandizing rule.

On May 22nd  UK voters, within whose power it is to put governments out at home, considered their options on Europe: the country backed the sceptics.  A majority of all who voted do not believe in the big state or its unaccountable system – many of them don’t believe politicians who promise change. The older parties should heed the warnings and trust the people, not the system.

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