A Plea for Civility

A Plea for Civility

Sara Price

In the closing days of the EU referendum campaign, Founding Partner Sara Price reflects on Peter Shore’s democratic socialist opposition of the EU. 


Over the past few weeks and months, my former boss – Rt Hon Peter Shore MP or Lord Shore of Stepney as he became – has been much on my mind. If Peter were still with us, he would be clapping his hands with delight at the prospect of this referendum and horrified at the appalling nature of the campaigning on both sides.


Peter was a one-man repudiation of all those who argue that if you vote Leave you are a racist, xenophobic bigot – and probably stupid to boot.


Peter was an intellectual. A charming and deeply principled man. He believed in reasoned argument, rational opinion and substantiation. He was not a bigot or a little Englander and he would have been mortally offended to be thought of as such. He was an internationalist. He argued that the European Community (as it was then) should be expanded to Central and Eastern Europe long before that became the majority opinion. But he believed that the Community should be based upon the willing co-operation of sovereign states.


Peter’s opposition to the EU was not founded on prejudice but on a deep and abiding belief in the importance of democracy. He believed that socialism and democracy were inextricably linked and that un-elected transnational bodies, representing the interests of finance capital and big business, posed a major threat to that democracy.


“I did not,” he said in 1973, “come into socialist politics in order to connive in the dismantling of the power of the British people.”


Neil Clark, writing five years ago in The Guardian on the 10th anniversary of Peter’s death, posed the following questions:


“Whoever could have predicted that the Maastricht treaty and the introduction of the euro would lead not to a democratic workers paradise, but to unelected bankers and officials imposing austerity and privatisation on EU member states?

Who could have predicted that closer European integration would lead to ever-rising unemployment across the continent and ordinary people effectively being forced to leave their home countries in order to find work elsewhere?

Well one man did, and his name was Peter Shore.”


Concluding a speech he gave in 1990, Peter made another prediction – and another plea:


“We shall be subjected to a barrage of insults about our insularity and threats about the terrible consequences that await us if we dare to say No. We shall withstand it. More, we must be ready to explain and inform, to argue and to expose. Above all, those of us in Parliament, regardless of Party, must be resolute in the defence of our people, our nation and our democracy.”


Well said Peter. We didn’t always agree, but I wish you were here now – to add some intellectual rigour, some principle and some old-fashioned courtesy to this debate. After the tragic events of last week, this would seem to me to be more important than ever before.


Image Source: The Guardian