Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Sleep-walking behind the Faragistas

Dramatic changes are not necessarily brought about by significant events, but by an accumulation of apparently trivial events.  Thus our policy toward Europe is now (by default) being controlled by the Faragistas.

The relatively trivial events include:

  • An inconclusive election result in 2010 lead to a coalition government between a severely Euro-septic Conservative party and a Europhile Liberal Party.  Conservative MPs who hoped to be ministers are left on the back-benches.
  • The Conservatives cannot deliver their “True Blue” manifesto (but then they did not win the election).  This has severely exasperated their backwoodsmen/women who feel that it is their “right to rule” – never mind “their turn” after so many years of Labour rule.
  • “Mrs Bone” starts to have significance at PMQs – encouraging backbench Tory MPs to start being rebellious.
  • Cameron throws them a bit of red-meat “If we win the next election, we will renegotiate our EU membership and hold an in/out referendum by 2017”.
  • Cameron takes the Conservative MEPs out of the main Conservative group in the European Parliament because they are “too federalist”.
  • The Euro remains in crisis (OK not trivial to the Euro-zone, but some – erroneously – think it is trivial to those outside the Euro-zone).
  • France throws out a Conservative President (who with the German Chancellor) had helped provide what conservatives would see as a bit of backbone to European Fiscal responsibility.
  • With the Liberals in Government, UKIP becomes the repository for the sort of protest votes that used to go to the Liberals.
  • UKIP elect the (relatively) charismatic Nigel Farage back as their leader.
  • Cameron adopts some policies (such as Gay Marriage) that exasperate the more reactionary members of the Conservative Party.
  • UKIP starts getting good results in by-elections – pulping the Conservative support in Eastleigh.
  • Margaret Thatcher dies and Cameron (foolishly) sets off a Thatcher-fest which makes the Tory Tribe look backwards to when things were “right”.
  • In Council elections UKIP, on a manifesto of leaving Europe and stopping the Bulgarians and Romanians from coming in (matters well within the jurisdiction of councils!), do rather well and take seats off the Tories.  The fact that the Tories won these at an electoral high point and should have expected losses appears irrelevant.
  • The Conservatives flip from complacency mode to panic mode (next step could be self-destruct mode).  They (government back-benchers) propose an amendment against the Queen’s Speech calling for an EU in/out referendum.

Now Nigel Lawson has cast doubt on Cameron’s ability to renegotiate EU membership terms and has said that he thinks we are better off out.  Is this the straw that breaks the camel’s back?

I think Lawson is right in doubting that Cameron will be able to renegotiate EU membership:

  • The majority of the Europeans are in the Euro-zone and sorting out the Euro is their main priority.  Some of them may also feel that if the UK had been more engaged the criteria for membership of the zone might have been more robust and less subject to flexing by some of the countries that are now in trouble.  Thus we may be seen as being the country partly to blame for the Euro project not being the success they had envisaged. This is not a good environment in which to approach Europe asking them (under threat of us leaving) to renegotiate.  Some may happily tell us to take a running jump.
  • Negotiations cannot realistically start until after the next election – assuming some form of Euro-septic government gains a mandate.  A two-year timetable is probably unrealistic.
  • We are short of close friends in Europe.  Only one of the major economies in Europe is Conservative and they are having to thread carefully as they are in a minority.
  • What changes would we seek to get? These would have to be such that other countries cannot also request an “à la carte Europe”.  The solutions to the current Euro-zone problems probably lie in more integration rather than disintegration.  Some conservatives argue that Europe needs to bite the bullet and allow the Euro to fail – then more integration would be unnecessary!  If that is so, the fallout will not be cleared up in time for Cameron’s 2017 referendum.

If, as Lawson suggests, renegotiation fails to bring any significant change, Cameron either has to:

  • Advocate staying in on marginally changed terms – but would he survive as leader?  If not, the referendum could happen during a Conservative Leadership campaign – probably not a good idea, or,
  • Advocate getting out – in which case he has to negotiate withdrawal terms as well to answer the inevitable question “what happens if the UK votes ‘out’?”.  Europe will have little interest in giving us particularly favourable terms.


The press will have created a massively anti-Europe attitude and it will be a case of “Europe has not conceded anything – therefore we should get out” rather than a balanced look at the benefits and costs of membership. The pro-Europe argument will have been totally sidelined. (Neat move)

I fear that an exit is now almost inevitable.  European policy has been the bastard child of the Conservative Party and now internal party political considerations are likely to have a truly dramatic effect on our country.

Will we when freed from the “dead hand of European bureaucracy” suddenly be better able:

  • to compete with the major non-European economies without taking our labour market standards down to those of say China, India or Bangladesh?  Labour market standards have a direct effect on the living standards of many people.
  • maintain the predominance of the London Financial System when its hinterland is reduced from more than 300 million to about 60 million – or will Frankfurt be more relevant to those wanting to trade with the European Market?
  • keep major inward investors on-board (serving the UK market) and not see them scoot off to Eastern Europe (serving the European market)?
  • negotiate our own trade agreements with our major markets?
  • not end up in the Norway situation whereby:
    • we still have to follow the EU rules (if we want to export to them or export elsewhere under the umbrella of their standards),
    • still have to contribute to the system that makes and polices those rules,
    • and yet have no significant say?

I fear not, we have sleep-walked into this position.

You Kip if you want to …


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