Friday 7 November 2014

Painting himself into a wolf-infested corner

When he first decided to offer the UK public an in/out referendum on the EU, Cameron and his advisors probably thought that it was a masterstroke which would shoot the UKIP fox and help him coast to victory in next year’s election.  But the more time passes, the more it seems that not only will it achieve neither of those objectives, it could actually lead to the one thing which I really believe he was genuinely trying to avoid – a UK exit from the EU.
As with most cunning schemes dreamed up by politicians and their advisors, it was never really thought through.  The aims of the renegotiation which was the excuse for not having an immediate vote were never defined.  I can understand that, up to a point – if you tell the other parties in advance exactly what you are trying to achieve, it can make the negotiations harder.  But in the absence of definition, the aims are being defined for him, partly by the media and partly by the very fox he was trying to shoot.  And the objective is rapidly being boiled down to one single issue – immigration.
By not spelling out in any detail what he was trying to achieve (probably because his only real aim was always electoral rather than having much to do with the treaties) he has allowed himself to be trapped into a position where if he fails to achieve anything significant on that one issue, any negotiations will look like a failure.  The more he tries to find another way around the question, the more friends he loses within the EU – this week, he seems to have managed to lose all his friends in Scandinavia.
Rarely can a political party which was until just a few weeks ago without any representation in the Westminster parliament have achieved so much in terms of shifting the centre of debate.  The window within which debate on immigration now takes place is such that the question parties have to answer is not whether immigration is good, bad or indifferent, but simply ‘what are you going to do about it?’  It’s an Overton window which effectively precludes any wider debate about the issue in mainstream politics.  That’s quite an achievement.
Not all ‘achievements’ are beneficial, though.  This particular one not only flies in the face of any economic evidence about the benefits and costs, it also leads us inexorably towards the door marked ‘exit’ - and insularity.  The language used by Cameron and friends is in itself less than helpful – talking as though Europe is something ‘other’, with which we have a ‘relationship’ rather than being a part of.  I can think of few things which, from the perspective of those who see themselves as ‘members’ (i.e. all the other states!), could be more calculated to provoke a negative attitude from the outset to any attempt at changing the rules.
Whilst it looks likely that Scotland would vote to remain in the UK in the event of a referendum, I do not share the confidence of others that the result in Wales would be much different from the result in England, however much I might wish that it be so.  And at the moment, I'm not confident that EnglandandWales wouldn't vote for exit.  Cameron could, of course, lose the election next year, although with the polling gap closing, the possibility of Cameron clinging to power can’t be ruled out as easily as appeared to be the case some months ago.  Even if he loses, it’s by no means certain that there won’t be a referendum under a Labour-led government; that party has clearly said that it will call one “if there is any proposal in the next parliament for a transfer of powers to Brussels”.  And given that Miliband and his party have allowed themselves to become trapped in the same narrow window of debate around the key issue which is driving much of the opposition to the EU, I’m not convinced that would be much better.
And that brings us back to the real issue here.  No matter how much the politicians try to pretend that the issue is about sovereignty or regulation or finance, deep down they know that the driving issue for many of those who would vote in such a referendum is immigration.  From my own experience in canvassing electors over many years, I am well aware that that issue has a real potency, and whatever they say, the politicians are trying to harness it for political purposes. 
The problem we face is two-fold.  In the first place, politicians have become afraid even to attempt to lead opinion; instead they allow themselves to fall in with public opinion – the window is largely one of their own creation.  And secondly, they have allowed the issues of immigration and the EU to become conflated in people’s minds – and have even encouraged that conflation.
The Romans had a saying, Auribus teneo lupum which sort of fits the situation.  Cameron and friends have nurtured and encouraged the wolf; the danger is that it’s the rest of us who end up getting savaged.


R Tyler said...

Excellent post. Cameron and his bosses will fight tooth and nail, however surreptitiously, to remain within the EU. Should be fun watching them try and still maintain their anti-foreigner front.

G Horton-Jones said...

Cameron personalised the 1.7bn debt but it beggars belief that this debt came out of the blue Herein lies his problem it is not him or the Conservatives debt it is ours the taxpayers

Payment 1 and payment 2 albeit covered by rebate are to occur in the next Parliament and who runs the country if that is the right phrase after May 2014 is in the gift of the Gods.
. Whatever happens it remains our debt

is in the lap of the Gods