Thursday, 5 June 2014

Class, Euroscepticism and “The Monster of Peladon”

By Danny Nicol

Peladon – it’s an insular kingdom, cut off from the rest of the galaxy, archaic and twee, with a quirky established religion and an antiquated class system.  I wonder what country that’s supposed to be!

The Doctor’s first visit to this isolated planet (“The Curse of Peladon” (1972)) is widely acknowledged as an allegory for Britain’s accession to the European Communities (now, European Union).  The Doctor sides with those who favour Peladon’s entry into the Galactic Federation against a primitive and self-serving opposition.

The Doctor and companion Sarah Jane Smith encounter
representatives of the Galactic Federation
The solidly pro-EC stance of “The Curse of Peladon” was, however, reconsidered two years later in “The Monster of Peladon” (1974).  This less-well-crafted story is set some fifty years after the Doctor’s earlier encounter with the planet (ironically Britain's half-century milestone as an EC/EU Member State is not so far off).  The story rather overflows with political messages concerning feminism and the miners’ strike of 1974. However these strongly-expressed themes have rather obscured the story’s intriguingly unfavourable account of supranationalism.  Needing minerals for a war in which the Federation has become embroiled, the miners of Peladon are being worked excessively hard.  Federation troops are brought in to replace domestic troops in order to police the miners, and there is a threat that Federation workers will mine the minerals if Peladon miners down tools. The villains of the piece are the Ice Warriors, who as members of the Federation appear to be manipulating it for their own ends.  In particular the introduction of Federation troops seems to be a cover for an invasion by an oppressive Ice Warrior dominated force, authorised to use any terror method.   Of course things come right in the end, and the Doctor leaves Peladon with more social mobility, less sex discrimination and a more sceptical view of galactic integration. 

As an allegory “The Monster of Peladon” can be read as offering three valuable insights into Britain’s European engagement. 

First, interest lies in the swiftly-diminishing legitimacy of the Galactic Federation.  This legitimacy – like that of the EU – is results-orientated, not process-based.  In other words legitimacy relies on the benefits received from membership not on the organisation’s democratic attributes. On this basis the Doctor himself speedily becomes a Federation-sceptic.  He opines that the Federation has brought many of its troubles on itself: after fifty years of membership the miners of Peladon have got harder work for the same rewards.   Similarly with the EU, the Eurozone crisis has damaged its legitimacy, and it cannot recover ground by appealing to non-existent democratic credentials.

Give back our planetary sovereignty!
The Queen of Peladon confronts an Ice Warrior
Secondly, “The Monster of Peladon” shows that the contractarian argument – the idea that the UK signed up to “a Community of unlimited duration” and so must accept its benefits and burdens – will only take us so far.  In the story, the Queen of Peladon complains that her people have been dragged into a war which is not their own, only to be admonished by Ortron, her Chancellor and High Priest, that “we have to accept the duties of Federation membership, as well as the benefits!”  In a later episode the Queen laments the violation of Peladon’s planetary sovereignty; she reflects that when her father signed treaties with the Federation, he could not have known it would lead to nothing but bloodshed; as it is, she reflects, Peladon must accept the consequences.   Yet in the end, as the story shows, there is always a right to revolution.  The EC/EU is at one and the same time an international arrangement and an important part of the constitutions of the Member States, and the British constitution is traditionally easy to change.  Against that backdrop the idea that a previous generation of politicians can bind a political community not to change things is problematic.

Working class hero?
The Doctor makes common cause with Peladon's miners

Thirdly, and most importantly, the story flags up the class nature of supranational integration.  On Peladon, it is in particular amongst the ordinary people that disillusionment with the Federation is most keenly felt.  The miners complain that the promises of Federation membership failed to materialise: “the Federation told us things would be better.  So they are - for the nobles and the court.  We got nothing as usual!”  This leads in turn to resentment at the loss of sovereignty: according to Edis, one of the miners’ leaders, much though he resents the privilege of the Queen’s court, he resents still more that the “real masters” are the Federation.  This chimes with the upsurge in popularity of Eurosceptic parties throughout Europe – including UKIP’s successes in Northern England, Wales and Scotland.  The Eurozone crisis, the permanence of privatisation by dint of EU competition law, and the effect of the free movement of persons on job security and terms and conditions, all suggest that the European project is not some purely technical matter.  Class interests do not stop at the door of the European Union.  Agustin José Menéndez has observed that British entry into the EC did not affect all Britons equally. Indeed, whether you derived a benefit or burden from the country’s EC membership was determined not by your being British but by your socio-economic position.  (See A.J. Menéndez, “Whose Justice? Which Europe?” in Grainne de Búrca, Dimitry Kochenov and Andrew Williams, eds., Europe’s Justice Deficit (Oxford: Hart, 2014, forthcoming)).  “The Monster of Peladon” underlines that different constitutional arrangements benefit different classes of people, and in this regard European integration is no different from any other constitutional change.

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