Book Review: The EU: an Obituary

Tim Holmes takes a look at John Gillingham's polemical history of the EU

December 12, 2016
3 min read

junjul book4Not every book gets a thumbs-up from the founder of a political party. One that has is John Gillingham’s polemical history, The EU: An Obituary. The back displays a surprising endorsement from ‘Ian Sked’ – actually Alan Sked, founder of UKIP. Sked has disowned the party, but still treasures ‘happy memories’ of working with Enoch Powell, a man he denies was racist.

Gillingham too can be soft on racism. He writes, for instance, that Dutch far-right leader Pim Fortuyn was ‘not racist per se’ but spoke for those whom ‘an influx of foreigners had made feel like strangers in their own neighbourhoods’. And he suggests that after electing Nazi apologist Jörg Haider, Austria suffered ‘impose[d] standards of political correctness’. Gillingham’s preferred brand of extremism, however, is neoliberal. A wide-eyed techno-optimist, foe of ‘statism’ and cheerleader for market-driven ‘creative destruction’, he portrays familiar demons: bloated quangos and corrupt, incompetent Eurocrats. As such, he lauds many of the EU’s worst features and impugns some of its best.

The worst bane is state intervention in trade, industrial policy or regulation. Reagan’s brutal class war ‘worked well’, and we should ‘give the City the autonomy it has long sought’. Plans to curb monopolies and protect data are ‘a campaign of harassment’ and ‘demonisation’ of American tech giants. Trade policies condemned by poor countries and development organisations are ‘impressive achievements’. On TTIP, Gillingham is almost ecstatic: it’s a ‘game-changer’ that might revive the EU. How? GDP could rise half a percentage point.

On climate change, the EU must axe ‘costly regulation’ and ‘unrealistic targets’; jihadist attacks show there are ‘more pressing problems’. Cutting carbon has been Europe’s ‘priority’ – though the Emissions Trading Scheme (gutted by corporate lobbyists) doesn’t work, and Russian gas deals are business-as-usual. Some ‘priority’.

When the public reject his ideas, Gillingham insults their intelligence. Why did they oppose Frits Bolkestein’s appalling services directive, which threatened wages and vital protections? Because people loathe Polish plumbers, and ‘Bolkestein’ sounds like ‘Frankenstein’. Why did they mobilise against TTIP? Because campaigners spread scares about chlorinated chicken.

On austerity, technocracy, the democratic deficit and Europe’s abandoned social model, Gillingham’s scholarship is at least offering a window, albeit slanted, on EU history. But his blinkers and biases are inescapable, plaguing page after page. For guidance on the EU referendum, look elsewhere.


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Greece’s heavy load
While the UK left is divided over how to respond to Brexit, the people of Greece continue to groan under the burden of EU-backed austerity. Jane Shallice reports

On the narcissism of small differences
In an interview with the TNI's Nick Buxton, social scientist and activist Susan George reflects on the French Presidential Elections.

Why Corbyn’s ‘unpopularity’ is exaggerated: Polls show he’s more popular than most other parties’ leaders – and on the up
Headlines about Jeremy Corbyn’s poor approval ratings in polls don’t tell the whole story, writes Alex Nunns

The media wants to demoralise Corbyn’s supporters – don’t let them succeed
Michael Calderbank looks at the results of yesterday's local elections

In light of Dunkirk: What have we learned from the (lack of) response in Calais?
Amy Corcoran and Sam Walton ask who helps refugees when it matters – and who stands on the sidelines

Osborne’s first day at work – activists to pulp Evening Standards for renewable energy
This isn’t just a stunt. A new worker’s cooperative is set to employ people on a real living wage in a recycling scheme that is heavily trolling George Osborne. Jenny Nelson writes

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill


3