Tuesday, 23 June 2015

More than just a vote

For what it’s worth, I’m willing to accept that the Prime Minister sincerely believes that continued membership of the EU is in the best interests of the UK, and is desperately keen to reach a position where he can credibly argue that any changes he has negotiated are sufficient.  But that serves only to underline the utter folly of putting that membership at risk in an attempt to pacify the members of his own party and head off the threat from UKIP.  Worse still, even if he wins, it is likely that he will achieve neither of those things.
Members of his own party are already prejudging the outcome to the extent of setting up a group to campaign against continued membership, whatever the outcome of the ‘negotiations’.  And the key themes of that campaign are already becoming clear.  They will be about ‘control of our borders’ (a euphemism for opposing immigration), ‘reducing regulation’ (a euphemism for discarding protection for workers and the environment), and the ‘sovereignty of the UK’ (an appeal to little Englanders everywhere).  The notable thing about all three is that, however much they may be rationalized, they are essentially appeals to the heart, not to the head.
In comparison, the main lines which the supporters of EU membership seem likely to take look dull, weak, and are open to easy rebuttal.  The main one to date has been that the EU is ‘good for business’, and businesses are lining up to make dire threats about what an exit would mean.  But ‘good for existing businesses’ is not the same as ‘good for business’ in a more generic sense.  Even leaving aside the far from insignificant question about whether the head honchos of large businesses making threats will be a positive or a negative factor in the minds of people, this whole argument has an air of ‘well, they would, wouldn’t they’ about it.  Businesses doing well in a particular environment will seek to preserve that environment, but it doesn’t mean that other businesses could not do equally as well in a different environment.
And – in Wales at least – the other main line of defence is around the funding that Wales receives ‘from Brussels’.  The separatists have logic on their side when they argue that it is just our own money being recycled and that there’s no reason why the UK Government couldn’t simply allocate the money directly and cut out the middle man.  I don’t believe that they would, and neither – it seems – do politicians of any of the parties which might conceivably form a UK Government, but ‘vote yes because unelected Brussels bureaucrats rare more likely to treat us fairly that the politicians we elect to London’ is a long way short of inspirational.
The problem is that even the EU’s strongest supporters in the UK don’t ever seem to have bought in to the founding principles of the Union, and have seen it as being a matter of simple economics.  I’m not convinced that that will be enough to win the day in the long term.  It may succeed in getting a yes vote in a particular referendum, but that’s a short term victory which could turn out to be Pyrrhic.
Just supposing that the ‘yes’ side wins, by a margin of say 55-45, to pull a figure out of the air.  Does that mean that the ‘losing’ side simply go away, or is there a danger that they simply become stronger than before?  Something very similar happened in another context in the very recent past, after all.  The point is that the ‘yes’ side need to win the argument, not just the vote, but I see few signs of any realisation of that.

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