This article was published on the Dale&Co. website

Forget the people, the elite must rule

31 October 2011

Europe is the No 1 obsession of the political elite in Britain. Never has there been such a focused effort to force the British people to accept the position of the dominant elite in politics and the media. Dissenting voices are pushed to one side. Opponents of what the ruling elite want are dismissed with contempt.

Commentators beginning with A for Anderon, B for Brogan, C for Charles Moor, D forD’Ancona and ending with W for Waugh all make the same points in their different ways as if they had nothing else to write about. MPs on and off the record talk about Europe with a passionate intensity as if this was 1917 or 1940 and England had to be protected from the Bolshevik or Fascist menace. Wealthy political donors pour money into think-tanks to propagate the correct line on Europe. Never in the last 60 years has the dominant British political elite convinced itself of its belief that it’s Eurover time to use the cute formulation of Sam Coates of The Times.

But like so many elite projects there is an almost complete disconnect from the British people. Poll after poll has more than nine out of ten voters seeing Euope as being of little importance in their daily lives. Three days in my constituency last week produced not a single person in different meetings, public events, social occasions, or my Saturday surgery who mentioned Europe. I had four emails before the EU referendum vote and other than a few coupons without addresses from the Daily Express no-one in my constituency appears to share the elite’s almost-manic focus on Europe.

This Yawn of Indifference between the obsession of the elite and the disinterest of voters is further evidence of the disconnect between politicians and the people. The project to redefine, reduce, or renegotiate Britain’s EU membership pits the political-media elite against the people in a way rarely seen in British politics in a generation or more.

All international treaty commitments involving a superior authority (League of Nations, WTO, Law of the Sea, European Court of Human Rights, International Court of Justice etc) produce opposition from nation-firsters. The populist left was for many years hostile to the post-war alliance with the USA. In the early 1980s when Chris Mullin was handing out his pamphlet “How to Deselect Your Labour MP” it was impossible to be selected for a Labour seat unless you sported a CND badge or denounced the “Commons Market” as Dennis Skinner still likes to call the EU. Both unilateral nuclear disarmament and anti-Europeanism were projects of the left political elites (including constituency activists) out of touch with voters’ concerns. Today the right political elite (especially constituency activists) is obsessed with Europe in a similar fashion. But are voters?

Euroscepticism has some fair points. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing never tires of saying that the European Commission and its directives are too busy-bodyish and much more should be left to national regulation. Many in Europe dislike Single Market directives. They have launched their own campaigns against liberalising services which constitute 70 per cent of the EU economy. They would like nothing more than to repatriate powers from Brussels to Paris or Madrid to stop the EU Commission from insisting that financial services should be conducted on a common EU level. They welcome the efforts of the UK elites to renegotiate EU competences as it sets importance precedents to reduce the specialist role of the City as the main single market locus for financial trades.

Of course opinion polls will always provide an echo for public opinion. Stopping immigration, sending people home, bringing back capital punishment – a favourite of the BNP and other right-wingers who have launched an E-petition for hanging - find support. 750,000 people, rather more than the 100,000 in favour of the EU plebiscite petition debated with such solemnity last Monday, have signed a Bodyshop petition to say the Government should introduced a guardianship system for trafficked children. The Prime Minister has said No and, to my knowledge, no MP has got up on his or her high horse to insist the 750,000 should be listened to and the law changed.

But that’s the problem with elites. They are always right. The people are always wrong. Forget the 96 per cent of voters who don’t think Europe is important. Forget the 750,000 voters who think protecting trafficked children should be a priority. When our political-media elite want something nothing else counts, does it?

Europe set to become the Irish question for today's MPs

This article was published on the Dale&Co. website

Beware the European Question

30 October 2011

The reverberations from Monday’s debate will echo for the remainder of this parliament. The Conservatives are not just banging on about Europe they have taken every instrument out of the political orchestra and making as much noise as possible. Yesterday Bill Cash, introduced a 10 minute rule bill, calling for the government to put to a referendum any plans to create fiscal union amongst Eurozone member states. It is a marvellous piece of Cash chutzpah that instead of, as usual, complaining that Europe is telling us what to do he is proposing that the UK should dictate to the Eurozone with the threat of a plebiscite in a country that does not even use the currency.

Poor Lord Ashcroft rightly warns on Conservative Home that Europe can lose the Tories the next election. No-one in the Tory end of the Tea Room is listening. The Faragesiste Europhobes are to David Cameron what the Tea Party are to Republican hopes of beating Obama. But the Prime Minister has only himself to blame as he, William Hague and other Tory leaders since John Major, all erected the call for a referendum on Europe into a totem of Tory philosophy. Adam Holloway, a decent, respected, liked MP, was selected and elected because he believed Cameron and Hague and did not realise the referendum and renegotiation promises became inoperative after May 2010.

Luckily David Cameron flies to the Commonwealth conference from Brussels otherwise he would be obliged to make a statement tomorrow. This morning, Yesterday in Parliament mocked the Conservatives for allowing Europe to dominate FCO questions. But, wait, the Commons again debates Europe tomorrow, this time the Council of Europe which has oversight of the European Court of Human Rights. This is nothing to do with the EU but for Tory Europhobes anything with the word Europe in instantly turns them into Mad-Eye Moodys. In the EU, Cameron has allied the Conservatives to what Nick Clegg rightly called “nutters, anti-semites and homopohobes.” Their group, Conservatives for European Reform (CER) is slowly disintegrating. The Latvian Freedom and Fatherland Party has dissolved into another right-wing party which lost most of its seats in the Latvian parliamentary election. The Polish Law and Order Party lost badly in both the parliamentary elections last month and the presidential elections a year ago. The Czech ally of the Tories now faces accusations of serious share-trading fraud against two of its MEPs.

In the Council of Europe, the Conservatives sit with Putin’s hand-picked delegation of Kremlin approved MPs. The former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, and leader of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament argues in the International Herald Tribune this week that the Council of Europe should no longer allow the Russian delegation sit at the Council of Europe as it does not consist of independent MPs.

In short the Tories keep very odd company in Europe. But this will reinforce the growing isolationism that was reflected in Monday’s vote. Cameron has PMQ’s today and while he may seek comfort at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference most of our Commonwealth friends have many more protectionist barriers against UK exports than is realised.

When Cameron comes back, Europe will haunt his premiership much as Ireland haunted prime ministers in the 19th and early 20th century. And where does Labour stand in all this? Ed Miliband certainly took the right decision on the vote and forced Cameron onto the back foot with his insistence that the prime ministers could not skip off to Australia as the European economic crisis intensified. But an examination of the Labour MPs who spoke in the debate shows that not a single new or younger Labour MP sought to make the case for Europe. Ten Labour MPs spoke against Europe and voted with the Tories and only five – all long-serving Labour MPs with memories of Labour Euroscepticism – spoke up for the official party line. To be sure fewer than 20 Labour MPs voted with the anti-EU Tories and their position is long-held and well-known. But is it worrying that no new Labour voices and none of the 2010 or 2005 intake took part in the debate. This may be due to lack of interest and opinion polls say that 96 per cent of voters do not consider Europe to be an important issue. But Labour ran out of speakers an hour before the debate ended. This should worry the leadership.

Yeats got our Europe debate right when he wrote:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”

You have to be in the Commons chamber to feel the intensity of passion amongst Tory MPs – egged on by the EU hating Tory tabloids and Telegraph – which is unlikely to fade away despite Michael Ashcroft’s sensible appeal. The white coats are flapping as never before.

The two elections in Europe that Britain should watch

This article was published on the Dale&Co. website

Forget the US – Two Elections in Europe Count Right Now

10 October 2011

Today two elections vital to Britain’s future are taking place. In Poland, the Civic Platform government headed by Donald Tusk, is likely to be re-elected. This will the first time since the end of communism that a party forming a government in Poland will have won a second term. It marks the coming of age of Polish democracy. Two of the key – and most successful - ministers in the Polish government, Foreign Minister, Radek Sikorski, and Finance Minister, Jacek Rostowski, are British educated, know London well and would like the two countries to be close.

In France, the choice is made today of who will stand against President Sarkozy in next spring’s election. The contest is based on a primary system as the French socialists copy Labour and move away from a closed selection made at a conference or party cabal. Although Sarkozy is a political street fighter and is soon to be the first president of France to become a papa while in the Elysée the polls are not looking good for him. The French right is badly split between Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party and the ultra-nationalist Eurosceptic National Front, headed by Marine le Pen, who has sought to reposition her party away from the crudely racist, anti-semitic style of her father’s leadership.

But to watch the Sunday political shows on television or to catch the World This Weekend, the British media world just does not acknowledge that two vital elections and political choices that will impact on Britain are taking place on the continent. Instead on Sky we were treated to an interminable interview with an American political pundit (unknown to this keen observer of US politics) about the confused and confusing list of Republican wannabee candidates.

This disdain for anything political that happens across the Channel is not new but as Britain becomes more and more mono-lingual our editors and news-shapers have lost all interest in anything that happens other than in the United States.

Take the Polish election. Britain and Poland used to be the closest of friends. From Spitfire pilots in 1940, to Margaret Thatcher’s denunciation of Soviet communism in the 1980s, or Tony Blair’s enthusiasm for Poland joining the EU this century, Warsaw has looked to London as its best friend, after Washington in the world. Not any more. The grievances between the two centre-right governments or major countries at either end of the European Union are growing, are worrying, and are serious.

Tusk and Cameron have fallen out badly over the latter’s crude political support for the ultra-nationalist Polish politician Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the PiS (Law and Order) party. Last autumn Cameron hosted a red-carpet reception for Kaczynski at Downing Street on the eve of the Polish presidential election where Kaczynski was easily defeated by Tusk’s candidate, Bronislaw Komorowski. This was seen as blatant and crude interference in Polish internal political affairs. Cameron is tied to Kaczynksi in the Conservative Party’s alliance with ultra-nationalist and anti-EU political parties – dubbed by Nick Clegg as “nutters, anti-Semites and homophobes”. Rostowksi and Osborne disagree on EU financing and the future shape of the European union. The Poles are the fourth biggest contributor to the UK rebate. They recall how Mrs Thatcher quadrupled Britain’s contribution to the EU budget between 1984 and 1990 to help poor countries like Portugal, Spain, Ireland and Greece grow. Now Britain wants to freeze all EU budget support for Poland.

On foreign and defence policy, Warsaw is angry at William Hague’s refusal to support Sikorksi’s ideas on EU defence. Poland offered to provide free accommodation and training terrain for British soldiers when they leave Germany. It will be very costly to relocate these armoured army units in the UK. But Hague and Fox dismissed Sikorski’s offer out of hand.

As a result Poland now looks to Berlin as its main ally in the EU and is forging links with central, East, Baltic and Nordic states in the EU as there is no friendship on offer from Tory London. This is a barely reported failure, if not worse, in Britain’s European policy. The re-election of the Tusk government should produce a re-think in London but if Polish politics gets no coverage why should Whitehall think Poland is important.

On France, clearly the choice of a socialist candidate does not mean an automatic change of power next spring. But if there is a convincing choice of the man or woman to try and win the Elysée for the left for the first time in 30 years, then Britain should take note. Even if Sarkozy does win, there is every chance that the Socialists or a coalition of non-UMP parties could win a majority in the National Assembly as parliamentary election follow on directly from the presidential contest. Britain should thus prepare for a socialist Prime Minister, Foreign and Finance ministers taking opposing position to the UK across a range of EU and foreign policies.

Cameron has placed a great deal of UK ouefs in the Sarkozy panier. The UK-French defence Treaty and Cameron’s following Sarkozy’s initiatives on the Libya interventions are two main achievements of Tory foreign policy since May 2010. Both can be justified but if there is a change of either president or parliament in Paris in a few months’ time post-Sarkozy France will have very little contact or natural friendship with Tory Britain.

But at the BBC and Sky, editors are oblivious to anything happening east of White City and Hounslow and even our serious papers (other than the FT) have so downgraded their coverage of European politics it is doubtful if more than a few specialist MPs and foreign policy wonks have the faintest idea of the key importance of the Sunday elections for Britain’s future