Cameron has blundered on the EU

by Malcolm Clarke

There cannot possibly be a more endearing sight for the left of centre politician than the sight of Tory MPs rabidly attacking one another over the issue of Europe, their reaction to the word ‘Europe’ as predictable as the salivating dogs trained by Pavlov’s bell.

But I do not believe that the issue of Europe is solely about UKIP, although they have seen big gains as a result of this issue. Europe severs the right and UKIP could have expected better results having mopped up floating Tory voters who are Euro-sceptic, the standard protest voters who used to vote Lib Dem and also the mid-term ‘we hate politics’ voters who look to inflict damage on the main parties.

If you consider the positive climate for UKIP gains given the heightened public consciousness on issues surrounding EU membership, getting 25% of the vote is underwhelming and I question the extent of the success that the media are heralding for UKIP. They have filled a void in protest politics, nothing more. That is not to say their position will not develop in time to a more established position, but as we saw in Scotland two days ago, there is no Cleggmania-like wave for Nigel Farage at present.

At Westminster, the Tories are treading familiar ground with a virile battle raging over the issue of Europe once again. The Tories just cannot resist a good row over Europe but I believe they should be dealing with the difficult domestic situation we face like the ever-increasing cuts to public services, the ideological attack on councils and the flat-lining economy. They have reverted to type and it’s the same old Tories. They showed it over the NHS and they are showing it over Europe.

Many of their ills are self-inflicted by a strategic error by David Cameron. By declaring that he will defer an in-out referendum until after the next general election and after a renegotiation on our terms of membership within the European Union, he walked headlong into three big problems.

Firstly, whilst in opposition Cameron gave a ‘cast-iron guarantee’ for an in-out referendum. Now he has gone back on his word and people have noticed, particularly those in his own party who were previously appeased by this pledge. Cameron now faces distrust to the extent that a private members bill has been tabled by Conservative MP for Stockton South, James Wharton, to ensure the matter is cast out in binding legislation. As no party can legislate to bind their successors, Cameron is dangling a carrot to the electorate and to his disparate MPs saying, ‘stick with me and get your referendum’. Unfortunately for Dave, they electorate may well kick him out of Number 10 for not delivering an in-out referendum now.

Cameron’s second problem is that this furore has handed all mainstream parties a headache in dealing with the rise of UKIP. I have explained above why I would argue their rise is not simply down to a massive surge of nationalism but Farage has a platform now to express his clear views. Farage gives the same interview time after time on television and we have to accept that a decent proportion of the public are listening. Border control is a regular issue which is raised on the doorstep, as is the £50 million per day membership fee for being an EU member and you will not find many people who would say they are happy that Brussels has rising influence over our lawmaking.

These issues do strike a chord with the electorate who note the cuts to our public services, wage freezes but rising inflation and more and more competition for decreasing numbers of jobs. The public will support membership of the EU but only it is clearly demonstrated in a proper debate why it would be significantly worse for us not being in it. We need to give them the facts and not defer the issue, this only hands an open goal to the campaign for us leaving the debate and if we sit back too long it could be over before we start. At the moment the ‘no’ argument is controlling the debate, which must be a concern to anyone who wants to remain in the EU.

Cameron’s third problem is that by promising to have an in-out referendum on a renegotiated relationship with Europe, Cameron has chosen not to disclose the terms he will be seeking to achieve within this new relationship. This leads to uncertainty from both the public and his fellow MPs, who are particularly sensitive on all things Europe. I am not even sure he knows what he is aiming for at the present time. Certainly the Tory MPs are unsure what is going on and the debate rages on with the press delighting in it without an end in sight. It is front page news at the moment and the distrust and in-fighting is exactly what politics does not want when the institution needs to reengage with a suspicious general public.

Both the press and euro-sceptic Tories are sensing weakness and the wolves are circling around the beleaguered PM. Cameron has real problems to deal with over Europe. Labour must seize the moment so the public do not put their trust in UKIP as the only party offering a clear position of conviction. It is a test for the Labour front bench to show some leadership and offer the real alternative to the Con-Dems.

Malcolm Clarke is a Labour Party activist and blogger from the North East

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10 Responses to “Cameron has blundered on the EU”

  1. Nick says:

    You’re right Cameron is stupid. He should declare a referenda, and call labour and the lib dems bluff.

    However the problem is that UKIP are going after you. You’ve shafted the working class, and that’s your core voter who will end up voting UKIP.

  2. Really, Nick? The strange fantasy that a supposedly anti-EU party which does not in fact object to anything in particular that the EU actually does is picking up votes from Labour by objecting to the Coalition only on the grounds that its policies do not go far enough in a hardline New Right direction?

    Consider, for example, UKIP’s much-trumpeted, but exceptionally narrow, capture of a council seat from Labour in Rotherham. UKIP, 1143. Labour, 1039. Conservative, 107. In other words, UKIP and Labour pretty much tied, Conservative vote collapsed in UKIP’s favour. Very low turnout. Labour candidate married to the former councillor, who is now the Police and Crime Commissioner, leading to a certain amount of ill will on the ground.

    No story there at all. No such story anywhere at all.

    As for the delusion that UKIP is uniting social conservatives across traditional partisan dividing lines, a party which believes that whatever “the market” wants, “the market” must have, is ever going to do that how, exactly? It is no surprise that there is no previously Labour ballot box where that can be shown to have happened. UKIP barely exists in the North, or increasingly even in the Midlands, where it lost its one seat to Labour even in the supposed fortress of Nottinghamshire.

    UKIP is in favour of the legalisation of drugs, in favour of the legalisation of prostitution, and no more opposed to same-sex “marriage”, which Nigel Farage himself supports, than are two thirds of the Conservative MPs who voted against it under pressure from within their local parties, but who are really Thatcher’s Children, anarcho-capitalist libertarians.

    Likewise, around a third of Labour MPs who voted in favour of it, especially at Third Reading, are at least less than fully enthusiastic, but are under pressure from within their local parties. This is being used as a wedge issue by neo-Blairite activists with a view to removing MPs of whom they had wanted rid in any case. Just look at the names of the opponents, of the abstainers, and of those known to have grave doubts but who nevertheless went into the Aye lobby.

    The second and third camps are full of people who have gambled on this Bill’s never making it through the Lords, and who have therefore forced themselves to make a gesture in order to try and head off those who would stop them from doing everything else that they are doing as legislators, scrutineers and campaigners, by removing them from the House of Commons for other reasons entirely.

    Anyone in the European Commission would tell you that, while they had no fear of British withdrawal under a Conservative government, they had no such confidence in Labour. In fact, they say that entirely openly. The terms of the “debate” in this country, however, are completely skewed against reality.

    For example, UKIP is treated as if it were a major force because it recently garnered 7.5 per cent of the eligible vote in the least populous areas. It only has to lose a by-election and its defeated candidate is invited onto the Question Time panel.

    There is a party which is actually going to have seats in the next Parliament and which is already committed explicitly to the repatriation of industrial and regional policy, as well as at least implicitly to that of agriculture and fisheries.

    It also has a range of economic policies, with more to come, that are simply incompatible with the EU’s permanent, because fundamental, pursuit of everything that UKIP supporters could possibly want and more. It is exactly the EU’s position, as it is exactly UKIP’s, that the only problem with British austerity is that it does not go far enough.

    Labour kept Britain out of the euro. It provided three times as many votes against Maastricht as the Conservatives did, with the latter not including UKIP’s rising star, Neil Hamilton, who voted in favour of Maastricht. It voted against the Single European Act, unlike Neil Hamilton.

    It voted year on year against the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies between 1979 and 1997; again, Neil Hamilton never did so, not even once. It is the only party ever to have had a manifesto commitment to withdrawal, in 1983, when Neil Hamilton was elected against it. It held the only ever referendum on membership. It opposed ever going in.

    And it is still there. Its choice of Deputy Speaker is a dynastic opponent of the EU, his father having voted against Maastricht. Every single one of its MPs recently voted for a real terms reduction in the British contribution to the EU Budget, joined by fewer Conservatives than there are Lib Dem MPs.

    One third of its MPs voted to be chaired by John Cryer. Their three representatives on the National Executive Committee are all no friends of the EU, one of them having voted against every treaty since the first one.

    Ed Balls is Shadow Chancellor. Jon Cruddas heads the Policy Review. The place to see and be seen for the very talented 2010 intake in the Morning Star Readers’ and Supporters’ Group. Any party with John Mills as its single largest donor, giving twice as much as Unite does, knows exactly on which side its bread is buttered.

    But you will not be hearing or reading about any of these facts in any of the official media. As I said, completely skewed against reality.

  3. swatantra says:

    I’m not being complacent, but come 2015, UKIP will be a busted flush.
    They’ve peaked too soon. The electorate are not that stupid to vote for a Party with absolutely no experience of Govt or taken any responsibility of any kind at any level. Mind you the Italians gave 25% of their approval to Party led by a comedian. But there’s no accounting for taste, and we are not Italians..

  4. wg says:

    @David Lindsay

    That’s a very long comment to tell us that you’re not too concerned about UKIP.

    I happen to believe that UKIP will lose its impetus in a few years time – the problem is that UKIP are going to be replaced with apathy.

    Tony Benn has always said that cynicism will eventually damage the democratic process and the general public has every reason to dislike the Westminster and EU pond life.

    I hope that UKIP does have some success – I just want to see a few smiles wiped from the faces of our smug political masters.

  5. Ex-labour says:

    Malcolm Clarke seems to have a selective memory. Labour (Blair) signed a treaty giving away our powers to the EU on the basis that they would reform the CAP. Having signed the EU renaged on the deal and did sweet FA to the CAP. What did Labour and Blair do ……sweet FA…..not a peep.

    At least Cameron has some policies, whereas Miliband and Labour have ……..none. Moreover Miliband stands Canute like against everything the British public want preferring to have some Marxist intellectual argument, mainly with himself if the insider reports are to be believed about endless dithering and lack of any clear direction.

    UKIP are a flash in the pan and once the GE comes closer the UKIP protest voters will return, the LieDems will crumble, Ed will still be deciding on what policies Labour should have and Len McLuskey will be hectoring from the sidelines.

  6. Labour (Blair) signed a treaty giving away our powers to the EU

    What, the Treaty of Rome, the Single European Act and the Maastricht Treaty?

    At least Cameron has some policies, whereas Miliband and Labour have ……..none.

    The Tories are not committed to any specific repatriation of powers. Labour is explicitly committed to that of industrial and regional policy, and at least implicitly to that of agriculture and fisheries.

    Every Labour MP without exception voted for a real terms reduction in the British contribution to the EU Budget. They were joined by fewer Tories than there are Lib Dem MPs, and Cameron entirely failed to deliver any such cut.

  7. Ex-Labour says:

    @David Lindsay

    “The Tories are not committed to any specific repatriation of powers. Labour is explicitly committed to that of industrial and regional policy, and at least implicitly to that of agriculture and fisheries”

    Err….haven’t they been going through every treaty, law and regaulation over the last 12 months, headed by Haigh, to see what can be repartiated ? Do pay attention to the news reports.

    “Every Labour MP without exception voted for a real terms reduction in the British contribution to the EU Budget”

    Yes, they were forced into it so as not to give the public the impression that they were pro-EU and to try a cynically to create a perception that Labour were not the profligate tax and spend party it really is. At least its the one time we can say that Miliband has listened to the public….well its the only time as he’s now back to his usuall dithering and double talk.

  8. Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah.

    Here’s to Election Night 2015, and to UKIP guest after UKIP guest left dumbfounded at their party’s no seats whatever. Although nowhere near as dumbfounded as the BBC will be.

  9. Ex-labour says:

    @David Lindsay

    Oh dear…..shall I phone your mum to come and pick you up ?

    What an utterly pathetic response. No wonder Ed Milibean doesn’t want to engage in any policy debate if this is the standard of Labour intelligence.

  10. uglyfatbloke says:

    UKIP may have a good run at the Euro elections, but there are tow issues there. One is that the Euro elections are democratic, unlike the Westminster fiddle. The other is that nobody really gives a shot about them, so mostly it’s the anoraks who bother to tun out and vote. However well they might do in the Euro elections (or however badly if there’s any justice in the world) they will utterly tank at the Westminster elections. partly that;s because an awful lot more people vote, partly it’s because they are more inclined to return to the parties they have supported in the past and who they think/hope will form a government and partly because the FPTP electoral system benefits the Tories and Labour to such an enormous degree. That does not mean that all is well for Labour. Across the UK as a whole, the polling gap between Labour and the Tories will get narrower. In Scotland there is every chance that the gnats will get more votes than labour and therefore benefit from FPTP in the way labour has in the past. Labour is still likely to have more seats than the Tories, but only half of the current group from Scotland…which frankly would be no great loss to the PLP as a whole and Ed would be spared having to find posts for Murphy, Darling et alia.

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