The Tories and UKIP are using the EU for party advantage

Labour Party

Contrary to much popular opinion put about by those with a stiletto-edged axe to grind on the European Union, the majority of businesses in Britain are in favour of EU membership. The reason is very simple: 47 per cent of our exports of to EU member states while 50 per cent of foreign direct investment is from EU countries.

Speaking to the Business for New Europe coalition tomorrow, Tony Blair, in a strong return to the domestic political scene, will point out that since major economies such as China, India, Brazil and Russia are emerging as formidable competitors in the global power game, EU membership is more important than ever. Sunday’s Observer quotes a source close to Blair as saying: “Whereas the post-war argument for Europe was about peace versus war, he [Tony] will make the point that the 21st century case for Europe is about power versus irrelevance.”

This is, I believe, the most powerful argument for being in the EU. It is, in fact, the only realistic way Britain can remain at the top table. Added to this is the statement by CBI President Sir Roger Carr last week that UK membership of the EU is the “launch pad” for much international business. Again according to the Observer, Sir Roger said, “Whatever the popular appeal maybe of withdrawal, businessmen and politicians must keep a bridge to Europe firmly in place.”

Enter the hapless Tory MP former party whip Michael Fabricant, who now goes under the title of Conservative campaign chief and wants an electoral alliance with the manically anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP). In charge of the Conservatives’ marginal seats strategy, he thinks teaming up with UKIP cold win the Tories an extra 20 seats at the general election

The huge mismatch between what is good for Britain and what the Tories believe is good for their party is becoming ever more apparent. Senior Tories are clearly prepared to go down the route of seriously considering withdrawing from the European Union in order to try and maintain their domestic political advantage.

Make no mistake, UKIP not only want to come out Europe, it is their very reason for being. Some top Tories appear to be prepared to ally with a rabid anti-EU party which is not even part of the mainstream in this country to gain a few additional seats in the House of Commons. Rarely has such brazen political opportunism been so rife on the right of British politics.

UKIP, of course, has a presence in the European Parliament. That is, however, as far as they have got. They have no MPs and only a handful of local councillors. They make a lot of noise but they are nowhere in national politics. However, if the Tories were to grace them with their support, UKIP would have a way in. This could be the beginning of the end for Britain and the European Union. We would be left without the massive trading advantages the head of the CBI has emphasised, isolated and much worse off.

Meanwhile, it is not just Tony Blair from the Labour side who recognises that Britain needs the EU. Labour Leader Ed Miliband has recently made an important speech outlining the very same case. Britain staying a member of the EU is, as they say, really a no-brainer.

David Cameron appears to be engaging with the EU in a good way

Labour Party

Even small-state, cut public expenditure David Cameron seemingly wants to help young people find jobs.

This is excellent news which I hope will be translated into concrete action in Britain to bring down youth unemployment which currently stands at a staggering 22% of those aged 16 to 24.

David Cameron is, moreover, discussing youth unemployment at an EU summit starting in Brussels today, according to the Observer. Cameron will apparently play a full part in the talks, a welcome change for our avowedly Eurosceptic Prime Minister. Let’s just hope he stays the course and doesn’t walk out as he did at the previous Brussels summit on 9 December last year.

The EU could, we understand, provide 22 billion euros from an underspend in the European social fund for measures to combat unemployment among young people. While youth unemployment stands at 22% in the UK, it is even higher in other EU member states – 51.4% in Spain, 46.6% in Greece and 30.7% in Greece.

The EU initiative is therefore very welcome. Having young people unable to find work constitutes a real tragedy, robbing them of the start in life they deserve, leading often to long-term defeatism and periods on the dole throughout their lives.

If the proposals are agreed, the European Commission will work with member states to draw up country specific programmes on how to address the problems and use the EU funds.

Unemployment is the scourge of our times. Even George Osborne is beginning to understand this as he teamed up with Ed Miliband joining leaders of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank urging action to create jobs amid warnings that youth unemployment was a time-bomb under the global economy.

However, Cameron and Osborne making all the right noises abroad is no substitute for action at home. The main reason unemployment is so high in Britain lies at the door of the Tory-led coalition’s fierce austerity measures. The cuts have been much too much, much too soon. Such policies could lead to a much longer recession than necessary, possibly even a double dip.

We, the British people, need a government that looks after all our interests not just those of a rich few. Everything possible should be done to bring down unemployment at home where it matters. International action is all very well, but the real solution is here, fairly and squarely with David Cameron and George Osborne.

Cameron’s Tories are between a Rock and a Hard Place

Labour Party

I’m not going to pretend that I am anything other than ecstatic to see the Tories fall so dramatically in the Ipsos MORI poll in yesterday’s Observer.  Only six points behind Labour on 37 % as opposed to our 31%, this is surely a blow for Cameron and his Conservatives.  Some have claimed it is a rogue poll, but that has yet to be seen.  As of now, I am prepared to believe the findings of a respected polling organisation.

All of this begs the question why.  Why are the Tories going down and why is Labour recovering?  The Glasgow North-East result is clearly in the frame as a by-election win traditionally boosts the winning party’s standing.  There is also the excellent news about the economy, and this Ipsos MORI poll shows that 46% of the public now believe the economy will perform better over the next year compared to 23% who think it will deteriorate and 28% who believe it will stay the same.

So we have two powerful reasons for people to go away from the Tories and come to Labour.  The other, I believe, is the disarray shown by Cameron, Hague et al on Europe and their policies relating to the EU.  The Tories’ EU policies quite simply lack credibility .  As a veteran of Labour in the 1980s, please believe me when I know an impossible and unworkable policy when I see one.

Having watched Cameron on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday and reflected on what he said during the past day, I am absolutely convinced that Europe is the Tories’ achilles heel.  It is the 2010 Tory version of Labour’s 1987 idea that nuclear disarmament coupled with an increase in ground troops was a viable option for the UK, a policy which would also allow us to fulfil our international commitments.

The voters twigged Labour then just as, I believe, they are twigging the Tories now.  Just in case you missed it or found the rhetoric got in the way of what they are actually saying, David Cameron and William Hague state that in the absence of their being able to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty they will:

1)  Introduce legislation to require a referendum whenever there is a treaty change in the EU


2)  Renegotiate those parts of the existing treaties and agreements the Tories don’t like

I don’t think 1) is much of an issue.  After all, should the Tories ever be in a position to negotiate changes to EU treaties they, as the governing party, would have a vested interest in the referendum going through.  This is, therefore, a fundamentally dishonest piece of rhetoric in that the Tories are only promising referendums on their own laws and agreements.

2) This is where the Tory policy becomes very difficult, if not downright impossible.  It is this which is not credible and unworkable.  It is not a credible policy for the very real reason that treaties and other EU agreements are negotiated very strongly down to the last detail by all the member states before agreement.  Every member state is therefore irrevocably committed to the final version.  Since all member states have been through the process, every single one of them is in the same position.  In most instances a change of government in a member state would not be enough to make that country wish to overturn such a treaty or agreement   

So I am truly baffled by exactly how the Tories feel they can change those aspects of the EU treaties they don’t like.  Even if there were one or two other member states who wished to make amendments to existing agreements that would not be enough to change things across 27 member states.

Changing the EU treaties amounts to constitutional change, something which generally requires significant momentum and a large measure of consensus.  I would simply like to draw your attention to the campaign for proportional representation for the  House of Commons.  It ‘s been a long haul and we are only just beginning to see some movement.  Another example may be the challenge the Labour Party faced in getting rid of Clause Four.  These are by no means frivolous examples; constitutional change at whatever level is tough and it requires a significant groundswell to get off the ground.  

As someone involved in European politics, I see no chance of the Tories achieving the promises they are currently making to the British people regarding treaty change in the EU.  They are peddling policies which, since they are not credible, amount to being dishonest.

The one thing David Cameron was very clear about on the Andrew Marr show was that the Conservatives will not take Britain out of the European Union, something they now could do under the changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty.  The Tories really have put themselves between a rock and a hard place – in the EU which they detest yet  not at all able to change those things they don’t like – a vulnerable achilles heel indeed.