Thursday, 16 May 2013

Europe, land of ironies

Ah, the nostalgia. The British Conservative Party is going through one of its periodic phases of tearing itself apart over the European Union. 

The European Union, Achilles heel of the Tory Party
It’s a great spectator sport and normally I’d sit back and enjoy it, but this time the stakes are a bit too high. This time Britain could end up outside the EU.

Europhobia is running quite strong in Britain. V
arious undead from the Thatcher years – Nigel Lawson, Michael Portillo – have been crawling out of their satin-lined coffins to pronounce. Lawson even talked about how much better things were when we traded with the whole world, as a great imperial power, and didn’t have to get too tied up with all those dull people on the continent. 

It’s a point of view. All it leaves out of account is that all that great trade we were doing was with colonies which had to give preference to British goods. And we were a lot poorer then than now in any case.

Meanwhile, back in the present day, David Cameron is giving us a fascinating display of political leadership skills. Frightened by the emergence of an unambiguously Europobe party, the United Kingdom Independence Party, the Tories are splitting between those who want to keep a clear space between themselves and the far right, and those who feel the best approach is to steal UKIP’s agenda by offering a referendum on getting out of the EU.

Now Cameron’s problem is that he governs in coalition with the Lib Dems who, insofar as they have any principles they’re not prepared to abandon to hang on to office, are pretty firmly committed to staying inside the European Union. They certainly don’t want a referendum which they might lose. So officially the government can’t back the demand for a referendum. But the Tory Party, and its leader David Cameron, can go along with the demand.

Follow this carefully. As Prime Minister of a coalition government, he can’t. But as leader of the major party of that coalition, a party desperate to grab back Europhobic territory, he can. In fact, he thinks he must.

Which means he hasn’t learned the fundamental lesson of intra-Tory fights about Europe: throw the phobes some raw meat and all they do is come back for more.

Even more fun, while Cameron is backing the people who want an in-out referendum on the European Union, he’s off in the US promoting a trade deal. With the same European Union.

In the meantime, his Chancellor of the Exchequer and best mate George Osborne, was in Brussels trying to persuade the rest of the much-maligned European Union to help him track down tax dodgers. Having been there ten days earlier in efforts to block the Union putting a cap on bankers’ bonuses (he failed). Because protecting bankers’s income is right up there at the top of the to-do list of a Tory Chancellor.

The sad thing? The people who’ve been voting UKIP include above all people who’ve been plunged into the worst kind of mess as a result of the antics of those very same bankers. Many such voters back UKIP and denounce the EU which is trying to tackle the source of their problems.

The latest? It came out yesterday. The British Office of Fair Trading recently dropped an investigation into price-fixing by oil companies. Who’s reopened it? Investigators from the EU. Those same UKIP supporters are also victims of profiteering by the energy companies. And want to take us out of the European Union that's trying do something about it.

Irony’s great, isn’t it? But a bit sad sometimes.

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