PM David Cameron made his long awaited speech on Europe earlier this week. Of course, its contents had been so heavily leaked beforehand I think most people know exactly what he was going to say months ago. In it, he firstly accepted that the UK was better off in the EU than out of it, but then laid out his plans that in the next election he’d be seeking to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU and put that to the people in the form of a referendum.
Of course, the whole point of this speech was to get the Eurosceptic wing of both his own party and UKIP (or as I prefer to call them, the UK Bankruptcy Party….U-Bang ;D) off his back, by giving them their long cherished referendum on the EU.
For many decades the right wing media have long adopted a policy of basically blaming foreigners for all of the UK’s problems. Of course, in the 50’s it became socially unacceptable to blame Jews for everything anymore. Then in the 70’s, after they could no longer use the N word, and even blaming Muslims and Asians for everything is considered a tad racist these days. Blaming leftists, has since the 90’s, been a bit silly (as the labour party is now moved so far to the right, as one Tory put it to me, Tony Blair government was the best conservative government the country ever had :no:). So the tabloids instead took to making the EU and those nasty evil foreigners in France and Germany their piñata.
While this did succeed in sell lots of papers and ensuring that Tory politicians could avoid certain blame for certain things (e.g. I would argue the European Courts interfering in UK justice only happens because the UK lacks a proper constitution or bill of rights) it has had a corrosive effect on UK politics.
Unfortunately for the euroskeptics and Cameron, there is one glaring flaw in his strategy it can’t possibly work! As politicians in Europe have pointed out the EU is not some sort of Al-Carte menu, the UK can’t pick and choose which parts it what’s, its all or nothing.
And for good reason too! Nobody is claiming that the EU is a perfect institution. Ask the politicians, or indeed the people in any EU country, and they will point out what they think should be done differently. The French would like to have a financial transaction tax (which the British oppose). The Germans what closer integration (ditto!), notably of tax rates (I came across a German think tank report once that labelled Ireland as a “tax haven” due to our low rates of corporation tax). Ireland and many smaller countries want more even distribution of power in the EU at the expense of larger countries (such as the UK), much like how each State in the US gets two senators regardless of size, we’d like every country to have one commissioner regardless of size. The Poles would like to label Vodka from anywhere else distilled paint stripper, much like how the French get arsy about people calling sparkling wine Champagne. The Poles also want a more even distribution of the EU budget to favour them and Eastern European nations (with their large populations and lower standards of living) at the expense of wealthier Western EU nations (that would of course mean the UK loosing its rebate).
Now if the EU were to allow the UK to renegotiate and pick and choose what it wants out of the Union, inevitably everyone else would be allowed to do the same. The art of politics is good compromise. And that would imply that in exchange for say, opting out of the court in Strasbourg. Of course as I’ve pointed out before, without a constitution this would merely relocate the problem to the UK, anyone think UK courts will be any better? (Remember all that super injunction business?) But! As part of the quid pro quo, the UK would have to take on some polices from the rest of Europe, e.g., agree to the German proposals regarding tax, accept the Financial transaction tax, give up the British rebate, etc. Obviously you put that to the vote in the country and I think you don’t need a crystal ball to predict the outcome (a massive vote against it and maintenance of the status quo).
Cameron’s proposal is in short so silly, so naive I can scarcely believe a UK prime minster would be that dumb and ill informed to actually say this. The proposal is so obviously unworkable, that the Lib dems, while pointing out the obvious, aren’t ruling out the possibility of working with the Tories in a new government that endorses such a policy, even though any in or out referendum is red line issue for them. Obviously they are correctly predicting that Cameron will likely come back from Brussels with his tail between his legs (its happened to us Irish several times!) and be forced to ditch the policy or put before the people something so meaningless and stupid that the whole country will inevitably vote against it.
Appeasement and extremists
The real danger to the Tories is that it indicates that Cameron is embarking on a policy of appeasement of the extremists within his party. Instead, he should be confronting them. He should also be telling the editors of the tabloids to stop blaming Europe for everything…after all that’s what we have Nick Clegg for! (Operation Liberal Shield and all that!)
Like I said, the art of good politics is being willing to compromise. To sit down with you’re enemies and meet them half way. That way while nobody gets everything they want, everyone walks away from negotiations with something. However, compromise simply isn’t in the vocabulary of political extremists such as UKIP.
The extremist’s methodology of negotiation is not that far removed from that of a spoiled child in a supermarket that if they throw a tantrum and roll around on the ground screaming, everyone will rush to give them what they want….of course what actually happens is the other shoppers promptly ignore the screaming brat (much like the other EU partners will ignore the screaming UK brat) while giving the unfortunate parent a look that seems to communicate that they should have considered the benefits of contraception :)).
This is how we end up with such laughable absurdities of the Tea Party types calling for Obama to do something about the deficit, ignoring the fact that the deficit has mostly been run up subsidising Republican voting states, the military (who generally vote for the GOP), subsidizing corporations and paying for their medicare. Or the Tea party would like Obama to cut taxes to solve the deficit ( I don’t think they teach people basic addition and subtraction in Texas schools!), but they won’t raise the debt ceiling in the mean time. Or how some republicans are pro life but for the death penalty?
Or how here in the UK, I pointed out in a prior post, the absurdity of so-called slipper farmers, many of them the landed gentry of the UK (i.e. tories) who are using a loop hole in the EU’s CAP system to get subsidies from land on which they do little or no farming. But while the EU is aware of this loophole and would like to close it (the French are very much in favour of closing it) its the UK, and notably the Euroskeptic MEP’s who are blocking such action!
I happened to be up earlier enough the other day to catch BBC Radio 4’s early morning Farming today programme. And while some did criticize the CAP system (and the proposed reforms to it), it was acknowledged that a UK withdrawal from the EU would be catastrophic. And we’re talking, an end to grain or dairy farming in the UK sort of thing!
Extremists are very bad at forward planning. I’ve pointed out before the case against a UK withdrawal from the EU. By and large Cameron accepts the UK is better off in than out, not least because this would antagonise the UK’s 2nd largest trading partner and principle ally the US. Indeed America expressed disquiet at the suggestion of a UK withdrawal in any shape or form from the EU.
Underpants Gnomes school of politics
But the euroskeptics have no answer to these sorts of criticisms. They have simply never thought that far ahead as to what the UK would do after it left the EU….other than go bankrupt, watch as the UK itself break up (Scottish and Welsh independence and all that), the special relationship wither on the vine.
I have previously criticised the SNP because, while Im minded to support Scottish independence, I query the timing and I question whether they have critically thought through the process of making the country independent of the UK. The recent spat between them and the EU president underlines this. In short the SNP policy seems to be:
Step #1 – Vote for independence
Step #2 – ???
step #3 Scotland the Brave!
However, the euroskeptics are even worse. The underpants gnomes in UKIP’s plan seems to be:
Step 1 EU referendum
Step 2 – ???
Step 3 – ??? ???
The dangers of Appeasement
Of course as Neville Chamberlain found out, appeasing aggressive extremists is always bad idea. But like I said, this is exactly what Cameron is attempting to do. The history of politics suggests he’s onto a loosing strategy.
Take again, the example of the Republican party. For decades leading republicans had always been aware of this fringe within America of libertarian survivalist types and religious conservatives, who were their political allies, but rarely voted. And even then often for small fringe parties instead of the GOP! Karl Rove, Bush’s brain and chief political strategist, had the bright idea of reaching out to them with the view of forming a political alliance with these groups.
Blink and 12 years of Fox News propaganda later and the GOP faces not so much a lunatic fringe within the party but a lunatic mainstream. The leadership of the party now find themselves barricaded in the asylum manager’s office trying desperately to hold closed the doors and stop the Tea Party storming in and taking over. As far as Romney’s recent defeat, while he has to take some of the blame, but it was in part a consequence of the fact that he was forced to adopt a number of ridiculous tea party-esque polices to appease them. Such as getting rid of FEMA (the guys who pluck people off roof tops after a hurricane!) and ignoring climate change….hardly a sensible set of polices to be endorsing when a hurricane floods millions out of their homes a few days before an election!
As I’ve stated before, I see two futures for the Republican party, one where they expel or crack down hard on the Tea party extremists and reclaim the political middle ground (and thus stand some change of winning the next election). Or where the lunatics take over the asylum, put forward a general wackjob like Rand Paul or Sarah Palin for president, who will be roundly defeated as the moderates from both left and right unite to stop a deranged lunatic become president.
And my position on Tory party would be the same. David Cameron and the mainstream Tory’s best course of action right now would be to confront the Tea party style extremists in his own party (such as the types who want to ban abortion and outlaw gay marriage or indeed withdrawal from the EU) and basically tell them to feck off take it somewhere else. If I were him, I would go the other way. I’d endorse a symbolic pro-EU policy that would get right up the nose of the euroskeptics (e.g. concede to the EU about prisoners right to vote…or how about starting flying the EU flag next to the union jack over Westminster! :))) just to sent them into a complete tizzy and flush them out into the open.
While this might risk splitting the Tory party, in the long run it won’t matter so much. Extremists political parties, such as UKIP tend to have a very short shelf life. Its happened in several countries before. Such parties tend to do well for one or two elections, particularly if they are able to pick up an large chuck of the anti-government vote. However, their unwillingness to compromise makes it impossible for them to get anywhere. They can’t form governing coalitions and even when they do such regimes quickly became a lame duck administration and collapses. It quickly becomes obvious to voters that a vote for them is a vote for stalemate and the same tired slogans and support starts to slip.
Also extremists tend to be as unwilling to compromise with each other as with outsiders. Many such parties have a habit of splitting up after any electorate success. Recall that UKIP nearly split over Kilroy’s attempt at becoming leader. The BNP is essentially in the process of splitting with the EDL taking over a lot of its support. While I’m somewhat left leaning, I’ve never voted for socialist parties largely because they spend most of the time arguing with each other rather than those on the right. I recall once how the socialists in my constituency put forward 3 separate candidates, all of whom lost….but if you totted up their votes, if they’d united around one candidate they’ve have just got in….instead a Tory got elected instead (i.e. you’d have been as well off voting Tory in that election than socialist!).
So while yes, it would mean the Tory’s almost certainly loosing any hope of a majority next election, but by compromising on Europe they would find it easier to build a coalition with other parties. And like I said, while UKIP might get a bit of support, inevitably they’ll simply self destruct sooner or later and much of those votes will migrate back to the Tory party. The alternative is, that Cameron risks the tea party style extremists in the Tory party gradually taking the party over, eventually rendering them unelectable.