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Thursday 24 January 2013

Legacy, Lies and Laziness - The EU Debate Begins

So there we are then! After forty years of bellyaching, bitching, bullshitting and lies of every description, the British people have finally been promised a referendum on their membership of the European Union, albeit from a Prime Minister who has previously promised us a vote on the issue, only to find a way of avoiding his commitments at a subsequent date.

Of course, as a dyed-in-the-wool European, Cameron would have much rather not had to offer the British electorate a choice in the matter, but with his party and therefore his own political legacy sliding inelegantly towards a sheer electoral cliff, mostly as a result of UKIP's emergence as a power broker in any forthcoming elections, what else could our drowning Prime Minister do? With the economy flat-lining, poverty increasing, the vast majority of the working public being punished by the frankly incompetent Chancellor of the Exchequer, there were few, if any positives that Cameron could point to, as evidence that his coalition government had the faintest idea of how to make things better for the country, or indeed for the increasingly battered British electorate.

From his own beleaguered point of view though, the thorny subject of Europe is a many tiered argument that would offer him some form of respite, when everything else is falling down around him. Not only does the promise of a future referendum silence the grumbling of his own Eurosceptic backbenchers with the promise of renegotiation with or out of Europe, but ties in very nicely with wider public concerns over mass immigration from eastern countries, the obvious inability of our own national courts to overturn highly questionable Human Rights claims and the unwanted intrusion of foreign courts into what are and should be entirely British matters.

So for Cameron, Britain's membership of the European Union, as well as being a haunting legacy for the Conservative Party was always going to represent a safety net for his own political future, provided he was either brave enough or desperate enough to make the choice of offering the British public a vote on the issue. A case of choosing to jump, or being pushed into making that decision! As it turned out, Cameron has not announced the referendum out of choice, he hasn't chosen to jump, but rather he has been forced to ask the most unpalatable job in British politics simply to help quell the rise of UKIP, pacify his own party and thereby attempt to keep his job for just a little bit longer, as well as create and protect his own personal legacy.

After all, were it not for this one particular issue and his momentous decision to ask the British people, we "plebs", for our opinion on Europe, there seems to be little doubt that Cameron, Osborne, Clegg, Alexander and Co would all go down in British political history, as the most arrogant, out-of-touch, incompetent and fiscally stupid government that has handled the lever of powers in our country. Not much of a recommendation for a political coalition that is only just half way through its first period of office; and promising more of the same, assuming that they were ever re-elected for a second term by the British public. Fundamentally then, the Prime Minister's decision has nothing if anything to do with addressing any sort of democratic deficit created by an increasingly autocratic European Union, but is entirely the result of political self-preservation on the part of David Cameron, George Osborne and the rest of the Conservative Party, who true to type, have resorted to punishing the weak and the poor, to benefit the strong and the rich, who for the most part are the Tory Party's financial sponsors.

Unfortunately for the other two main political parties, the Lib Dems and Labour, well they can't even countenance the idea of us mere "plebs" being given a voice, let alone a choice, on our continued membership of the European Union. Not only are such national decisions untimely and unhelpful, according to both Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, but are clearly so complicated that they don't entirely trust the British people to be able to make the right decision, which is to stay in, no matter what. Of course, these same two politician's have no choice but to trust the people to choose a national government, which one would have thought was a far more complicated issue, yet when it comes to our European membership we can't be trusted to make a carefully calculated choice that is best for our country's interest.

Mind you, is it any wonder that politicians, business leaders and commentators don't trust the public to make such important decisions, when the vast majority of people in this country are simply too lazy to inform themselves about the important issues that affect their everyday lives. On several occasions over the past week, whilst the current EU debate was going on, there were people interviewed, the men-in-the-street, who wanted an informed debate on our EU membership, but obviously hadn't been bothered to get themselves informed about the various issues surrounding the wider debate. And no doubt, it's because they choose to remain UN-informed that they'll believe the sorts of newspaper headlines that scream "Three Million British Jobs Will Be Lost", if we decide to withdraw from the EU. Similarly, some other pro-Europe sources have also claimed that "Over Half Of Britain's Trade Is With Europe",implying that all of these much needed exports will simply disappear if we were to withdraw from the EU.

Over the course of the past week, even before Cameron had uttered a word on the subject, Britain's car manufacturers, its aerospace industry and its financial services industries were already half-way across the Channel, where the French were already rolling out the red carpet for them. Likewise, according to some other less charitable and sensible foreign commentators, a Britain outside the EU would very quickly resemble Greece, only we'd be starving, broke, isolated and begging on our knees to be allowed back in to the European Union. Washington, Beijing, Tokyo, Moscow and Delhi would deliberately choose to ignore us as an insignificant third world nation that had nothing to offer and nothing to say about global matters. In fact the only major misfortune that hasn't been suggested to date, but no doubt will be over time, is that before long Britain would become so impoverished that we would accept a few quid from Argentina for the Falkland Islands, because we couldn't afford the cost of defending them anyway.

Sadly, back in the real world things are very different indeed. In fact, the UK is one of a handful of nett contributors to the European Union budget, meaning that if we left the EU the other nett contributors, including the likes of Germany and Holland would have to pay significantly more into the budget pot just to keep the project running. Also, Britain runs a significant trade deficit with the EU, especially Germany, meaning that just as many European jobs rely on British markets, as British jobs rely on the continent, if not more in fact. Most experts agree that only around 30-odd% of British exports go directly into European markets, taking into account the 10-12% of British exports transported via continental ports to non-EU customers, ie: the Rotterdam Effect. The UK is estimated to be 60% self sufficient in terms of food and natural resources, so it seems highly unlikely that the British people would actually starve because of a lack of continental cheeses, wines and fruits.

It also seems highly unlikely that the highly lucrative financial services industry are going to move from Britain, where there is light-touch regulation; and relocate themselves to Paris or Berlin where new financial transaction taxes and legislative measures are being proposed. It is also worth considering that most high-end British jobs are based in the UK because that's where the people, the training and research establishments are, not because some foreign owned company has simply chosen Britain arbitrarily. The goods that are generally produced by these high-end manufacturers are typically prestige items and would be purchased at any cost, regardless of whether Britain is inside the EU or not.

As for Britain having reduced political influence outside of the EU, well the central tenet of that particular argument is highly questionable to begin with. By virtue of its long history and its involvement in founding many of the world's international organisations Britain's influence, historically, politically militarily and economically would remain undiminished. As a nuclear power, a permanent member of the UN security council, a member of the G8, G20, IMF, WTO, the Commonwealth of Nations and a multitude of other international bodies, it is absurd to even suggest such a situation. Britain continues to have one of the biggest and most vibrant economies in the world and has one of the best equipped military forces of any modern nation, so any suggestion that we could not, or would not be able to reinforce British interests is simply laughable. Countries such as Singapore, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India, to name just a handful of the various Commonwealth states, have always seen Britain as an entirely separate national entity, regardless of its membership of the EU and only recently a leading Indian politician stated publicly that his country dealt with individual countries, not trading specific blocs, thereby undermining any suggestion that Britain alone would somehow sacrifice any sort of influence if it chose to withdraw from the European Union.

As to whether or not Cameron can persuade a majority of voters to trust him and his party for a second full term remains a mystery, although given the coalition's dire stewardship of the country thus far, one wouldn't count on our membership of the EU being a major factor for most of those who will cast their vote in the General Election of 2015. Assuming that our economic fortunes remain as bad in 2015 as they are now, or possibly worse; and with George Osborne promising more of the same, then it would be difficult to see a majority of British electors voting for the Conservatives yet again, irrespective of their offering a public vote on our continuing European membership. That said however, with Ed Miliband's Labour Party likely to oppose any such referendum bonus; and with little to differentiate them from the Conservative's in terms of economic policies, for the British public it seems the choice will be little, or nothing at all, when it comes to the prospect of simply voting for better living standards and a brighter future.

If there is any sort of silver lining for the British people, it is the prospect that there might be a slightly bigger and better choice of political candidates come the elections in 2015, with the Conservatives, Labour and Liberal Democrats all facing competition from UKIP, the National Health Action Party, Respect and a multitude of smaller parties and independent candidates. Recent Parliamentary elections have proved that engaged local electorates are prepared to support minor parties, provided that the message and the individual candidates are right for the local people; and that they are prepared to work for their community's interests. 

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