The Euro Referendum – Myths and Monsters.

Dan Hannan blogging for The Telegraph, trotted out the comforting Tory euro-myth…

If the Tories refuse to give such a commitment [To hold a referendum], they will lose the general election… If they get this issue right, they will win…

It’s bollocks of course, as I argued a while ago. The electorate do not vote on the European issue in General elections. It is almost never (about 2%) given as a top 3 or 5 priority in polling. You may argue that “Europe” dominates the issues, ‘the economy’ and ‘immigration’ which always come on top, but the electorate simply don’t see it this way. When asked, they express a broad hostility to the EU project, a desire for a referendum (the electorate is anywhere and always in favour of referenda), but no real enthusiasm for pulling out.

The EuroNutters simply can’t grasp this. Yes, depending on how you ask the question, a plurality or even Majority of UK voters say they would like to leave the EU but THEY DON’T HOLD THIS POSITION VERY STRONGLY.

The other point I’ve been arguing for a while, so I am not matching my rhetoric to Tory policy as will be alleged. Indeed, Cameron has moved towards my position. NOW IS NOT THE TIME FOR A REFERENDUM. Simply put we don’t know what we’re leaving, and we might get what we want, a federal Eurozone core, and a looser periphery, led by the largest of the ‘outs’ The UK. Now in making this claim, I will be accused of being a closet Europhile and therefore a traitor, by people who think leaving the EU should be the Government’s main priority. These people are idiots who imagine leaving is without cost (especially opportunity costs) and risk. It’s all very well standing on the White cliffs of dover, imaginary Supermarine Spitfires roaring overhead, saying “Very Well, Alone!”

But we’re not fighting a monstrous tyranny like Hitler’s or Stalin’s. We’re disagreeing how to organise some of the wealthiest societies on the planet. I don’t like the EU bureaucracy, but much of what makes the UK a shithole is our own, domestic political idiocies, however comforting it may be to blame our lost competitiveness, or the idleness of the British chav, on the machinations of the Brussels regulatory industry.
Unpopular on the Euorphile Lib-Dem Benches as it will be on the more frothing end of the Eurosceptic right, a renegotiation of our relationship THEN a referendum on the result, some time after the next election (hopefully when the economy is on the mend) is better than an in/out referendum now. However because this isn’t a promise to hold a referendum to withdraw next Thursday, and dismantle the entire EU political machine in the UK by Thursday week, the Blazered golf-club bores of UKIP will not be satisfied. This policy will satisfy almost no-one who cares about the issue. 

It’s a good job almost no-one cares. Cameron is right. Renegotiate, and secure a commitment to hold a referendum on the result, when the time is right. It’s problematic for a blogger, agreeing with an unpopular government who’s moving along the right lines, despite the backbench headbangers and the press who are pressuring a Government into doing something stupid.

For those who think the Government’s ‘lost its way’, this is another ‘Big Issue’ they’ve got right, assuming they can get this past the Liberal Democrats. On the cuts, taxes, benefits, schools and hospitals the Government’s policies are an anathema to powerful vested interests, but not radical enough to appease the new intake of Tory MPs. The presentation, and attention to detail are lacking, but the big picture is looking good. It’s just a shame no-one agrees.

An In/Out EU referendum… Not Now.

According to the Tory/UKIP narrative, the only reason that David Cameron isn’t offering an EU referendum is that he’s a closet (or not so closet) europhile. As part of the new elite, he’s bitten completely into the grand European project, hook, line and sinker. His aim is therefore to deny, like those European politicians, his people a say in the project. This makes him (and I’m quoting from various tweets from EU nutters) a Quisling, a traitor, only pretending to be a Tory, not a real conservative and so on.

If only, so the narrative goes, Cameron offered a referendum, people would dance in the streets. We would pull out, and without our Euro-dues flooding to the continent, we would be able to spend the money, invigorating our own economy. India, Australia and Canada would welcome us back with open arms. UKIP would pack up and go home, and the Tories would romp to victory at the next General election.

This is bollocks.

The electorate is broadly hostile to the EU. But they only express that feeling when asked. Even with the Euro-crisis on the nightly news, few venture this as one of their top priorities. If anything the evidence appears to be however much the electorate agree with the Tories, there is a stronger feeling that they wish the Tories would just shut up about Europe.

The straight in/out question lacks the subtlety of both the Electorate’s (and the official Tory) position. That is most people, when given the option, express an opinion supporting a middle way. Not out of the EU entirely, but certainly not part of the core federal project. If the electorate could have the free market at lower cost, and without all the Euro-laws interfering with the extradition of bearded ne’er do wells like Abu Quatada, we’d be OK. The fact that these rulings come down from the ECHR, not the EU is lost on the electorate.

So, are we “better off out”? Possibly, right now. The EU is an unattractive bureaucratic project which has got far, far too big and intrusive for the UK’s comfort. It suffers an absolutely obscene democratic deficit at its core. But, and this is crucial, leaving would be disruptive and not at all helpful to the short-term pressing problems of a flat economy, which should occupy politician’s minds. Asking the Question in 2014, risks the electorate asking back “why now, when you’ve more important things to do?”. Worse, from a Tory perspective, this could re-open the running sore of “splits”. Certainly the other parties will be opening up this old wound.

Leaving the EU is not without cost. The Free market is a benefit, an enormous one, of EU membership. As is often pointed out, the European nation with the most rigorous implementation of EU diktats is Norway, which isn’t a member of the EU, but instead suffers from “government by fax” where it is forced to adopt the measures of the free market, while having no input into their creation. Unpicking the constitutional, legal and economic effects of EU membership is a much bigger question, and will come at much greater cost than the simplistic Eurosceptics would have you believe. The UK, as a vastly more powerful nation than Norway will certainly be able to negotiate better terms than Norway, but I would vote against any “out” proposition which lost the UK free access to the EU’s single market. Leaving is a project for a stable Government with a clear mandate to do so, in good times. Ie. NOT NOW.

The UK has pursued the same foreign policy in respect to the continent since the Plantagenets abandoned the idea of an Anglo-Norman continental empire: If England (later Britain) cannot be the Hegemonic power in Europe, no one shall be. Withdrawal from the EU will cede that hegemonic power to Germany, something nearly two million Britons died in the twentieth century to prevent.

The EU is about to split into a federal core of Eurozone countries while a rump of independent countries, some of whom still say they want to adopt the Euro (but probably won’t) remain in the Free market. Britain can lead this group, ensure the reformed Holy Roman Empire can’t grow too big. With Britain in the Single Market, Poland and the rest of Central Europe may have the confidence to retain their currencies and act as a counterweight to an over mighty Teutonic empire.

Instead the Eurosceptics would rather stand on the white-cliffs of Dover in a Union-Jack tie shaking their fist at the dastardly foreigners over the Channel. We can look back on the summer of 1940, when Britain stood alone with pride. It does not mean we should try to recreate the feeling, especially when we’re about to get what we always wanted from the project. By staying in the EU and undermining its ridiculous march towards “ever closer union” from the inside, The United Kingdom is staying true to nearly a thousand years of consistent foreign policy.

Let’s not abandon that which has served us well for so long.

The Obsessions of the Tory Right

1) Gay Marriage. I understand the theological reasons for a christian to be against gay marriage: a few passages in the clearly confused & frustrated St Paul’s epistles to Timothy. I am still not sure why anyone gives a shit about this. I like George Carlin’s advice to people who disapprove of Gay Marriage: Don’t marry a Gay. Don’t give ammunition to Labour who will be credibly painting you as a homophobe.

2) Grammar Schools. Yes, I understand the destruction of the Grammar schools meant clever working class kids don’t get a leg up now. However I am not sure sorting the sheep from the goats at 11 is fair or equitable. ‘Free schools’ will achieve most of the positive effects of Grammar schools, without condemning two thirds of the population to sub-standard secondary moderns. The people who shout loudest for Grammar schools are the people who assume their kids will get into Grammar schools, and can pay for private education if they don’t. Instead of hankering after a system which is not coming back, get behind Gove’s reforms.

3) Europe. According to the mythology, “Cast Iron Dave” is a paid up Europhile who deliberately reneged on a promise to hold a referendum. Of course that promise was clearly made in the context of an imminent election in 2008 BEFORE the Lisbon treaty was ratified. Any “Europhilia” can probably be put down to the presence of the Federast Liberal Democrats in Coalition, and unpicking a treaty is a whole order of magnitude more complicated, costly and time-consuming than saying “no” to one not yet ratified. Right now, with battles with the civil service and the deeply entrenched public sector salariat over Health & education reforms, ‘the cuts’ and decentralisation more generally, the last thing the Government needs is a Battle royale over Europe. I’ve no doubt we’ll get a referendum some time, and I’ll vote ‘out’. But only a complete headbanger thinks to pull out of the EU is without cost, or a major priority right now. This gives Labour a chance to paint Tories as “split” on the issue.

The one thing these issues have in common is the impression they give the electorate: Narrow concerns, mainly of interest to political wonks, of little relevance to the issues facing people RIGHT NOW. Opinion polls suggest the electorate sort of agree, but put these issues very low down on the list of priorities. Going ON and ON about them turns people off, and will make a disastrous Labour government more likely.

It used to be that the Tory party’s great asset was loyalty. No more. On the big stuff, Cameron’s a decentralising, fiscally responsible conservative who’s doing more to deliver reformed public services than any previous PM. So deep are the reforms in Welfare, Health and Education that entire Whitehall departments are in near-open revolt. Unfortunately, much of the Tory right would like to re fight the Maastricht negotiations and the Miner’s strike (and if possible, the Falklands too). This is just stupid.

Like a heroin addict coming off the junk, 2% real terms cuts to public spending is about as much as an economy can bear. You want MORE & faster? Why, when the UK’s debt position is manageable? You want to openly fight Europe FOR THE SAKE OF IT? You want to tell 2/3ds of the electorate their children are thick as mince? You want to let the Labour party call Tories “homophobes”. You think UKIP’s more than the provisional wing of the local Golf-Club committee, having a gin-soaked rant about immigrants? You’re a fucking moron.

Yes. The UKIP manifesto is a wishlist of Tory masturbatory fantasies. Vote for them, you get Labour. Get behind the PM and deliver his radical agenda on Spending, Welfare, Health and Education – all of which is viciously opposed by Labour & it’s myrmidons in the Public-sector unions, but will leave the country much better off. Because if you don’t Miliminor and Continuity Gordon Brown will get a go to run the country on behalf of their union paymasters instead.