Friday 9 December 2011

Cameron veto undermines Britain's future

This is a guest post by Kenneth Way, Media Intern at the Fabian Society. 

David Cameron’s veto of the proposed EU treaty change is a gross error of judgement and undermines Britain’s future within the union.

Back in May 2010, the Coalition agreement promised Britain would play a “strong” and “positive” role in working with our European partners. However, as Britain woke to discover Cameron used his veto, it became painfully apparent that the government has reneged on this promise and in the process worryingly sidelined Britain in Europe.

This is not the first time the government have forgotten their promise on Europe. In October, in the midst of the crisis, the Conservatives thought it helpful to hold a “symbolic” debate and subsequent vote in the Commons on EU membership. Despite defeating this vote, albeit with the largest rebellion ever on Europe from backbenchers, eurosceptics remain worryingly at large, vocal and influential within the party.

Lest Conservatives forget, in the past Europe has ripped stronger blue governments apart. This government does not have the privilege of a stable majority. Modern European history reveals that a severe lack of foresight at the insemination of the European project saw Britain say ‘No’ to Europe on multiple occasions. When the merits of Europe were finally understood, Britain started knocking on Europe’s door only to be rebutted by a dogged and insulted Charles De Gaulle adamant to block British membership. It took until 1973 to join the EEC, some sixteen years after the Treaty of Rome and some sixteen years locked outside a growing union.

We must learn from our past. While we currently remain justifiably absent from the single currency, envision a completely feasible world with a recovered booming Euro and a Pound in freefall. An economy under threat, Britain could look to the single currency as a saviour. This current short-sighted approach towards helping Europe could trigger a response akin to De Gaulle’s refusal to accept Britain into the union. Wise, farsighted decision-making will help ensure that the eurozone survies not only beyond this week, but long into the future, so that one day, if we want or need to, we can join our counterparts in a stable, secure and prosperous single currency.

Rather than fruitless attempts at holding Europe to ransom as the “awkward partner” determined to get a better deal, the government should therefore be forcing its way into discussions central to Europe’s future working side-by-side with our Franco-German counterparts. A Britain standing alongside France and German would remain powerful in these days of the emerging BRIC nations. In fact, if our beloved allies across the Atlantic continue to search for new partners in this globalising world order, the importance of Europe multiplies for Britain.

To counter this approach, British exceptionalism must end in the hearts and minds of the public. We must fight to change the wholly negative European discourse and question the idea that sovereignty is always king. Unquestionably, being pro-European is a traditional vote-loser in Britain. The notion of “Europe bad, Britain good” means the EU is seen as greedy, intrusive and unwelcome, the public are bombarded with press who inform us “Brussels controls Britain” and most of the union’s good work is buried beneath a combination of irrational jingoism and scaremongering hysteria. This attitude must change before it is too late. Failure to respond to this challenge could leave Britain in the European wilderness for generations to come.

You can follow Kenneth on Twitter @kennethway


David Lindsay said...

The Swedish Social Democrats are totally opposed to the new Euro Pact, and Sweden has a hung Parliament. The Social Democratic parties of Scandinavia, please note, have a very well-policed left flank. We are talking about the parties of Ernest Bevin, Hugh Gaitskell, Douglas Jay, Peter Shore and Bryan Gould.

The Attlee Government refused to join the European Coal and Steel Community on the grounds that it was “the blueprint for a federal state” which “the Durham miners would never wear”. Gaitskell rejected European federalism as “the end of a thousand years of history” and liable to destroy the Commonwealth. Most Labour MPs, and one Liberal, voted against Heath’s Treaty of Rome. Labour won the 1974 General Election after Enoch Powell had told his supporters to vote Labour because of Europe.

The Parliamentary Labour Party unanimously opposed Thatcher’s Single European Act. 66 Labour MPs voted against Maastricht, including, in Bryan Gould, the only resignation from either front bench in order to do so, and outnumbering Conservative opponents by three to one. John Prescott and David Blunkett abstained rather than support Maastricht in the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party.

Every Labour and Liberal Democrat MP, without exception, voted against the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies annually between 1979 and 1997. The 1997 General Election result kept the United Kingdom out of the euro, by making Gordon Brown Chancellor the Exchequer in place of Kenneth Clarke. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were valiant in seeing off those who sought to take Britain into that ill-conceived currency while Tony Blair was Prime Minister.

Half of the French Socialist Party successfully opposed the EU Constitution. Even before the most recent events, the euro was dealt an electoral blow in the Social Democratic heartland of North Rhine-Westphalia. Half of the UKIP vote, based on its geographical distribution, must be Old Labour or Old Liberal rather than Old Tory. The No2EU – Yes to Democracy list at the 2009 European Elections, in London included Peter Shore’s erstwhile agent, and in the North West included the immediate past Leader of the Liberal Party.

Attlee denounced the referendum as “a device of demagogues and dictators”, a view echoed word-for-word by Thatcher as Prime Minister; it is Pythonesque that ostensible defenders of British parliamentary sovereignty and democracy demand the adoption of this foreign and deeply flawed device, rather than demanding that parliamentarians who would not simply say No to any erosion be replaced with parliamentarians who would.

And Cameron could have dealt with 100 rebels, if there had been that many, on his own side. But not if they had marching into the division lobby behind the entire Parliamentary Labour Party. That was what would have happened. The man who has kept us out of this wretched new treaty, which makes fiscal expansion illegal, is Ed Miliband. Any chance of, so to speak, some credit?

Ian & Nina Graham said...

A voice of sanity (the main blog, not the Lindsay comment).
There are no easy answers for the left, or even the centre-left, that's for sure. But my gut instinct the moment I heard the news yesterday morning was that this was a big, big moment, and that eventually this will be seen as Cameron's Munich moment.

I write from Wales. Not the least aspect of Cameron's ineptness is that his veto may have direly anti-Unionist repercussions.

Zio Bastone said...

What a curious perspective. Why is it a problem, from a New Labour perspective, that the Conservatives may be damaged by the veto?

And there's something odder and much more important. You seem to regard the summit as a success. But why exactly?

Firstly what's been reached is pretty clearly an agreement to wreck still further the economies of the countries perceived to be at risk. (Even presuming that deficits are in fact the cause of the eurozone’s woes, not everyone does, the proposed mechanism will probably renew the problem recursively rather than resolve it.) So a more likely scenario than a 'soaring euro' might be exit by the surplus countries within the German economic sphere (Yanis Varoufakis is predicting precisely this, and sooner rather than later) followed by a currency collapse, since the euro would then belong to those countries economically unable to leave it.

Secondly the agreement would impose on all participating countries a set of obligations overruling normal democratic processes. Since I'm in favour of democracy that seems to me a bad thing.

Paul Krugman in the NYT describes Cameron as having acted 'as a spoiler to protect the wheeler-dealers, poisoning EU politics' in the process. Which seems to be broadly your point. But he calls the summit disastrous. Meanwhile on Reuters Felix Salmon, who worked with Roubini, goes further, referring to it bleakly as 'one of the most disastrous summits imaginable'.

_ said...

Perhaps you, or someone leaving another comment here could explain to me exactly how the UK could have been 'strong' and 'positive' when this entails signing up to a treaty on fiscal union, which is not part of Conservative policy. You, and all of Cameron's critics, paint a picture whereby he has simply walked out, almost as if for no reason. The only way he could have stayed is by signing. The onus should be on the EU to justify their intended policy of taking over control of national budgets, not on the Conservatives to defend their belief - a belief shared by a majority in the UK - in national economic control, rather than control by an outside agency. The onus is ever more pertinent because virtually all of the signatories did not consult their parliaments let alone their citizens, simply and arrogantly thinking they know best. There are many millions of people in Europe who do not agree to fiscal union, yet the debate today in the UK has created a narrative whereby a single man, Cameron, messed things up and stood in the way of everyone in Europe, when the reality is that he evoked the ire of the EU leaders, and in fact has the support of huge numbers of European citizens.

As far as I can see, all the criticism of the veto is empty rhetoric, ignoring the true question: do you wish to have fiscal union, with the EU having powers over nation budgets?