Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Labour Party

For much of last week politics was dominated by David Cameron’s ‘EU Speech’. Andrew Rawnsley’s analysis had some interesting observations, such as the fact that much of the jubilation following the speech came from the ‘enemies on the benches behind him’.

Rawnsley noted that it was the wrong people clapping: “Those most delighted by his promise of an in-out referendum are the visceral Euro-haters for whom he has just fired the starting gun on a five-year campaign to leave Europe whatever he comes back with from any renegotiation.”

The other point that Rawnsley makes rather well is that it is an issue Cameron has previously resisted, but it was a speech he was forced to give for internal party management reasons, and in that, Rawnsley writes, it has been a success, but argues this will be short lived.

Rawnsley warns that after the initial buzz “the speech will prove to be a terrible mistake, quite possibly the fatal error of his premiership. David Cameron has taken a great leap into the dark, which would not be so serious if he were not making his country jump with him.”

Indeed another point, well made, is that Cameron can’t possibly know who he is going to attempt to negotiate with because there are a lot of elections between now and 2017, not least in Germany this autumn. You can read his article in full here.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is to downsize, it will have its funding cut and will inevitably lose some of its power. The Guardian asked, ‘will it lose its purpose?’
As its funding will be slashed from £70m to £17m, many have raised fears about the government’s regard for rights.

It was, as the article points out, a difficult beginning for the EHRC and it required reform. However, several people who are close to the organisation have suggested “there appears to be a deliberate attempt to give the reformed body a lower profile.”

Culture Secretary Maria Miller has confirmed fears in a written response to the Guardian Questions: “Miller acknowledged the change of style and said the EHRC should avoid being a campaigning or lobbying organisation.” She said: “Of course we need impassioned lobbyists in the area of equalities but that is not the role of the EHRC. It shouldn’t be leading emotive campaigns; rather its role is to be an expert witness [and] to make recommendations on the basis of the facts”.

You can read more on the future of the EHCR here.

My analysis of Cameron’s speech

Labour Party

David Cameron excelled himself this morning with one of the worst cases of vague waffle I have ever heard from a national leader.

The fact of the matter is that Cameron’s top priority is to head off the unrelenting opposition to the EU coming from Eurosceptic MPs and Conservative grass-roots activists.

It strikes me as utterly bizarre that any Prime Minister can even think about holding a referendum in five or more years’ time, after a general election. Has Cameron even considered that the Tories may not win an outright majority in 2015? This pie-in-the-sky timetable is the strongest indication that Cameron is promising the referendum for Conservative Party management reasons and not the national interest.

Britain’s membership of the European Union is too important to trust to the vagaries of party advantage.

David Cameron’s “vision” for an EU where some of its workings have been “renegotiated” to make it better for Britain required a great deal of imagination to have any clue about what he meant in terms of concrete change. The only real issue he raised was the hours of junior hospital doctors.

Even I could sign up to the five principles outlined by the Prime Minister. I doubt if there is a person in the land who doesn’t want fairness, competitiveness, flexibility, subsidiarity and democratic accountability. It’s not difficult to come up with general ideas that appeal – the difficulty lies in translating them into meaningful action.

Few people would disagree that the EU needs reform. Most would like to know what such reform would actually entail. Yet Cameron said almost nothing about what exactly it is he wishes to re-negotiate. It was surprisingly empty and begged more questions that it has answered.

Cameron is treating Britain’s membership of the European Union as a blank sheet of paper which we can go back and negotiate from scratch. Judging by the interview given to Newsnight yesterday by Guy Verhofstadt MEP, a former Belgian Prime Minister who now leads the Liberal Group in the European Parliament, this will not be the case. David Cameron will, therefore, be faced with tricky negotiations and I, for one, will follow his performance very closely.

Returning to practical matters in the here and now, Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said today that Cameron’s speech has served to increase uncertainty and he fears it could increase economic instability. The promise of referendum on EU membership seven years from now can only be damaging from now onwards.

Cameron’s approach is weak and misguided. Even worse, he may not have achieved anything at all – the Eurosceptics may feel his speech did not provide enough while the rest of us may be put off by its generality and lack of content.