After 6 months of preparation, the Prime Minister has finally made his long awaited Europe speech. I will admit now that I caught a mere 20 minutes of the speech this morning, but enough to grasp the main point of what David Cameron was saying: he wants us to remain in the EU but will put forth a referendum anyway. In 2017.
There is no love lost between me and DC. I say that like we have some kind of personal relationship, which we don’t. But despite my feelings of general hatred towards most things Conservative, I feel a bit sorry for him. Regardless of how much money he earns or how posh his background is, imagine being faced with that many people sharpening their knives. He’s got knives out in front of him from the Opposition, there’s knives to the side from his own coalition partners, and his own Eurosceptic backbenchers have got a few knives of their own. Yet what he did this morning was a shrewd, albeit cynical, political manoeuvre.
The PM committed us to a referendum, but only in 2017, which basically means that we will have to reelect this man in 2015 to have any hope of participating in said referendum. He believes in the public “having their say” – but not for another 4 years. Because of course it’ll take 4 years to organise this referendum. Of course. Let’s disregard the fact we were able to get the referendum on the electoral system up and running in 12 months. No no! The EU referendum – a simple choice between in or out – will take 4 whole months.
The AV referendum is perhaps a bad comparison. It was a shambles. Not because of its organisation as a whole, but because of a lack of awareness and education among the electorate on what they were even voting for. That was not their fault – the powers that be did not make it clear what we were voting for. But four years? Four years to educate, to inform, to give both sides? Four years to send out some ballot slips? In my view, a cynical ploy to buy the government 5 more years.
I understand it will take time for the Prime Minister to “renegotiate” our powers, but he can’t even tell us what powers he plans to reform. In a club of 27 member states, many of whom share in one currency, and the rest who don’t – this is going to be a long, complex process. But in giving us a choice between his vague notion of a proposed reformed relationship and withdrawing altogether, he has left another open goal for the likes of UKIP and the tabloids. All too often the media has been left to set the terms of this debate. It is easy to drum up some rage when you splash a few sensationalist headlines across your front pages about how the EU is demanding we rename Bombay Mix (they aren’t, it’s a myth) or that we get rid of “Made in Britain” labels (also a myth).
I hope today’s speech will set in motion a real, honest debate about the EU that is devoid of lies, propaganda and paranoia. My personal feelings about the EU remain the same as always – I believe it to be a mixed bag of fatcats, fascists and good men and women who desperately want to help the people of Europe without the need for more centralisation. Like the membership of the EU itself, the PM is trying a balancing act between national interest, party interest, and the benefits the UK receives from being a major player in the Union. For large parts, he has failed, but despite my feelings towards him and his party, I do not wish my country to be thrown into the economic gutter, either through complete withdrawal or more federalism and centralisation. Therefore, I hope he is able to get some bottle, wrestle this debate away from the naysayers and doom mongering media, and use this opportunity to set us on a path to a reformed, and better, relationship with the EU.