Last night I went to a gig – well it felt like a gig – but it was actually a talk given by Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister. He was chatting – it was a chat rather than a talk – with Owen Jones. It was at the Union Chapel in Islington and was a proper North London lefty love in.
Varoufakis is not your typical finance minister. He was not wearing a suit or tie – jokes were made about this – instead he was sporting a snazzy purple shirt, tight jeans and what looked a bit like DM boots. He has a shaved head and knife sharp cheekbones. He is a rock and roll economist.
Apologies if I sound a little bit cynical here. I am merely stating just how different Varoufakis is from most people in his profession. He is not just different in style; he is different in substance. His politics are just as defiant and iconoclastic as his image. Although he did not succeed in facing off the forces of austerity during his brief tenure as Greek finance minister, he did at least have a go. For that he should be saluted.
In addition to talking about what he describes as ‘the Greek Spring’ of 2015, where radical party Syriza was elected on an anti austerity ticket, Varoufakis has a lot to say about the EU. I found this very interesting. Although he has nothing but contempt for the EU in its present form, he is absolutely convinced that we need to stay in it; there are some on the left who find the EU so repellent that they want nothing to do with it. Varoufakis thinks the EU needs radical reform – I know that is a weasel word now associated with Cameron style privatisation – but in this context it means an EU that is changed to become more transparent and more democratic. Varoufakis wants EU meetings to be streamed or televised so that EU citizens can actually see what is going on – he believes that this would be a great way of making politicians more accountable. I am not a hundred percent sure that I agree – has he ever watched the pantomime that is PMQs? But it is basically a good idea and I am all for an EU that is more democratic, more accountable and more accessible to its citizens. At the moment it is monolithic and remote and seems both sclerotic and self serving.
However, I felt his arguments for remaining within the EU were a bit negative and not necessarily the way to convince the undecided to Remain. I feel very strongly about the need to remain, largely because I believe that our employment rights would go up in smoke if we left the EU. This is why the TUC is so strongly behind the Remain campaign and I would like to have seen more acknowledgement of this from Varoufakis. I felt that so strongly that I stood up and made the point – or maybe that is because I am a gobby cow who likes the sound of my own voice. You tell me….
I also feel the Remain campaign should be pushing the fact that there has been no European War for 70 years – this point was eloquently made by a German gentleman in in the audience. I was totally blown away by Varoufakis – he is very charismatic and there is no doubt he has balls of steel. However, I think his own run-ins with the EU have tainted his perceptions of it. Yes it is rotten in many ways, but it gives us protection from right wing governments. Surely the fact that Boris Johnson is leading the campaign for Brexit is evidence that the EU is not nearly as bad as Varoufakis thinks it is?