When the EU referendum was first announced the NHA executive decided that they would not actively campaign in the debate.
The party policy on democracy in both the UK and the EU has not been fundamentally affected by the referendum and it remains the case that we want to see substantial reform of our democratic processes.
At all levels, local, national and supra-national, the democratic process is subverted by the undue influence of the corporate sector. This enables industrial scale tax avoidance, legislation which is skewed in the interests of those with most financial influence and our elected representatives vote on issues from which they benefit personally or politically. As the current investigations into Tory electoral expenses shows it is clear we are in danger of allowing those with the most money to buy elections.
We have, in effect, a two party system. This makes it very easy for corporate influence to be maintained as it will always be one or the other in government (with the exception of the occasional Coalition).
In the EU the corporate sector meets the negotiatiors from the Commission to discuss agreements such as CETA and TTIP behind closed doors with very little access given to representatives from campaign groups. These exceed the remit of ordinary trade agreements. Not only do they cover the traditional ground of tariffs (import and export duty) and quotas but also contain substantial deregulatory conditions. As even Peter Lilley, Conservative MP, has noted, this is not the proper business of a trade agreement. These are areas which national governments legislate for.
In short, at both national and supra-national level, we have neo-liberal government and we have had for the last 30 years at least. In the current context what we are seeing is a lot of jockeying for position from the right wing over the leadership of the Tory Party and the political opportunism of UKIP, but neither side talks about the political reality of the situation. It is not in the interest of neo-liberals to discuss the faults in their own ideology. So the real issues around the EU are never aired, despite the fact that it is the only debate we should be having. Indeed if the EU and our relationship with it were genuinely on the agenda surely the negotiation of the Lisbon Treaty, in 2009, would have been the appropriate time, not now.
The NHS and how-much-or-how-little is or will be spent on it has been the subject of much speculation. But this is a simplistic notion. The NHA is well aware that the de-funding of the NHS, whilst improving the private sector access to contracts and to the running of the commissioning system itself, is a political choice not an economic one. 'Austerity' economics is an ideological commitment to shrinking the state, not a genuine lack of money in this, the fifth richest country in the world. Our services are under threat in or out of the EU. The decision we have to make is about how we can best counter that threat.
CETA, TTIP and TISA create additional pressure for the further privatisation of our public services and adds a 'locking down' element which will make it very difficult for any future progressive UK government to restore them to public ownership and delivery. But this is where the debate hinges for NHA. Across Europe there is mounting opposition to these agreements. Not only campaign groups but governments have begun to question them.
Here in the UK, however, it is very possible that in the event of an exit vote on Thursday the UK government would start its own negotiations, unimpeded by the progressive voices joining ours across Europe. In these circumstances it appears that the best counter weight we can have to international corporate power is international cooperation.
There is another counter-democratic strand that runs through this debate. It says, 'this is your one and only chance to vote'. No, it isn't. The whole point of democracy is that you don't just get one shot at something. We debate - and vote - on that basis.
We should be under no illusions about the task to counter the There Is No Alternative mantra of the neo-liberals. If the vote on Thursday is to remain, Cameron's government will no doubt insist that their 'mandate' to destroy the welfare state and continue austerity has been renewed. If the vote is to leave we face truly dangerous times as Farage will claim it validates him and his odious politics.
But progressives should be clear. If we tear each other apart after Thursday in an avalanche of blame and recrimination then we will not be equipped for the fight to come. If it is 'remain' we must prepare to stand the best candidates we can muster for the European elections. If it is 'leave' we must prepare for a possible general election.
It is in this context that the NHA executive recommends to the party that they vote to remain in the EU in the referendum this Thursday.
The NHA Executive Committee