Monday, 30 January 2012

Cameron and the EU: in with a roar, out with a whimper


The American commentator H L Mencken famously said ‘no one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.’ 

It’s a terrible, cynical indictment, one that those of us who cling to our faith in democracy can only abhor.

On 9 December, Prime Minister David Cameron won himself a reputation for firmness and courage when he exercised Britain’s veto to block EU treaty change aimed at controlling Eurozone budgets. His ‘No’ was seen in many quarters, including the bulk of the British media, as an assertion of national independence and a much-needed stand against bureaucratic meddling from Brussels.

At the time, despite all the plaudits Cameron won, many of his critics pointed out that what he’d exercised wasn’t exactly a ‘veto’. Usually, a veto is understood to be something that blocks an initiative or a law. This one simply meant that the other 26 nations would go right on doing what they planned to do anyway, unblocked, even unfazed by the UK attitude, with the only effect being that Cameron had sidelined his country.

Cameron, however, was at pains to ensure we all understood how resolutely he had acted. He underlined his determination by refusing the right of other 26 members to use EU institutions to police whatever agreement they eventually adopted, or even to meet in EU premises. Under pressure from his officials, he soon started to row back from this petulant position and his partners (or adversaries) in Europe soon found they could at least use EU office space for their discussions.

That process of rowing back has continued ever since. Just last weekend, it has emerged that Cameron is likely to cave in on his opposition to the use of European institutions such as the Court of Justice to police any fiscal agreement the other members make. So it looks as though the way has been cleared for the Eurozone members to set up their new arrangements and use EU mechanisms to enforce them.

The only effect of Cameron’s ‘veto’ has been to exclude the UK from their operation. But the UK was going to be excluded anyway since it isn’t in the Eurozone. So basically Cameron’s ‘no’ was really a ‘yes’. Or, given his use of a metaphorical megaphone in December, his ‘NO’ looks set to become a ‘yes’.

What is ironic is that in December Labour was running two to four points ahead of the Conservatives in the polls. Hardly a massive lead, hardly even an encouraging one, but a lead all the same.

Since the ‘veto’, the Conservatives have caught up and, indeed, they even took the lead for a while. These days, they are level pegging with the opposition. It seems that the loudmouth ‘no’ followed by the whispered ‘yes’ has done Cameron’s party nothing but good.

The lion that whimpered.
Self-satisfied? He has plenty to be satisfied about
There are admissions that it gives me no pleasure to make. Some indeed give me great pain. Not for the first time, though, in the light of the evidence, I can't help feeling that Mencken was far from entirely wrong...

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