Heffer Is Wrong

There are two lines of current eurosceptic thought, which are both wrong.

The first one is to be disappointed that David Cameron only makes eurosceptic noises in short bursts, and that his follow through on eurosceptic promises is not sufficient to convince potential eurosceptic supporters that he is serious. To these doubters, or even people who feel sure that Cameron has conned them with various unfulfilled eurosceptic promises, I would say the following –

Your fear and the fear of many others is that Cameron is only window-dressing as a eurosceptic, but in reality, his role is only to con eurosceptics, and neutralise opposition to the EU.

This is an expression of your concern. But you cannot be sure that it is true. He might equally be conning the other side. It is not possible to be certain either way.

From your viewpoint, though, it is for now better to play the chance that Cameron is not conning you, but is conning the other side.

If you don’t do that, and it turns out that you are wrong, you will have thrown away your best opportunity to be free.

If, on the other hand, it turns out that you are right, then you can at that time of certainty, move on in the sure knowledge that your views are not being represented by Cameron, and do something about it. But right now eurosceptics should support Cameron.

A eurosceptic leader would of necessity be playing both sides, and play cryptic.

You will only really know where he really stands once he wins power (as with Gordon Brown who many believed prior to his taking over from Blair to be a eurosceptic including many intelligent commentators like Lord Rees Mogg). Prior to that all politicians play cryptic up to a point.

If Cameron like Brown also turns out to be a europhile once in power, there would be enough MPs who would feel the same as you and want a change of leader. Cameron in those circumstances could and should be replaced.

For now though we must focus only on winning power, and put doubts to the back of the mind. If you don’t, you are only helping your real enemies to defeat you.

The second incorrect line of thought is as proposed most forcefully by Simon Heffer in The Telelegraph yesterday. His title says it all – David Cameron Must Take Us Out Of The EU Treaty.

The problem with taking this approach is that exiting the EU Treaty is necessary but not sufficient. David Cameron’s responsibility will, in time be to go through the process of working out all the options available to Britain in 2010 when he wins power. These will not just be as simple as Heffer would like it to be – either ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the latest Treaty. The whole relationship will need to be placed into a new context.

There is a third option which is not addressed by exiting the Treaty alone, which needs exploring first, and that is, to explain what kind of relationship the Conservative Party would find acceptable with the EU. That might be as Cameron has already indicated, outside the Social Chapter, the CAP, the CFP and many other aspects of current EU membership. There would be a long list of options to work through.

Once the Conservatives have decided what their negotiating position is, then they will have to, win power at Westminster, go through the process of renegotiating with the EU, and finding out what is achievable.

Once that process is complete, and there are two stages to it – the specification process, followed by the renegotiating process , there will be the third stage, working out how the decision(s) is(are) to be taken.

The Conservatives could decide that it is too complex an issue to resolve by referendum, and use a majority in Parliament to force through the changes they believe are the best compromise achievable to the European relationship. Or they could equally decide that, the issues have to be dealt with by referendum.

There could not be simply two choices though, as Simon Heffer and many of us might prefer. There would be three at the least. Choice number 1 would be the easy one – whether to continue with the relationship as it is, inside the Lisbon Treaty (once ratified). That decision has been promised by all parties to be placed in a referendum, but the decision to quit Lisbon, which will soon be ratified by Parliament alone, could equally be taken by Parliament alone.

Once the decision has been taken to quit the Lisbon Treaty, then there would need to be a second decision taken subsequent to that, as to what kind of relationship would follow on from there. Cameron might feel obliged to hold a second referendum if he held a first one, then asking the public to decide between the position he renegotiates with the EU, or withdrawal to the position of a Norway or a Switzerland equivalent, or he might again use the power of Parliament to decide.

If Cameron starts to discuss all these options publicly, and make commitments now, that is bad strategy – both politically as he would draw endless fire from the media, especially the BBC which could jeopardise his pattern of gain in opinion polls, which is going well, and from the practical viewpoint. The final position of what he will, and will not be offering, cannot yet be knowable, as there needs to be much thought and discussion, and also much water to flow under the bridge between now and 2010.

In any battle and this is a battle, you are more likely to win if you keep your options open as long as you possibly can, while getting your enemy to commit themselves and their resources early.

Brown has obliged by committing himself totally to the EU, as have the Liberal Democrats. Nick Clegg’s offer an In/Out referendum solves nothing, and is mere deception. Cameron now has both his opponents in a box, while he is still free to manoevre as needs be. Napoleon would be proud of him.

Emotionally there are many who would agree with the Simon Heffer position, but strategy and winning both the battle and the war require Cameron to carry on exactly as he is doing. Cameron is right to play it long, and keep all his options open. Meanwhile Heffer has to keep his readers fired up, and is doing an excellent job.

The Tap Blog is a collective of like-minded researchers and writers who’ve joined forces to distribute information and voice opinions avoided by the world’s media.

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