Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Yes Partisan looks for Motes.

What is the group noun for Straw men? A Dolly? What ever it is Jon Worth has paraded quite a collection of those harvest mementoes in his rejection of the idea of a In/Out referendum as a distraction.

First he claims that interest in Britain for such a vote is doubtful. I would wager that he is wrong. No it is not as high on the list of priorities as some other areas of public debate, but there is no doubt that if it were proposed the public would involve themselves in the debate with more interest, knowledge and passion than they have for any of the recent referenda, both National and regional.

To claim there is little focus on
'Shaping the EU in Britain's interests'
If he thought about it he would have to admit that that is precisely what the last few Governments have been trying to do. For decades. To no avail. There is a general rule in life that if at 9th you don't succeed, try another tack.

Yet he insists that we must concentrate our efforts in restating the 'in the heart of Europe' game set and Match, battling for Britain's interests, cast iron guarantee, I have saved the pound sort of nonsense that has typified the British political debate on the European Union over the years.

He claims,
"At any other level of politics – local, regional, national, and even international through the United Nations or North Atlantic Treaty Organisation – we do not argue about the existence of these political systems."
Which is false.

At a local level we have referenda to determine whether there should be elected executive Mayors. (as was recently the case in Leicester) or the various referenda at a regional level (such as greater powers to the Welsh Assembly), or how we elect our MP's (The AV referenda) All these examples are from this May. So to extrapolate from that to a vote on our relationship to the European Union would be a natural step now that we use the device of referenda to settle constitutional questions. That none under the age of 54 have had a chance to speak on the subject makes the argument compelling. That all the big three parties all supported a referenda on EU matters in their last suggests that referenda are now considered part of the toolkit of that relationship.

At the very least if the Government was serious about changing the way the EU works in the way that Jon suggests, he must admit that having a referendum in your back pocket would concentrate the minds of the Prime Minister's EU colleagues. After all they never blink when they play hard ball at EU Summits, so why shouldn't we?

Next, the claim that us Eurorealists are simplistic is risible. I know nobody in the movement who thinks that leaving the EU would be easy. It would be preferable, but not easy. We do not believe that our problems would be solved by withdrawal, but we do believe that it would be morally and democratically correct to be the masters of our own course.

The ship of state will always be hit by squalls and by tides. It will rise high, and sink low as conditions dictate, and when the storms hit, then it will be buffeted. But having a hand on the wheel allows the captain to set a course that suits it, rather than be corralled into a convoy that continues to sail into the worst of all weather. Our problems would be our problems, our responsibilities our responsibilities and our successes our own successes.

The economic crisis is a case in point, but is illustrative of a far bigger whole rather than the entire argument. Greece, Italy, the bailouts are today's problems, but the underlying issues of the collapse of democratic accountability brought about through our membership of the EU and are perennial.

A referendum on the EU would clear the air around this issue. It would not settle it once and for all as times change, but for a generation.

For him to claim that any referendum would not be worth having because of the standard of debate should take a look across the channel and see how the referenda were carried out on the European constitution in France and the Netherlands. Both were remarkable for the sanity of their debates, and for the information provided by both sides to each and every elector. (Barring of course claims by a European Commissioner that a 'No' vote would lead us back to the gas Chambers, and our own Dennis MacShane calling 'No' voters bastards or worse (Con) in France.

Of course Jon disapproves of populism as his position is not popular. Of course he doesn't want there to be a referendum, as a former President of the European Young Federalists he would be afeared of the result.


Budgie said...

There is more to this argument than you have covered, which may mean that it would be better not having an "in/out" referendum at this time.

Agreed that currently a majority in the UK are opposed to the EU as it stands. With the emphasis on 'currently'.

Firstly there are considerable numbers who still think the EU is "reformable". This is despite the twin facts that: 'reforming' has been tried and failed for many years; and the 'reforms' that such (UK) people have in mind are to make the EU inter-governmental, which is simply not on offer (the EU is 'supra-national or it is nothing). These 'reformers' will probably be persuaded that one more try will succeed. It won't, but they are gullible.

Secondly, the EU itself, the Cameron coalition, the government machine, the BBC, the Labour 'opposition', and the rest of the establishment would all rally to the EU cause. Night after night of propaganda on the BBC would exact its toll. Especially effective would be the threat of 'isolation'. Yes, I and you know that is poppycock, but many people are naturally fearful, and would be vulnerable to such lying.

What is coming imminently is a 'United States of Europe' to shore up EMU. The EU has always grabbed more power in a crisis. It will be no different now as the PIIGS descend further into financial ruin as a result of their euro membership.

The crucial moment, coming in the next few months, will be whether or not the UK is hustled in to the 'USE' and the ERM as well on the back of this crisis. Already Cameron has got away with propping the euro up with taxpayers' money, via the IMF.

Gawain Towler said...

Budgie, I take your point that this current high water mark is soft, as it is due to the financial crisis. But I am more sanguine. At each stage of this whole process and debate the bedrock opposition to our membership grows, whilst the top luine fluctuates. Today, even with the vast majority of the political class, BBC unions etc on the other side I still think we can win it.

Apart from anything else I cannot forsee anything apart from the stirring up ooof fear that will weigh heavily on the other side of the arguement, and fear today is not as potent as it was.