Cooking the Books: In or Out, Who Cares?

Because prices are lower – and because there’s no music – many people drink at Wetherspoon pubs. But there is a price to pay: having to put up with the company’s founder and chairman, Tim Martin, trying to force his views down your throat.

He’s a common-or-garden Eurosceptic who’s against the euro and wants to save the pound, a view you don’t have to go to a Wetherspoon pub to hear. Naturally, he’s delighted with the euro’s current difficulties. “The euro project has failed,” he rejoices in the June-July issue of Wetherspoon News, asking, “So, why do its advocates with no nous or economic judgement still wield enormous influence over Britain?”

His answer is that it’s because they (“Howe, Heseltine, Blair, Clarke, Mandelson and so on”) all went to Oxbridge and are “swots who don’t like the idea of the great unwashed having an equal vote”. That’s a silly argument as there are plenty of Oxbridge swots who are against the euro.

Still, why are so many members of the establishment in favour of the EU? It’s a question of the economic interest of the dominant section of the capitalist class in Britain. As the British capitalist economy is heavily dependent on exports, they want tariff-free access to the vast, single European market that has been created and where half of Britain’s exports go.

A single currency is a logical accompaniment of a single market. What the euro amounts to is a decision by the participating states to permanently fix the exchange rate between their currencies and to change the name of their currency to “euro”. This reinforces the level playing field by preventing one state gaining a competitive advantage by making their exports cheaper through a depreciation of their currency.

One reason why those in charge of British capitalism decided to stay out of the euro was to retain this option. But they don’t want the other EU members to have it. Cameron and Osborne may seem hypocrites in not wanting the eurozone to break up but they know that, if it did, the other major EU states would be free to boost their exports by depreciating their currencies.

From their perspective, tub-thumping populists like Tim Martin, UKIP and the Tory eurosceptics are being short-sighted, and even detrimental to the dominant capitalist interest, in wanting the euro to fail and, certainly, in wanting Britain to withdraw from the EU. But then Tim Martin, as a capitalist catering to the home consumer market, is not a member of the dominant section.

They know that, if Britain did withdraw, while it might still have access to the single European market it would only be on the terms that Norway now has of having no say in drawing up its rules and regulations. Better, they reckon, to stay in and use the veto to defend any economic interest considered vital (as all the other big EU members do).

But they’ve got a political problem. They have to balance the general interest of the dominant section of the capitalist class against the popular xenophobia against Europe (just try discussing the issue in any pub). It is because there is a chance that they could lose a straight in-or-out referendum that they are against giving “the great unwashed” this choice, not because they are stuck-up swots from Oxbridge. Any referendum they offer will be on some loaded question designed to elicit a “yes” result.

But who wants a referendum anyway? Not us. British capitalism’s relationship to the capitalist EU is a purely capitalist problem of no concern to workers.

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