Deluded Cameron has chosen party unity over the economy – shame on him

23rd January, 2013 7:35 am

This morning David Cameron is making his much (much) delayed “tantric” (shudder) Europe speech. In it he will try to portray himself as many things – democrat, Eurosceptic, diplomat – but an no point will he admit the role that has dragged him into this position – leader of a party without a majority.

The sad truth is that rather than Cameron’s plan for an EU referendum being borne out of economic necessity or political choice, it’s something he has been forced to do by the extremist right-wing of his party (step forward Peter Bone et al) who without a referendum would become unmanageable for the next 30 months – threatening his leadership. This speech, and the referendum that may come from it – is a desperate attempt by Cameron to hold his party together for long enough to get through the 2015 election.

The next election looms large when considering Cameron’s rationale for making this speech.

After all, the next election is pivotal to Cameron’s ability to offer a referendum, because it’s not something that’s in his power go give any sooner – thanks to the Lib Dems. So for Cameron to make good on his big pledge today he’ll need to achieve something he’s never managed before – a majority.

Currently the electoral arithmetic looks pretty grim for the Tories. Without boundary changes such an outcome seems difficult to imagine. But electoral arithmetic (alongside party management) is a large part of why we’re here today. Cameron thinks by announcing a referendum four years hence (post-renogotiation*) he can unite his party and kill off the UKIP threat.

He’s wrong on both counts.

His party will still remain fractious over gay marriage, any nod to social liberalism anything that the Lib Dems like. And the UKIP threat will continue – because it’s not (just) about Europe (only 18% of UKIP voters said Europe was one of their major concerns in a recent poll) and because Nigel Farage and his motley crew absolutely loathe Cameron and his party, and have intention of easing off. The Tories may claw back a few points in the polls – but UKIP are a factor in national politics for the foreseeable future.

Cameron is banking on his promise of an EU referendum far off into he future (with many ifs and buts along the way) as a game changer that will set the Tories on course for a majority in 2015. In a country where only 6% of people consider Europe a priority that’s deluded. What is far more likely to be a game changer this week is if the economy is revealed to have shrunk once again when GDP figures are released on Friday.

But by introducing the possibility of a referendum that will spook the business community – Cameron has already chosen party management and Europe over the economy anyway. And he has forgotten the golden rule of politics – that the public rarely share the obsessions of politicians. But they do suffer as a result. For shame.

(* Of course what Cameron means when he says “renegotiation” is that he wants Britain out of the Social Chapter – which would mean losing swathes of rights in the workplace. Apart from being disastrous for millions of workers, other EU leaders will never agree to it. By contrast when Labour says renegotiate, the meaning is a more democratic union, and cutting the bloated EU Commission. Both parties want rid of the “second seat” in Strasbourg – both are right. But it won’t happen.)

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  • me

    Great article! Exactly my thoughts!

  • David Lindsay

    This speech was drivel.

    Oh, well, a warm welcome to the Conservative Party as the third party out of three to support a referendum, not that there is any real need for one, or for renegotiation, rather than for plain and simple primary legislation. Unlike the other two, the Third Party, which based on the Rotherham by-election result may also be called the Fifth Party, is still entirely closed to a referendum on the real issue.

    But, like so many other things, it only counts when the Tories say or do it. Everyone else does not exist. Apart from UKIP, obviously. Fleet Street’s and the BBC’s beloved eccentric uncles who are therefore saturated with affectionate, wholly uninquiring coverage.

    But for serious people, unlike David Cameron, legislation now, next week if possible, with six simple clauses. If playing about with the succession to the Throne can be rushed through both Houses in two days, then so can this.

    First, the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and its use to repatriate agricultural, industrial and regional policy while also reclaiming our historic fishing rights (200 miles, or to median line) in accordance with international law.

    Secondly, the requirement that, in order to have any effect in the United Kingdom, all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them.

    Thirdly, the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meet in public and publish an Official Report akin to Hansard.

    Fourthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons, the High Court of Parliament.

    Fifthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons.

    And sixthly, since apparently we must, the provision for a referendum on the question, “Do you wish the United Kingdom to remain a member of the European Union?” The first five would come into effect at the same time as this provision, and would not be conditional on that referendum’s outcome.

    Over to the Opposition Front Bench. Clearly, no one else is going to make the move.

  • Local speech for local Tories. His ‘simple choice’ as I understand is to vote for EU exit or vote for Cameron’s neo-liberal agenda (“renegotiations”)

    This was a psuedo-existential speech over what? to withdraw from some common justice measures, fish quotas and the social chapter.

    While Merkel and Hollande are the grown ups in the room trying to fix the roof, Cameron is looking like the irritating whiny kid stamping his foot to get his sweeties.

    And bringing up the Scottish referendum wasn’t very clever- no party apart from the SNP called for one.

    And his big picture views are utterly muddled, he clearly doesn’t want a tighter federal arrangement but can’t understand why a 28 state intergovernmental consensual system does not reach fast clear decisions.

    And he doesn’t want ‘an ever closer union’ except in areas where he does; single market, defence, external diplomacy for eg.

    And if Cameron is re-elected (by some miracle) and a referendum is won, he will still be back to first base. Every time he negotiates on any issue in the EU his back bench tea party will claim the British people voted for a trading relationships and he his betraying the country (code for the Tory Party).

  • That tabloid posturing over the ECHR was embarrassing coming from a British PM doing a feeble impression of a statesman. Cameron is a lightweight.

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