Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

The Commonwealth Internationalists against European Internationalism.

with 2 comments

Commonwealth Day: Galloway’s Internationalist Parade. 

One of the tricks used by ‘left’ opponents of  the EU in the 1975 referendum was to argue that they were the true internationalists.

They backed the Commonwealth.

This has some history.

I would not cite Progress but this is accurate.

One of the most famous ‘Eurosceptic’ speeches in the last century was delivered by Labour leader Hugh Gaitskell at Labour’s annual conference in October 1962, where he declared that joining the then ‘European Community’ would ‘mean the end of Britain as an independent nation-state … It means the end of a thousand years of history … and it does mean the end of the Commonwealth’.

It is a speech often cited by Labour advocates of Brexit as evidence of a long-standing tradition of Labour Euroscepticism. But the detail of the speech, of Gaitskell’s position on the EEC, and of Labour’s debate on EEC membership in the 1970s do not bear the stress often put on them by 2016 Brexit advocates.

Despite the clear impression given by the rhetoric of his speech, Gaitskell was not, in fact, declaring his opposition to the principle of UK membership of the EEC.

Gaitskell set out his position more dispassionately in a Labour party political broadcast on 8 May 1962:

You still hear some people speaking as though we could decide whether the common market existed or not. Now this, of course, is quite untrue … what we have to ask ourselves, looking ahead, is whether … we would be better outside it, or … inside it… To go in on good terms would, I believe, be the best solution … Not to go in would be a pity, but it would not be a catastrophe. To go in on bad terms which really meant the end of the Commonwealth would be a step which I think we would regret all our lives and for which history would not forgive us.

Most pro-marketeers concluded, fairly, that he was not opposed to entry in principle. Indeed, Gaitskell wrote to his friend and protégé Roy Jenkins that same day asking him to ‘get rid of any idea that I am deliberately building up a position in which, whatever the terms, we should be opposed to them.’

The tone and content of Gaitskell’s ‘Thousand Years of History’ speech owed a great deal to Peter Shore, later to be one of Britain’s most prominent advocates of withdrawal from the EEC, who as the then head of research at Labour party headquarters bore considerable responsibility for drafting the speech.

Progress writer Greg Rosen  argues that, in the detail, Gaitskell himself was not opposed to the EEC (as the EU was known) but wanted entry on his terms, the famous 5 terms.

Without entering into the details of that historical account we can say that Shore continued to argue against the EEC using this argument that the “Commonwealth” had to be defended.

He was an internationalist….

This approach has not gone away:

Whenever the word “Brexit” is mentioned, the word “Commonwealth” is usually not far behind.

Eurosceptics campaigning for the UK to leave the European Union are keen to dismiss the idea that the move would leave the country economically isolated and bereft of trade alliances.

They point out that the UK’s links with the 53-nation Commonwealth, composed mainly of territories that belonged to the former British Empire, predate its membership of the EU.

And the Commonwealth itself is eager to stress the trade advantages that its members enjoy by virtue of belonging to the association.


A few days we saw this:

George Galloway interviewed Nigel Farage in what must be the most underwhelming clash of Left vs Right in recent political history.

People who expected fireworks when they heard the fiery rhetorician of Britain’s hard Left would grill the doyen of the populist Right must have been left disappointed when the pair agreed with each other on just about everything they talked about.

During the interview on his show ‘Sputnik’, broadcast on Russia’s RT network, Galloway, who supports a Brexit, called the Ukip leader “the man who, more than any other, has brought us to the point where we’re going to get a vote on whether to stay or go”.

“There may or may not be fireworks in the next 25 minutes,” the former Labour MP predicted. There were not.

Galloway listened and agreed with Farage’s claims that we should focus more on the Commonwealth than the EU, that the belief the EU is more popular in Scotland is a “myth put out by the Edinburgh media” and that “our political class no longer think we’re capable as a people of running our own affairs”.

Farage predicted David Cameron’s planned referendum would take place on June 23. He said leaving the EU would let Britain better control its economic policies, about which “you and I could argue cats and dogs”, he told Galloway.

But they distinctly failed to argue cats and dogs during the 26-minute interview.

Huffington Post.

I imagine Galloway has fond memories of the Commonwealth Day at school….


Written by Andrew Coates

February 18, 2016 at 1:45 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Why must you constantly knock Galloway? George Galloway is the greatest leftist leader alive today.


    February 19, 2016 at 12:02 am

  2. You too recall happy days parading in primary school with the Union Jack?

    Here is a picture of my infant and junior school, Bowes Road, just next to the North Circular in North London.

    Andrew Coates

    February 19, 2016 at 12:24 pm

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