Cameron is the people’s Euro hero

by Peter Watt

Recent events have shown that a majority of voters are not generally pro-EU. Or at least they are agnostic at best and not averse to giving the Euro the middle-finger, if given a chance or encouraged. The Times carried a poll on Monday that showed:

“57% of people thought that David Cameron was right to use the veto, with 14% disagreeing and 29% don’t know. 53% also agreed that the use of the veto showed that Cameron is willing to stand up for Britain”.

But as a party we seem to be in denial about this. We seem to think that because we believe that our membership of the EU is a good thing, that everyone, apart from a few rabid right wingers, agrees. After all it is such a reasonable and obviously good thing that countries get on and cooperate, rather than disagree and fight. It can surely only be goggle-eyed euro headbangers that could possibly disagree?  And anyway, no one really cares about Europe. As an issue, it really only worries Tory leaders who need to keep an eye out for friends wielding daggers. Or so the complacent Labour orthodoxy goes.

But as a party we aren’t just Euro believers. No, we have been enjoying our membership of the EU for so long that we can’t see what the problem is: the odd trip to the European parliament for party members hosted by the MEP, MEPs constituency report, Euro election selections and the Euro levy on CLPs to help pay for the elections. These might not get our pulses racing, but the impact of our membership of the EU is felt as a regular part of the Labour party’s calendar. It has become absolutely familiar, part of party business as usual. So being an active member of the Euro fan club is a part of our political DNA. The result is that we have forgotten how to effectively articulate the benefits of membership to anyone who is not a fully signed up Europhile because we don’t fully accept that we need to. Worse, the familiarity has made us contemptuous of anyone who defers.

But we have missed what is actually going on. Voters, lots of them, don’t like the EU.  They think it’s bloated, bureaucratic and remote. They think that it costs a lot of money and that that money benefits French farmers and discriminates against British fishermen. And we do nothing to dissuade them. Oh we talk about the importance of our membership of the EU on jobs and trade, but not how and why. We talk about maintaining influence at the top table, but not why that matters. We say that it is important that the Eurozone needs stabilising, but not why we should have to pay for it.  But we can’t see any of this as a particular problem, because we like being members of the EU, we are familiar with it. But in the real world, whilst it may not be top of most people’s agendas, it is an issue that can get people pretty irritated.

And that is why we have got the politics of the last week or so spectacularly wrong.  Spectacularly wrong, because we have taken a perfectly reasonable position on the substantive issue. In summary, our position is that David Cameron screwed up the negotiations in Brussels and has made Britain weaker by reducing our influence at the fabled “top table”. Ed Miliband put in a virtuoso performance responding to the PM’s post-summit statement in the Commons on Monday:

“it is not a veto when something goes ahead without you, that’s called losing.  He has come back with a bad deal for Britain.  Far from protecting our interests, he has left us without a voice”.

It got the Labour side cheering, and no doubt the absent deputy prime minister was nodding in agreement, wherever he was. But out in the country this isn’t an issue about the EU. It is an issue about leadership. Remember that most people don’t really like the EU and are suspicious of the French and Germans. And blow me down, David Cameron goes to the very heart of darkness, Brussels, and tells them where to get off. He looks like a right tough bloke, a leader willing to stand up for the country. When push comes to shove, and he had to make a decision, he decided to fight for Britain. It doesn’t matter if that is all true or even if that is what happened. What matters is that how it looks. But Labour, unable to stop being reasonable, is still trying to argue the case for still being all pally with those duplicitous French and their German pals.

“Would you have signed”? Tory MPs bellowed at Ed Miliband on Monday. Later in the day his spokesman said “no, but he would’ve stayed and got a better deal”.  A perfectly reasonable answer. But by contrast with David “Up Eurs” Cameron it looked like a weak fudge and politico speak. He should have said:

“No. But the issues raised at the summit and since are so serious that we should now seriously consider calling a referendum on our membership of the EU. In any such referendum, I will be arguing for a “yes” vote, but enough is enough and the voters must decide”.

It would have called Cameron out, would have been strong and decisive and we could have then rediscovered how to argue the merits of the EU. Because at the next election we won’t be fighting the Tories on the EU or the veto. We will be fighting an election on who is the best leader for Britain in a difficult and uncertain world.

So let’s stop being so bloody reasonable. Let’s recognise that our comfortable familiarity with membership of the EU isn’t most voters’ experience, and isn’t the issue that will determine who wins next time. In summary, let’s start showing leadership or we will lose.

Peter Watt is a former general secretary of the Labour party.

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21 Responses to “Cameron is the people’s Euro hero”

  1. Nick says:

    Voters, lots of them, don’t like the EU. They think it’s bloated, bureaucratic and remote.


    Not think. It’s not some fairy tail. It’s the truth.

    No, we have been enjoying our membership of the EU for so long that we can’t see what the problem is: the odd trip to the European parliament for party members hosted by the MEP, MEPs constituency report, Euro election selections and the Euro levy on CLPs to help pay for the elections

    Yep, Most politicians like the EU. They get the invites to the party. If democracy applied, they wouldn’t be invited. So they are prepared to sell the UK down the toilet so they get to go to the ball.

    You’ve left off migration. People know what is fair and what isn’t fair. Having people with low skills turn up, and compete with them for jobs, for schools, for social housing, for benefits, without contributing first isn’t fair. [That’s why a high level of taxation for migrants is required. You have to pay more than 11K in tax]

    So what about the 0.5% cap on deficits? Are you up for 130+ billion of cuts to make the grade to be in the club? Ah yes, you haven’t read the documents.

    The problem is the Euro is a busted flush. They can’t solve a tin pot economy that is Greece. As a consequence they can’t solve the big ones. It’s joining the Titanic because you like the band, even though you have seen the iceberg reports.

    Now the problems with the EU apply to the UK. You’ve run up massive debts, and hidden them off the books. Of those debts PFI is the trivial one.

  2. Anthony Zacharzewski says:

    I half-agree because it’s a half-argument.

    Agree with the complacency of the Labour party’s support for the EU. Agree (mostly) that people think it’s bloated bureaucratic and remote – though that’s probably what they think of the UK Gvt as well.

    Don’t agree that the next step is a referendum call. The current framing of a referendum is “status quo or out”, and a yes result would change nothing other than providing a snapshot of opinion.

    I’d rather Labour started showing positive leadership to counter defensive negative leadership. Set out a vision for a post-crisis EU that is more democratic (elected Commission President? Merkel’s party policy), involves Eurobonds and more burden sharing (what the likely next French president is saying), and more committed to social justice alongside free trade.

    If you have to have a referendum – and I don’t think they’re very democratic things, to be honest – have it on a choice between visions, not “keep today’s unsatisfying mess or jump off a cliff”.

  3. Mouth of the Umber says:

    The problem with the Labour Party is it is too scared to put forward a positive message about Europe.

    Who was it who said, we are at our best when we are at our boldest?

    The Labour Party spent too much time worrying about the general publics “wants” and than it’s “needs”.

    Consequently we are now stuck between a rock and a hard place allowing the vagaries of middle-class London to smash us to bits like a storm tide.

  4. Stuart Madewell says:

    I agree we should stop being reasonable. We should say that the Merkozy plan to save the Euro is undemocratic and bad for jobs. We should say that without Growth there is no way they will be able to stop the crisis in the Euro.

    We should point out that Camerons attempt to get a protocol to defend the was a piece of theatre designed to get headlines in the eurosceptic press and not a serious negotiating position.

    There is now no other place for Cameron to go but back to the negotiating table.

    We should point out his U turn.

    And yes we should call for a Referendum… To call the Tories bluff

  5. Chris L says:

    Yes the public sees David Cameron fighting for Britain and Labour on the side of the French. It’s sad but we are an island race hating jonny foreigner.

  6. figurewizard says:

    Perhaps it would be better for Labour’s fortunes if there was a wing in the party demanding ‘renegotiation or out!’ Your party is presently perceived to be either roughly in alignment with the Lib-Dems on the EU or a collective ‘don’t know.’ The issue of our membership has finally become decisive in our own politics and as the crisis over there deepens it will become all the more decisive over here.

  7. Stephen says:

    “After all it is such a reasonable and obviously good thing that countries get on and cooperate, rather than disagree and fight. It can surely only be goggle-eyed euro headbangers that could possibly disagree?”

    Gosh what an ego!

  8. Tris says:

    It is strange though, that even the most rabid Europe haters (Thatcher was a racist xenophobe), have gone further and further into the Union: even knowing that coming out would be very popular with the public.

  9. Marcus How says:

    “Let’s recognise that our comfortable familiarity with membership of the EU isn’t most voters’ experience” — that’s true, but only insofar that voters have no experience of the EU. For years their experience of the EU has been purely quasi-experiential, formed by the conservative media.

    In fact, it’s a failure of both our MPs, MEPs and mainstream media that the average voter has no understanding of the machinations of the EU. To them, it’s a remote Kafkaesque bureaucracy pumping out supposedly one-size-fits-all regulations. It’s too late for Labour to remedy that now, and undeniably a tragedy of simplification.

  10. Frederick James says:

    You dignify your party’s stance too much by describing it, in effect, as “reasonable to a fault”. It is in reality pure opportunism but it is not working for you because your leader is incompetent even at the simple task of veering as the wind blows. It was the same with the strikes, the same with the riots, the same with prison sentencing, the same with… pretty much everything. Heaven help you if he ever tries to act on principle!

    “No, we have been enjoying our membership of the EU for so long that we can’t see what the problem is: the odd trip to the European parliament for party members hosted by the MEP… ”

    In other words, you have gone native in pursuit of the gravy-train. Is it any wonder you have got on completely the wrong side of public opinion on this? Are you capable of remedying the situation? Happily for the Tories, I doubt it.

  11. william says:

    At long last,somebody advocating a EU referendum;1. IN-Out question might split 60/40 in favour of IN.2.Renegotiate,yes or no,might split 90/10.This is an open goal for Labour to say it trusts the electorate’s judgement.

  12. Madasafish says:

    In summary, let’s start showing leadership or we will lose.

    I am afraid you picked the wrong Leader for leadership…

  13. MG says:

    Agree. This is exactly why I wanted (and still want) a referendum. I want to vote ‘Yes’ and put an end to this endless non stop UK agonising. It’s about time that pro-Europeans came out fighting – properly!

  14. ad says:

    “Would you have signed”? Tory MPs bellowed at Ed Miliband on Monday. Later in the day his spokesman said “no, but he would’ve stayed and got a better deal”. A perfectly reasonable answer.

    It would have been a perfectly reasonable answer if he had said how Ed would have got a better deal. Blindly asserting that he would have got a better deal is blind assertion, and unlikely to persuade anyone who was not convinced of Labours superiority to start with. To everyone else it looks like Milliband is saying that it was a bad deal, and that Cameron was wrong to refuse it. That is not an especially convincing answer.

  15. Mike Homfray says:

    Leadership is not offering a referendum on an issue where we wouldn’t be content with any possible result. So, let’s say the result is ‘yes’. We then have to implement a policy which we do not believe in. Its hypocritical and dishonest

    Sometimes its just a fact that the ‘populist’ response is the wrong one.

  16. Chris says:

    About time…this so needed to be said.
    I have supported the Labour party (including during its more loony times) for more than thirty years. But frankly, for far too many of them I have been embarrassed by the party (as well as others of the liberal left outside the party) and its attitude to those who either don’t agree or just don’t get it!! It comes across as either – “What idiots!” or “How prejudiced!”
    This has certainly been seen, as you put so well above, over Europe but is seen in other areas too. Gordon’s “bigot” comments during the campaign are another perfect example. This wasn’t just him….I have heard the same attitude from local labour too. What you need to understand is that people have real fears over issues such as immigration and Europe. They don’t wake up one morning and think “Oh today I’m going to hate Polish plumbers!” But they see their sons and daughters, friends and neighbours losing their jobs and they are frightened. Mouthpieces such as the Daily Fail are more than willing to give them a scapegoat or two. Rather than dismissing them as just stupid or prejudiced, you need to explain to them; you need to set out why the right’s explanation is wrong.
    (Frankly, I think the left shows the same attitude when confronted by racism, sexism or homophobia etc. Rolling your eyes and tut-tutting – or to our shame, shouting them down, will not do. And before I get abuse, of course we shouldn’t tolerate such things and yes, it’s right that we have protection for minorities etc. But I cannot remember the last time I heard anyone from the left actually explain why racism, for example is wrong. )
    The danger is, if you don’t explain and convince people why it is good to be in the EU, they may conclude it’s because you don’t actually know yourselves.
    That would be good news for Cameron indeed.

  17. Glassfet says:

    “let’s start showing leadership or we will lose.”

    You need a leader for that.

    Ed Miliband is not, and never will be, a leader.

  18. Anon E Mouse says:

    Anthony Zacharzewski – Why are you afraid of a referendum on Europe?

    If the public vote your way you’re covered.

    If they don’t then you weren’t acting on their behalf and therefore have no business wishing to representing them.

    Unless of course you think you know better than the people.

    All this is a sideshow though whilst that unelectable clown (and indeed wasn’t elected by the Labour Party members or the PLP) Ed Miliband “leads” the Labour Party…

  19. Joe Roberts says:

    My personal view is that the party should fundamentally re-evaluate our approach to the European Union. I think a lot of Labour people are trapped in a 1990’s mindset that says that the EU must, by definition, be a progressive institution, because the Tories and the Daily Mail are against it. And incredibly, this mindset persists when we see an EU dominated by centre-right governments ousting elected administrations and replacing them with compliant technocrats, selected on the basis that they will implement swingeing austerity programmes and do the bidding of the markets. I think we could learn a lot from my hero Hugh Gaitskell….

    Reading some comments from Labour Facebook friends this week, there did seem to be an echo of the ‘No Compromise with the Electorate’ mentality of the Labour left in the 1980’s. Someone actually suggested that 59% of the respondents to the Populus poll in the Times were xenophobes and racists!

    However, Peter has arrived at the right conclusion for the wrong reasons. The attitude of Peter Watt, Dan Hodges, etc., is one of overwhelming cynicism. Their recipe for success is simply “follow the polls”. The problem with this approach is it means your political agenda is set by your opponents in Parliament and the media, who are more than happy to make the case for what THEY believe in. It allows the Tories and the Daily Mail to define where the centre ground lies.

    As Labour people, we have a duty to persuade the electorate of what we believe, and should try to lead the debate. Peter suggests that Labour politicians should go around arguing the case for policies they don’t believe in. I suggest that he grossly underestimates the intelligence of the electorate. People can tell when you are saying things that you don’t believe, and which contradict what you have said in the past.

    As for Peter – when I read his comments about Cameron being the ‘Peoples’ Euro Hero’ and telling us that the ‘Tories always have the best tunes’ – I wonder how long before it will be before we see a blue rosette pinned on his lapel…..

  20. Private Shultz says:

    The presence of both Lord and Lady Kinnock reclining in the Lords with their huge EU pensions hardly helps your argument.

  21. Rib tickle labour says:

    Great one Mike the Labour or Tory Party know best because well they are politicians and your all stupid, so the referendum would be a waste because well what ever you vote for would be wrong as politicians many of them economist who did not see the housing bubble or the banking crises, brilliance

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