Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Basic arithmetic

In his great speech to last year’s Democratic convention, Bill Clinton argued that ‘basic arithmetic’ is the only way to defeat the Tea party dogma that lower taxes are the answer to America’s every problem. ‘Basic arithmetic’ is my big argument for Britain in Europe today.  In order to drive home the 21st century realities of Britain ‘standing alone’ in our rapidly changing world, we need to teach British Eurosceptics some basic arithmetic too.

A good starting point is the analysis of the United States National Intelligence Council in their recent report on Global Trends 2030. By that date they forecast ‘Asia will have surpassed Europe and America combined in terms of global power based on GDP, population size, military spending and technological investment’. Europe as a whole will be dwarfed not just by the rise of  China and India. The NIC analysis expects that by 2030  a range of middle tier countries – what they call the ‘next eleven’ – such as Colombia, Egypt, Indonesia, South Africa, Mexico and Turkey will together have greater global power than the whole European Union.

And where will this leave the UK? We presently account for less than three per cent of global GDP. Relatively, we are in rapid decline. As British living standards are forecast not to rise for at least a decade, Asia and much of the ‘emerging’ world bounds ahead. This transformation of the potential for human development is to be welcomed, but I am not deluded enough to think that Britain alone will be sufficiently powerful to defend its interests and values. And as America under the Obama administration naturally turns toward the Pacific, where else are we to seek allies and friends who basically share our outlook on the world than among our partners in the EU?

Britain’s membership of the EU brings us hard advantages in terms of trade, inward investment and the fight against cross-border crime and terrorism. But not just that. It also gives us ‘voice’ on global issues that a broad range of progressive opinion cares deeply about: world poverty, climate change, fair trade, human rights, gender equality, the horrors of people’s lives in ‘failing states’ and so on. The ‘European social model’ of the social market economy and welfare state capitalism, for all its multiple challenges, remains a supreme achievement of human civilisation that we should unite with our social democratic colleagues in Europe to reinvigorate against the anti Europeans who believe in an offshore ‘tax haven’ Britain competing on the basis of deregulation and low wages.

Of course, Europe needs reform. Don’t most things in human affairs! ‘Reform’ should not become an excuse for knocking the EU’s historic achievements. Some say a united Europe is no longer relevant because war on our continent has become unthinkable. That may be so, but in a world of increasing nationalisms, we cannot take world peace for granted. The early socialists dreamed of world government: the EU remains a unique symbol of hope in demonstrating that ‘pooled sovereignty’ – a polity ‘beyond the nation state’ – can be made to work.  But the big change needed is to make the EU less technocratic and more democratic. I personally favour two big reforms. First to give national parliaments much more of a say in the running of the EU: to offset the ‘Brussels bubble’ tendency for ‘ever more Europe’, when as social democrats we should by instinct be about decentralising power. Second, to introduce a form of direct election for the top job, an amalgam of Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, so that we begin to debate not ‘in’ or ‘out’, but what kind of Europe we want.


Roger Liddle is a Labour member of the House of Lords and chair of Policy Network


Photo: Rock Cohen

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Roger Liddle

is a peer, a former adviser on European affairs to Tony Blair, and chair of Policy Network


  • Oh that old nugget. Give national parliaments more power. How about national parliaments, especially your colleagues in the other place in Westminster, actually using the powers they have on EU matters more effectively?

  • I thought the Council of Ministers made the key decisions, even though we are invited to elect a European Parliament from time to time. Rather as if the Leaders of Leeds, Birmingham, Bristol etc got together to decide what the Westminster Parliament may discuss …

  • It’s good to have this discussion. British debate can be stimulating for the whole European debate. Not like a blog post by Ronny Patz which I answered here:

    “Euroblogging, British debate and language – strange conclusions”

    You can argue about the right way but to have the discussion itself is the crucial aspect.

  • Agreed that the sceptics have had it all their own way in the media, for far too long now. When Nigel Farage, who is asked disproportionately too often to be interviewed on BBC, speaks, there is never anybody putting across a pro-European view. His party has not gained more than about 3% in UK general elections to date. The extremists like UKIP proffer simple solutions to tough problems such as the current global economic situation, just like the fascists did during the 1930s.

Sign up to our daily roundup email