Desperate Dave’s throw of the dice: an EU referendum – to save himself
By Richard Cottrell
Contributing writer for End the Lie
If you read the general reaction in the UK media to David Cameron’s famous speech concerning the UK’s future relationship with the EU, then you might think it pushes Churchill’s famous wartime ‘we’ll fight them on the beaches’ exhortation aimed at Hitler’s hordes into the shade.
Note: be sure to check out Richard’s latest articles “Comic Opera: Europe’s 3rd largest economy goes to the polls” and “What goes around comes around: Gladio awakens in Greece“
The reality is rather more prosaic. Stripped bare, the celebrated peroration was nothing but a classic political sticking plaster. The European issue can tear the Tory apart at the best of times, between the rival ranks of the pros and the antis quarreling over the bone.
Britons, as a whole, are rather ambivalent about the EU. By kicking the can way down the road, promising an ‘in-out’ referendum in 2017, we learn that Cameron is not only quite the worst political operator to reside in Downing Street for many years, he is also – in the language of the British upper crust (of which he is such a prominent cadet) – an absolute cad.
Cameron did not, of course, compose the glorious ode. It was written for him by a rather pretty Downing Street poet-in-residence. It was she who allowed the PM’s tongue run away with itself. The ‘heart and soul’ stuff and such like.
There is an old English adage that runs ‘fine words butter no parsnips.’ Here we have a magnificent instance of its salient truth. What you tend to get from this sort of arrangement is style, but lacking the substance.
He is deluded enough to believe he has put the nagging European issue to sleep for the best part of the next five years. He also thinks Brits will troop to the polling stations at the next general election, offering grateful salutations to the man of integrity and honesty, who at last will let the people decide on this contentious issue.
Wrong, hopelessly so, on both counts.
Once the curtain calls were over and the last bouquet was hurled at the stage, the facts of cold reality set in. No prime minister can bind any government beyond the next election. Neither can one with an ounce of political savvy make a promise that he intends to keep some time in 2017, should he be lucky enough to last that long. So why choose this precise moment to grasp the thistle?
The answer is that there will indeed be a kind of referendum on Europe – in June next year, when elections will be held to send MPs to the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
Ordinarily, the Brits let the event, held every five years, pass quietly by. The average turn-out rarely floats much over an indifferent, miserable 30%. But next year may be different. Desperate Dave’s immediate strategy is to snuff out a small fringe party called UKIP, standing for United Kingdom Independence Party.
This noisy barking spaniel of British politics is essentially a rest home for conservative ultra anti-Europeans, finding themselves largely exiled from the mainstream party. They have a small clutch of Euro MPs, though none at Westminster. Yet.
The party is led by a cocky televisual populist called Nigel Farage. The media like him because of his colorful language and crisp off the cuff one liners. Yet the plain fact is that his well-timed, calculated blows aimed at the Tory establishment and the Brussels bureaucracy hit home, hard, with a wide audience ranging well beyond committed euro-skeptics.
One of the leading Right-wing papers, the staunch anti-EU Daily Telegraph (600,000 sales) allows him a regular pulpit. He is flattered too by The Spectator, a top selling conservative weekly. He is also a darling sound-biter with the BBC on flagship morning radio shows.
The Tory nightmare is that Farage will bag a Westminster seat in the scheduled 2015 general election, potentially along with a small band of camp followers. It’s a tough climb, because of the UK’s first-past-the-post electoral system. Actually the Faragista need only score sufficient votes to fatally damage up to a dozen Tory MP’s with highly marginal seats.
Be it remembered that Cameron failed to win the last election and in consequence was forced to cut a coalition deal with the small centrist Liberal party, which seriously irritated party big wigs and restless back-benchers, especially the anti-euros. This time he’ll be looking for a clear majority, or face the firing squad. Farage is the guy with his finger on the trigger.
The referendum announcement is specifically intended to hole UKIP amidships, since the main plank of Farage and his merry men is a binding in-out referendum. Now, since The Dave has promised exactly that, it follows that UKIP sinks with all hands.
The problem is that Farage is a quite a smart strategist. He uses social media to great effect and invariably some of his more colorful Strasbourg performances instantly electrify YouTube. He’s already indulging in his usual acid mockery of the Tories, and especially Cameron.
Well, so what? The ‘what’ is the future of Dave himself. If the Tories flop in the euro elections, his big gamble on the referendum will look like a duff card in the last chance saloon.
It isn’t only Farage breathing down his neck. He has an even more dangerous challenger right on his doorstep. Boris Johnson, the wild-maned elected Mayor of London, has never made it any secret that he covets Dave’s job. Johnson is perhaps the nearest we have in the UK to the legendary and immortal Huey P. Long.
As in Long’s Louisiana, the rampant libertarian Boris rules the practically independent international state called Greater London (the City of London is the ‘square mile’, a different property altogether though it pays tribute to his higher authority).
He is in effect the kingdom’s Number Two, after whoever happens to be the PM of the day. Greater London has, aside from its own powerful boss, its own parliament and administrative organization. In the UK’s increasingly devolved federal structure, it is the undeniable kingpin.
Boris is fanatically pro-business, and he might be given he’s the Kingfish whose power base is worth an annual GNP of $720 billion and per capita GDP of $80,000. That and his eight million subjects, the wealthiest in the British Isles, ensure he is granted instant rock star appeal by the media.
This British Kingfish is certainly an unapologetic populist. Like Huey Long he deploys the common touch, despite having the same Old Etonian patrimony as Cameron. His amours are legendary and greatly envied.
Within hours of Dave’s ultimatum with the long fuse, Boss Boris waded in, demanding the ‘repatriation’ of many delegated EU powers back to the UK. This is all in tune with the financial big shots of London, who resent the increasing interference of the Brussels bureaucracy, equipped as they are with all their powers of over-arching regulation and controls.
Boris carefully nuanced the debate away from the hot-cold, in-out proposition to the concept of some future special relationship, which is actually possible right now if the UK opted to join the European Economic Area, a fully fledged adjunct of the EU.
She would then, like Switzerland and Norway, enjoy many of the benefits and privileges of full EU membership minus the onerous obligation of having laws made in Brussels instead of the national capital.
I suspected that Johnson, even before the ink was dry on The Dave’s grand gesture, would throw down the gauntlet. He knows perfectly well that the Conservative party has never settled down with Cameron.
For all the proffered ‘heart and soul’ invested in Britain’s future in Europe, was it not this self-same Dave person who, on coming to office, instantly pulled the Tories out of the main conservative formation in Strasbourg, as a bone tossed to the skeptics? Some heart, some soul, Churchill might say if he were still around.
Worse, he then plunged into the isolation ward of euro-politics by making common cause with a bunch of hard-Right neurotic Polish conservatives and nationalists bearing a dubious reputation. He sacked long standing loyalists who had the temerity to resist. I bring this up because we can understand the shallowness of his commitment to the country remaining a full constituent of the EU.
Repeatedly it seems Cameron cannot shake off the widely-held perception of a man who is in the office of prime minister but not its substance.
He foolishly entangled himself in the huge phone hacking scandal wracking the Murdoch newspaper group in the UK, unwisely maintaining a public relationship with the former Chief Executive of News International, the famously flame headed Rebekah Brooks, who is facing serious charges in connection with the business. Common sense and prudence above all required a safe distance. Instead innuendo inevitably spread like wild fire.
His fingerprints are all over the now torpedoed Murdoch bid to grab the last independent embers of satellite broadcasting in the UK. This was an entirely ill-judged effort to preserve the political support of the Murdoch media.
It is on the public record that at the height of the battle for B-Sky-B he sent her allegedly ‘salacious’ e-mails from Downing Street. He behaved like a Murdoch executive rather than Her Majesty’s chief officer of state. If he possessed a shred of that old fashioned idea called integrity, he should have fallen on his sword then and there.
With the sensational hacking affair out in the open, Cameron’s response was the calling of a special commission to rule on press behavior. This was intended to quell public anger and repulsion, not least at the tapping of a mobile phone belonging to a horribly murdered school girl. Other victims included prominent politicians and celebrities.
The ploy, predictably, backfired when it turned into a grand inquisition on freedom of the press. This was another example of The Dave aimlessly booting the old tin down the road, thus earning unexpected blow-back.
Many insiders are inclined to whisper that the trouble with Dave is his lack of ‘depth.’ The same could be said of Tony Blair, but he more than made up for it with the gift of sublime cunning. Cameron patently lacks that important political skill.
The well-accredited stories of temper tantrums in the office, legendary untidiness with his documents, a spot too much of the grape now and again, the weekends spent at Chequers, his official country residence, playing video games, supply the impression of a prime minister who is far better at relaxing than governing.
The famous occasion when he drove off from a restoring pub lunch, leaving his young daughter behind and alone, stands testimony to his inability concentrate, or even think in a joined up fashion.
As it is, instead of shoving the whole EU question into hibernation for the foreseeable future, it instantly roared back center stage.
George Soros, the great Hungarian money-changer who famously broke the Bank of England on Black Wednesday 1992, was not fooled. He duly informed the annual summit of the super-rich gathered in Davos, that it would be ‘madness’ for the UK to abandon the European ship.
The Olympians hollered to the rafters. Of course they do not want an in-out referendum. So Dave has wrong-sided himself with the elites, while the brooding Boris the Terrible in City Hall has cleverly adopted a defensible proposition designed to take him through – and after – the general election in 2015.
The Dave has inadvertently shoved the European issue center-stage, where it will remain right through to the General Election. The premature sighs of relief around the Westminster corridors of power turned soon enough to groans once the celebration hangover wore off.
Richard Cottrell is a writer, journalist and former European MP (Conservative). His new book Gladio: NATO’s Dagger At The Heart Of Europe is now available from Progressive Press. You may order it using the link below (or by clicking here – Gladio, NATO’s Dagger at the Heart of Europe: The Pentagon-Nazi-Mafia Terror Axis):
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Edited by Madison Ruppert