Wednesday, 23 January 2013

The Hidden Trap

David Cameron's speech this morning, which I described earlier in robust terms, seems to have done its intended trick and united his party albeit temporarily (the divisive gay marriage vote is yet to come). So it's no surprise to read Daniel Hannan singing his master's praises, despite him knowing that the renegotiation option is not possible.

On the domestic political front, Cameron's speech is a superficially clever old wheeze. Cameron gets to outflank the Labour party who now seem embroiled with confusion over their EU policy (perhaps less time faffing about with the Nash Equilibrium and more time developing principles might help), while leaving UKIP with a conundrum I'm not confident that they will resolve adequately. Time will tell I guess.

The potential trouble for Cameron though comes down to detail - can he maintain, for five years, the assertion of repatriating powers despite it not being possible? We've had form from Mr Cameron on this before with the 'fake veto'. Initially it gave him a poll boost, yet when reality hit home, less than two months later, the picture was somewhat different. In that context five years is a very long time to keep up successfully a lie, and as Richard North writes a massive lie is exactly what Cameron's speech was.

Yet despite the so-called clear water, a description beloved of the media, between Labour and the Tories on the EU issue, this is immaterial. The Tories are very unlikely to win the next election, for various reasons, but a referendum on the EU, or lack of one, will not be one of them.

Nor indeed does the next election necessarily rest on the performance of the economy. Despite the political cliche of "It's the economy, stupid", elections in this country in the last 20 years, since the phrase was coined, don't bear that out. John Major won in 1992 in the midst of a recession, yet lost heavily when the economy was picking up in 1997 (When told by Treasury officials in 1997, the economy handed over by the Tories was better than expected, Gordon Brown's response was; "Do you want me to write a thank-you letter"?). Yet ten years later Brown's popularity sunk, not because of the credit crunch that was to come, but because of the election never was. Brown's dithering displayed a lack of leadership - the killer weakness is incompetence, or the impression of it. Here the coalition has displayed it in spades, epitomised by Osborne's disastrous budget of last year

But despite that by far the biggest threat to a Tory majority government is none of the above nor indeed UKIP but the electoral system. The electoral bias is significant according to the UKPolling Report (my emphasis):
It is far easier for Labour to secure a majority in the House of Commons than it is for the Conservatives. If Labour lead in the vote they will secure an overall majority, if the parties are neck and neck then Labour will be by far the largest party. In contrast, depending on how well the Liberal Democrats do, the Conservatives need to be in the region of 9 or 10 percent ahead in the polls to secure an overall majorty.
Currently the Tories are 5 points behind. So without implementing a boundary review, the Tories are at a huge disadvantage, and it looks as if the latest boundary review has been knocked on the head for this Parliament. Then there is postal voting, a system of electoral fraud that benefits Labour more than the Tories. Without resolving these issues, the Tories are more than likely to be dead and buried at the next election. Thus I'm not convinced a referendum on the EU will be enough to save them.

Therefore Labour don't actually have to promise one to win and, unless they reverse their own policy, we won't be getting a referendum. One wonders if this is why Cameron has promised one in the full knowledge he won't ever be called on to deliver?

And even in the miraculous event he does win the next election, his reluctance to make explicit what he would do in the face of the inevitable failure of renegotiation is very apparent as highlighted by Norman Tebbit in the Telegragh:
He was quite clear that if his negotiations not just to repatriate powers, but to reform the very structure of the EU and bring into question the concept of "ever closer union" were successful, he would campaign for a Yes vote. He was rather less clear about whether if they failed, he would then campaign for a "No" vote. Indeed he repeatedly dodged that question.
In other words; "we won't let matters rest there"? We've been here before.

And there lies the hidden trap. By promising an EU referendum we're either faced with voting for a liar who won't deliver or, with the odds heavily stacked against Cameron winning the election, the Tories inevitably losing the next election thus prompting the accusations yet again that EU promises don't win elections. In such circumstances one can see the issue being 'parked' for another generation.

Perhaps that's the point all along?


  1. Farage has at least picked up the fact that article 50 exists as a means of taking back competencies.
    He stated it in his press conference after cast iron's speech.
    The more people are aware of that the better.
    However it matter not in the long run as none of TPTB will really allow a referendum that they could loose. There will be a crisis/war that is too important and the can will be kicked further down the road.

  2. @MikeBravo, Yes I've just seen that - better late than never from Farage.

    I agree with your comment about "the more people are aware of that the better". It does seem on this and the also the "Norway fax nonsense" the internet is making a difference.

  3. The Conservatives have always been a honey trap for eurosceptics and nothing has changed.

    Vote UKIP and you're letting the europhiles in. Vote Tory and you're letting the dishonest europhiles in. Then someone like Ken Clarke pops up on TV and says that what people voted for was the Tories' policy of constructive engagement with the EU and if they hadn't wanted that they could have voted UKIP.

  4. Well, as I see it there are a few things Cameron can do next. First of all, it IS possible to appear to repatriate some powers to Britain from the EU, thanks to Labour's idiotic (but fortuitously useful) habit of goldplating EU regulations when in power. Most EU directives at source were fairly anodyne and vague; many EU countries implemented EU-derived directives as harmlessly as possible and didn't trouble too much over enforcing them either; Britain went the opposite way entirely. Simply by going back over old regulations and re-writing them Cameron can appear to be repatriating some powers.

    To clobber Labour's electoral chances, promoting Scottish independence would work quite well, as would simply blocking any Scottish MP from voting on English-only matters. Were this implemented, a Labour government would be in the laughable position of having a majority in national legislation, and a minority in regional legislation.

  5. Dan.
    Civil servants do the gold plating whether red or blue are currently in office. The want to show how pro european we all are.
    The thieving politicians could send back the legislation and have it re written but they don't even bother to read it before passing into so called law.
    They are all the same and they are all the enemy.