One Britain, One Europe, One World: The Socialist Internationalism of Arthur Woodburn, Part Three

You can find Part One of this series on Arthur Woodburn here and Part Two here.

One Britain, One Europe, One World: The Socialist Internationalism of Arthur Woodburn, 1960-1970

Part Three: Movement Man: Woodburn’s Political Activism on European Integration

Its wars will be our wars.  Its mistakes will affect us though we may not benefit from its successes.  We are half in and no one suggests we should withdraw.  Europe without us makes decisions which affect us.  Can we continue to shout in our ideas from the doormat or should we sit down at the Council table as collaborators in one of the greatest developments in history.  That is the question we have to answer.

During the 1960s, Woodburn’s campaigning for British membership in the EEC took many forms.  He spoke regularly in parliamentary debates on European integration as part of a cadre of right-wing Labour MPs aligned with the then Labour Home Secretary and later Chancellor of the Exchequer Roy Jenkins.  He was an early member of the pro-European pressure group, the Labour Committee for Europe, originally called the Labour Common Market Committee when first inaugurated in 1961 with Roy Jenkins as chair.1  In his role as president of the National Council of Labour Colleges (NCLC), he pushed his colleagues to ensure that the curriculum for working class and trade union education included information on British membership in the EEC so that questions over the issue did not surprise and overwhelm the British trade union movement.2  Woodburn was also an active member of other pro-European pressure groups throughout Britain.  For instance, he was a past chairman of the United Europe Association (UEA) and helped establish the UEA’s only two regional groups in Scotland, the Consultative Committee for Scotland and the Clackmannanshire Group.  Woodburn was also involved in the British Council of the European Movement (BCEM), attending European Movement conferences as a British delegate and speaking at BCEM-sponsored events.3

Woodburn’s participation in the activities of the BCEM included the publication of a pamphlet in late 1962 purporting to offer “a commonsense view” on Britain joining the EEC.  Labeled a personal statement by Woodburn himself, it was part informational and part polemic, and offers perhaps the clearest presentation of Woodburn’s views on Britain and the EEC issue, as well as again demonstrating the tensions between pragmatism and ideology in his internationalist thought.  Early on, he makes the case for his “commonsense view” by adopting the mantle of dispassionate analysis, stating:

If we are to reach sound conclusions on the issue we are entitled to have the factors clearly stated and not to have them confused by those who are strongly for and strongly against, both of whom are inclined to magnify the pros and cons to make their case.  We must try to see the realities of the position.4

Later in the pamphlet, Woodburn claims that he has “no strong feelings about entry into the Common Market.”5  But reading the full pamphlet, one is struck by the sheer comprehensiveness of his argument that Britain had no alternative but to join the EEC.  This was no evenhanded assessment.  He begins by detailing Britain’s already extensive participation in European affairs, noting its participation in two world wars fostered in part by Franco-German rivalry, its role in reconstruction after the defeat of Nazism, and its vital participation in such international organizations as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the Council of Europe.6  From there, he takes his audience on a whirlwind tour of EEC institutions, procedures, and policies with text that is, at times, heavy with facts, figures, and charts.  Ostensibly, this is to provide his audience with all the necessary facts in order to arrive at their own “commonsense view.”  But it also reflects how weighty and technical the EEC debate was in Britain in the early 1960s, which no doubt contributed to public indifference and puzzlement.7

In addition to his fact-laden argument in favor, Woodburn also puts considerable effort into challenging the opposition case against British membership, some of which he labels “imaginary [and] exaggeration.”8  On the argument that Britain should choose the Commonwealth over Europe, he points out the growing trade activity between Australia and the Common Market countries.  On membership’s impact on daily life in Britain, he claims that it will be imperceptible, arguing that the “Post Office will still deliver the letters, our shops will be the same (indeed shops are nearly the same now all over Europe), the buses, trains, and planes will fly as usual, our schools will not be changed – unless for the better, and there will still be TV, the ‘pictures’, and the theatre.”9  On the fears that cheap Italian labour will flood Britain upon membership, taking jobs away from Britons and straining the country’s welfare system, Woodburn derides as “imaginary terrors” and points out that Italian prosperity in the EEC was causing labour shortages in Belgium and Switzerland as Italian labour flowed back into Italy.10

He then argues what would happen to Britain should she not join, pointing out that “those who are opposed seem to assume that we can go on as usual.  This simply cannot be and it is here that the danger lies for us.”11  Without membership in a larger, economic combination, Woodburn argues, Britain would find its Commonwealth partners forced to develop closer ties with Japan, the United States, and the Soviet Union, due to the limited size of the British market.  And as the costs of modern scientific advancements increased, Britain was in danger of being left behind because it could not, with only the Commonwealth, “carry by herself the costs of modern progress in research and development in the scientific age” and still compete with the superpowers.12  Woodburn finishes his “commonsense view” by returning to the theme that Britain was already in Europe and could not escape it: “Its wars will be our wars.  Its mistakes will affect us though we may not benefit from its successes.  We are half in and no one suggests we should withdraw.  Europe without us makes decisions which affect us.  Can we continue to shout in our ideas from the doormat or should we sit down at the Council table as collaborators in one of the greatest developments in history.  That is the question we have to answer.”13  Throughout the remaining decade, this would be his pitch to the British people.

For next week: Part Four, Towards a European Language

  1. Andy Mullen, “The British Left’s ‘Great Debate’ on Europe: The Political Economy of the British Left and European Integration, 1945-2004,” (Ph.D. diss., University of Bradford, 2005), 240-241.
  2. The Times (London), 4 June 1962.
  3. For an example, see the brief write up of a European Movement conference in The Times (London), 19 January 1965.
  4. Arthur Woodburn, A Commonsense View of the Common Market (London: UK Council of the European Movement, 1962{?}), 1.
  5. Ibid., 13.
  6. Ibid., 2.
  7. For an exploration of British public opinion regarding membership in the EEC in the early 1960s, see James Spence, “Movements in the Public Mood: 1961-75,” in Roger Jowell and Gerald Hoinville, eds., Britain Into Europe: Public Opinion and the EEC, 1961-1975 (London: Croom Helm, 1976), 19-22.  The public’s indifference and confusion on the debate was such that by the 1964 General Election, questions over Britain’s membership in the EEC were, as Harold Macmillan said on BBC Election Forum during the campaign, “dead as an election issue.”  See David E. Butler and Anthony King, The British General Elections 1945-92: The British General Election of 1964, Archive Edition (London: Macmillan Press Ltd, 1999), 132.
  8. Woodburn, Commonsense View, 8.
  9. Ibid., 9.
  10. Ibid., 10.
  11. Ibid., 13.
  12. Ibid., 16.
  13. Ibid., 19.

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One Britain, One Europe, One World: The Socialist Internationalism of Arthur Woodburn, Part Three — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: One Britain, One Europe, One World: The Socialist Internationalism of Arthur Woodburn, Part Four » Devenney Research Hub

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