Sunday, 20 December 2015

Referendum: The British People Deserves Better Than Cameron, by Dirk Hazell

Cameron more like Baldwin than Macmillan

Cameron may have brought Macmillan’s portrait into Number 10 but, apart from his covert “grouse moor” lifestyle and indulging an Etonian clique, he is no Macmillan.

Macmillan’s strategic insight and genuine One Nation solidarity of all British people was formed by the Great War and the following Depression.

He would have deplored as the act of a charlatan shabbily playing off English nationalists against Scottish nationalists to win a General Election.

His manners were too good to have allowed, for example, the least well off to be exposed to the real fear of the tax credits fiasco.

And Macmillan had an incomparably more insightful and intuitive grasp of the UK’s place in the world. 

While some on the hard right were indulging themselves in the League of Empire Loyalists, as now they do within UKIP and the Conservative Party, Macmillan unlike Cameron did not indulge.

He told the 1961 Conservative Party Conference of our hope that Britain may become more closely associated with Europe, economically and politically and the 1962 Conference that the Governments of the Six are anxious to move forward from an economic to some form of political union, and we want to play our part in devising these new arrangements.

Such strategic insight and courage eludes Cameron. Some rise to the duties of the office of Prime Minister. 

Historians may say Cameron dragged down his office. At best Cameron can now - as was always predictable - leave both the Conservative Party and the UK in worse overall condition than he found it. 

Lose the European referendum with a Brexit vote and he is guaranteed to succeed Lord North with the moniker of Britain’s worst ever Prime Minister. 

Baldwin is a closer precedent than Macmillan for Cameron. Again, though, manners would have prevented Baldwin commissioning a private jet while slashing welfare.

That said, there are similarities between the phoney Zinoviev letter of 1924 on Baldwin’s watch and Cameron’s contrived 2015 scare campaign in England against Nicola Sturgeon.

And Baldwin left the UK chronically misaligned for the European challenges of the 1930s, contributing to the further World War that his generation had so much wished to avoid.

A true heir to Blair would, as Blair did with the Labour Party, analyse in Opposition what was most problematic about his party and deal with it.

A true heir to Blair would, as Leader of the Opposition, have followed Macmillan’s lead and boldly declared the Tories to be a pro-EU party.

He would have taken the hit on the relatively few MPs, MEPs and Peers who might then have walked to UKIP (the problem now is far more acute), and in the process been more likely to win the 2010 General Election.

And he would have been more Tory than Trot by working from within the EPP - Europe’s mainstream centre-right powerhouse - and not flouncing out into malign and marginal hard-right political alliances across Europe.

Anyone really serious about European reform would have treasured the gold dust of close internal party alliance with Europe’s best statesmen like Enda Kenny and Angela Merkel, not allied with the likes of Waffen SS commemorators.

Cameron’s agenda 

So what of Cameron’s four-point agenda for change?

Competitiveness

In terms of practical benefit to all Europeans including the British, the most important is what he calls “competitiveness”. 

Yet, if Cameron really wanted to complete the internal market, secure more trade agreements between the EU and the rest of the World and modernise the EU’s approach to regulation, then he really should have stayed in the EPP. 

He and his party should have pushed hard from inside the EPP family for prompt and practical implementation of policies that, with no prompting from Cameron, already formed the basis of the EPP’s 2014 European election platform and the work programme of the 2014-19 Juncker Commission. 

Is it really credible to claim that the outcome of a referendum is going to be assisted by Cameron’s pretending that this is a British agenda imposed on recalcitrant aliens rather than a shared agenda with like-minded democrats and reformers?

Immigration 

Next to no practical benefit is secured by the campaign, of at best the most dubious legality, to discriminate against non-British EU nationals by denying them in-work benefits for four years. 

A less bad formulation than Cameron’s was that trailed by Sir John Major in Berlin on 13 November 2014 of a time-limited emergency limitation on immigration. 

The simple truth is that most of the UK’s problems, real or imagined, are home grown. 

The prospect of work - and often work that British people are disinclined to do - rather than the specifically British characteristics of our welfare system is the demand-pull for non-British EU nationals to come to the UK. 

Responsibility for the poor state of the infrastructure of British public services lies with the British Government not with those who come to contribute to Britain’s economy and, often, those very public services.

Sovereignty 

Mr Cameron’s demands on sovereignty also point to the wrong target. 

There is always scope to enhance coordination between Member States’ parliaments and the EU Institutions but as Lord Boswell has correctly noted, the Lisbon Treaty is “the treaty for national parliaments”. 

Germany’s Bundestag has an office in Brussels with 70 staff, while Denmark’s Folketing has been a pioneer of holding a national government to account on its dealings in Europe and the Netherland’s second chamber has mainstreamed EU policy in all its committees. 

The British problem is much less Brussels than an over-centralising and chronically under-reformed Westminster: MPs should devolve far more, becoming less social case workers and more analytical interrogators of what the British Government plans to do and has done in Brussels. 

This might require a different type of MP - frankly, a reversal of changes that have occurred under Cameron - but if MPs are not on top of what is happening in the EU Institutions they have mostly themselves to blame. 

Economic governance

This heading of Cameron’s demands is principally about avoiding caucusing against the City.

However, if he wanted to safeguard the UK’s continental-scale financial service sector which depends on British membership of the EU, it might have been wiser instead not to play Russian roulette with the UK’s future inside the world’s single largest economy, ours in Europe, than to chase phantoms. 

The Referendum

Such civil disorder as there is within Britain is generally directed against Cameron’s government: despite decades of negative misrepresentation about Europe by those whose duty it was to know better, there is no genuine mass British uprising against Europe. 

Indeed, one of the principal risks with the referendum is the low salience of Europe as a domestic political issue and any resulting perception that voting Brexit might be a cost-free protest against the British Establishment. 

The structural problem in British politics is not Europe itself but the Conservative Party which in the absence of good leadership has degenerated, since Cameron’s Black Wednesday days as a special adviser, into being essentially a Brexit rump. 

It is too often as though, more than half a century earlier, the League of Empire Loyalists had been allowed control of the Conservative Party’s machinery. 

The British electorate is the world’s most sophisticated. Cameron may need the fig leaf of a Brussels deal to master a mess almost entirely of his own making and to muster belated courage in supporting British membership of the EU, but as John Major has recently affirmed, Britain’s overwhelming interest is to remain in the EU, deal or no deal: as he rightly says, we are safer, better off and more influential inside the EU. 

As Churchill promised in 1940, despite existential threats Europe is freed, and in so many ways we have moved forward into broad, sunlit uplands. 

The European Deal, based on the Social Market economy, improved beyond recognition Europeans’ working conditions, creating social solidarity within an enterprise economy. 

The European Deal made Europe a world leader in environmental protection. 

The European Deal has transformed our part of the world from the destruction of fascism and communism and created instead the world’s largest economy, effectively defining issues like consumer safety across the world and massively enhancing prosperity. 

And the European Deal gives us all a shared identity based on freedom and equality under the law. 

We must hope that, when the referendum comes, Britons will spurn the snake oil of a fake past for the hope and pragmatism of our best hope for the future: much more pro-active and positive British participation in building the EU for generations to come. 

Life is demonstrably better for the British inside the EU and the EU is demonstrably better with the British. 

Yes Europe needs reform but in 2015 Britain needs it even more. 

And it is high time we had a Prime Minister who spoke such truth to the British People.

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