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Dave’s desperate referendum stunt

david cameron not happyThis post begins with a quiz. Who here is the biggest cynic? Me, your host of some seven-and-a-half years. Or Dave, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Don’t answer yet! Let’s examine the evidence first.

You might have noticed that an election took place last week, one that saw an unprecedented number of votes go to the hard and the far right across Europe. You may also have caught a little bit of coverage about something called UKIP. However, the biggest bloc in the new European Parliament is the so-called European People’s Party. This Soviet-sounding formation is the main grouping for the EU’s centre right parties, such as Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU and the French UMP (ex-of Sarkozy).

Programmatically it shares with the centre left’s Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats a commitment to deepening the EU project, both economically and politically. For this reason, Dave took the Tories out of the EPP to found the European Conservatives and Reformists group in 2009 – to all intents and purposes a eurosceptic lash up with Polish and Czech rightists.

Shortly after the election of a new parliament, a new president of the European Commission is appointed/confirmed. The EC is the EU’s executive body and operates not unlike a government. Its “cabinet” comprises 28 members from each of the member states. This is where it gets a bit confusing. Candidates for the president are put forward by yet another body, the European Council, which is an institution made up by heads of state/heads of governments. Confusingly, it also acts as a sort of clearing house for collective decision-making in competition with and superior to the commission. Its president, Herman Van Rompuy, should not be confused with the EC president. The council therefore puts forward its favoured candidates, which are then voted on by MEPs.

Dave is reportedly annoyed that the candidate favoured by the EPP is the Merkel-backed Jean-Claude Juncker. If he ascends to the EC presidency, Dave is “threatening” to bring forward the EU referendum. What is then so offensive about this man? Is it that during his 18 years as Luxembourg’s prime minister he twice formed a governing coalition with the Socialist Workers Party? Alas, it comes down to his record as an out-and-out Europhile, specifically his roles in drawing up the Maastricht Treaty and laying the groundwork for monetary union. For this he won the Vision for Europe award in 1998. However, in so doing Juncker was merely pursuing Luxembourg’s national interest. As a small (some might say petty) state sandwiched between France, Belgium and Germany, positioning oneself as a politician driving integration has amplified Luxembourg’s standing in continental affairs.

As EC presidential candidates go, there’s nothing remarkable about Juncker. It’s not as if he’d spend a term of office picketing the European Council demanding a single foreign policy and a single military. Not that any of this matters to Dave.

While the headlines last week were all about UKIP, Labour and the LibDems, the Conservatives were badly rattled by the local and European election results. Losing flagship councils, coming third in a national election for the first time ever, that’s going to hurt. And they are a party that cannot come up with a coherent strategy for fighting its the two-front election war – concentrating fire on Labour leaves their right flank dangerously exposed to an increasingly emboldened and insufferable Nigel Farage. And vice versa. Take on UKIP and Labour will pull the marginals from under you. Like its non-existent “long-term economic plan”, the Tories have taken laissez-faire to their political hearts – as the GDP figures tick upwards they pray the invisible hand will deliver them five more years. Politics for them is now a series of disconnected set-pieces, sometimes aimed at Labour, sometimes aimed at UKIP. The hope is the Tories will be come up trumps in both.

Dave’s song and dance about Juncker’s presidency is the first in this recurring pattern of “political stands”. In this particular case, Dave is playing fast and loose with Britain’s national interests to reap short-term points in the polls. Inexplicably, despite being a consistently weak leader of his party vs his Labour opponent, the appellations are switched around. Therefore drawing a line in the sand by threatening an in/out referendum allows his media mates to draw him as “standing up for Britain” against the EU (or, if you prefer, Germany) and being “prime ministerial”.

Even though there is absolutely no risk to British sovereignty should his appointment happen. Politically, it is a very clumsy move. You don’t threaten the nuclear option unless the stakes are high. Even Kim Jong-un knows that. But ah, you see, this isn’t Downing Street’s official line. It is a suggestion that has been touted to Der Spiegel, but with the affectation of plausible deniability. In all, it’s desperate, desperate stuff. Yet what place Britain’s immediate interests vs the Conservatives’ need to win the next election.

So, returning to the question I opened with, who’s the cynic?

This article first appeared at All that is Solid

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