Sunday, 27 January 2013
Shifting the deckchairs on RMS Europe as the iceberg approaches
The delivery was delayed by the Algerian hostage crisis but David Cameron finally gave his much trailed speech on the future of Britain in the European Union this week. As is often the way with the pronouncements of Citizen Dave it stirred up a fresh set of problems.
Amidst much waffle about giving the British people ‘their say’ and this being a moment of ‘destiny’ he pledged to hold a referendum on our continued membership of the EU in the event of a Tory victory in 2015. This will be based on a renegotiation of the terms of our membership, a process that could take two years or longer.
The reaction from the yokels inhabiting the Westminster village was immediate and mostly horrified. A Labour spokesperson said that making any referendum dependent on a Tory election victory and a renegotiation of our membership terms would put the country through ‘years of uncertainty and take a huge gamble with our economy.’
Labour leader Ed Milliband went even further, saying during Wednesday’s PMQ’s that he opposed the holding of a referendum altogether. A position he later had to back-peddle away from with the speed of a hyped up Lance Armstrong.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, a former MEP, said there was a ‘right time’ to hold a referendum, but that creating ‘years of uncertainty because of a protracted renegotiation of our place in Europe is not in the national interest.’
Even Angela Merkel, the evil genius behind the whole European Union if you read certain newspapers and the Chancellor of Germany to everyone else, got in on the act, saying that she would ‘listen’ to Mr Cameron’s plans for renegotiation. Listening, of course, is not anything like the same thing as actually taking any notice.
Her foreign minister Guido Westerwelle took a more robust line, saying that the UK couldn’t ‘cherry pick’ the terms of its membership of the EU, likening Europe to a football club saying that ‘once you join you can’t then say ‘let’s play rugby.’
Since the speech was made there has been no end of carefully worded attempts to suggest the prime minister wasn’t really saying what he seemed to be saying and that he wants Britain to stay in the EU; none of which were at all convincing. As Nigel Farage put it the ‘genie’ of whether or not we stay in the EU is out of the bottle and he seems to have granted the UKIP leader all three of his wishes at once.
UKIP might not win a referendum, but leading the campaign will generate much needed publicity and allow them to make trouble within the Tory party; happy days indeed, let the mischief making commence. Actually can’t we stop it before it starts?
On one level I’m almost looking forward to watching a Conservative government tear itself to pieces over Europe, the last time this happened during the nineties the resulting farrago was hugely entertaining. Unfortunately though these are less kindly times, the UK is staring a ‘triple dip’ recession in the face that could make the shocks and scares of the past few years seem like a walk in the park.
Europe, like reforming the voting system, is an issue with a near magical power to bore the electorate rigid. Any referendum will, like the one on the alternative vote in 2011, inevitably present itself to the public as an undignified squabble amongst the political classes punctuated by celebrity stunts and occasional instances of outright hysteria. They will ignore it in droves, meaning that as a result a decision that could shape our place in the world for decades will be taken by a handful of people most of whom have an axe of one kind or another to grind.
The European Union as it is now, with its parliament, pretensions towards a foreign policy and legions of bureaucrats probably won’t be around ten years from now. If it is to survive at all it will have to become a much looser organisation focussed on trading alone that allows members to act autonomously or collectively as the situation demands.
Dragging a mostly indifferent public to the polls to vote on whether or not we stay in Europe an attractive displacement activity for a governing class that refuses to engage with the problems we face socially and economically. The triple dip recession, if it arrives, will hammer communities across the country into the ground and yet David Cameron and his cabinet of the complacent trundle blithely on towards disaster.
Remember next time a well fed politician with a starred double first in PPE from Oxbridge talks at you about the necessity of taking ‘tough choices’ that their own default choice is to always do whatever seems easiest at the time; usually with disastrous consequences.