By Kevin Hickson, Jasper Miles and Harry Taylor
The publication of our biography of Peter Shore (Peter Shore: Labour's Forgotten Patriot, Biteback, 2020) should remind people of the time when it was Labour which was the Eurosceptic party in British politics.
Peter Shore's Euroscepticism began in the late 1950s, when he was then head of the Labour Research Department, at a time when few others were.He didn't write the famous Leader's speech at the 1962 Labour Party conference, when Hugh Gaitskell warned of the 'end of a thousand years of history', but he did prepare the briefing paper on which it was based.While Macmillan led the first attempt at membership, which was supported at that time by those who were to become arch-Eurosceptics later on - notably Enoch Powell - Labour opposed it.His opposition was based on close examination of the Treaty of Rome, which his widow, Liz, remembered as a tripping hazard in the bedroom.He was one of a relatively small number of people in Britain to have read the Treaty and recognised immediately the threat to national sovereignty posed by membership.
In the 1964 General Election, Shore was elected and became Harold Wilson's PPS.While he felt that the second application - which also led to a French veto - was perhaps inevitable given the increasingly powerful voices for membership among Labour's senior ranks, he believed that the immediate decision following the veto to apply again was wrong, not least because of its secretive nature.
Back in opposition, Labour moved decisively against membership.Shore was instrumental in this development and became a prominent figure in the party.He was particularly critical of Edward Heath, who he felt had lied to the British people over the implications of membership and had refused to give them any say in the matter.Shore became a leading advocate of the referendum which led to Powell leaving the Conservative Party.
In the 1975 referendum Shore campaigned vigorously for leaving the EEC, while later Eurosceptics such as Margaret Thatcher were on the opposing side.The referendum campaign resulted in what must surely be one of Shore's greatest speeches, televised from the Oxford Union and used widely on social media platforms during the 2016 referendum.Although that referendum resulted in a decisive vote to remain, Shore continued to oppose all subsequent steps towards closer integration.In the 1970s this meant opposing direct elections to the European Parliament and plans put forward by his former Cabinet colleague and then President of the Commission, Roy Jenkins, for monetary union.
Shore then opposed every subsequent European treaty including the Single European Act and Maastricht.In doing so he was willing to break with party lines and sit on cross-party platforms.This included his involvement in the Bruges Group, even though he would have disagreed with most of its members on domestic policy issues - especially on the economy where he remained a committed Keynesian.For him, defence of the nation outweighed party loyalty.What annoyed him most about the Maastricht Treaty was the way in which he felt both front benches were stitching up parliamentary debate.
His rift with the frontbench of the Labour Party, which had began after he left it in 1987, only intensified after the party became more Europhile.For him the EEC/EU remained a barrier to, not a facilitator of, democratic socialism in Britain.He was frustrated with party colleagues for falling so easily for the message sold to them by Jacques Delors.Labour became even more supportive of European integration after the 1992 election, and Shore became a strong opponent of both the single currency - where he rightly predicted its consequences - and the European constitution.
In 2000 he wrote what could be considered the greatest statement of the intellectual case against closer European integration, Separate Ways.At this time the Eurosceptic case had been so marginalised that the book - rather than arguing for withdrawal, which at that stage seemed impossible - made a case for a two-speed Europe in which the UK would most definitely be in the slow lane.Shore died in 2001 but many of those who worked with him supported leaving the European Union in 2016.
Shore felt that the federalist case carried little public support, something that was recognised by those who most desired it.Integration could only happen by adopting underhand means.This started with Heath who had falsely claimed that no effective loss of sovereignty was involved in joining the EEC and continued ever since. 'What is intolerable is that we should be lied to.It is not deception, and it is not self-deception.It is lying!The sooner we face this, and expose those who treat us in this disgraceful way, the better.'
In order to sustain this deception two rhetorical strategies were adopted.The first was fear, the second was ridicule.People would be made to fear the consequences of leaving the EEC/EU and of failing to integrate.To be made to feel that there really was no alternative.He referred to this in that memorable speech in 1975:
'Now what do they say? What is the message that comes now? No longer to tell the British people about the goodies that lie there.No longer that.That won't wash, will it?Because the evidence will no longer support it.So the message, the message that comes out is fear, fear, fear.'
If that was true in 1975, how much more so it was to be in 2016. But more than this, those who argued against further integration and ultimately opposed membership were made to feel stupid.That they simply did not understand the realities.This again was all too apparent in 2016.Leave voters were portrayed as poorly educated, ignorant xenophobes who suffered from delusions of empire.Remainers saw themselves as intelligent, sophisticated and cosmopolitan.
Sadly this attitude was rife in the Labour Party - which showed disdain for the working class in leave voting areas.In December they extracted their revenge in large numbers.A Labour Party in the image of Peter Shore would not have allowed this to happen.
Kevin Hickson is Senior Lecturer in British Politics at the University of Liverpool.
Jasper Miles lectures at Queen Mary, Goldsmiths and West London Universities
Harry Taylor is a full-time political director