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. ValĂ©ry 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?