David Cameron is no John Major. Britain’s reputation is not safe in his hands

Labour Party

It has come to my attention that the European Council of Ministers has decided to support Jean-Claude Junker as President of the European Commission.

David Cameron has therefore comprehensively failed in his attempts to stop Junker. While I accept that overturning the Junker bandwagon was never going to be easy, we shouldn’t gloss over just how instrumental Cameron was in creating the pro-Junker momentum in the first place.

Frightened out of his wits by UKIP’s strong showing in the European elections, not to mention his obstreperous back-benchers, Cameron came to the view that the arch-federalist Junker was not a good person to head up one of the three European institutions.

Given that under the Lisbon treaty, the European Parliament was to have a say in who would be President of the European Commission, campaigning against Jean-Claude Junker, the candidate of the centre-right European People’s Party Group (EPP), was never going to be easy.

Two things made Cameron’s self-proclaimed crusade even more difficult. As the largest political group in the European Parliament, the EPP has taken upon itself to claim that it, as the largest Group, makes the nomination for Commission President on behalf of the European Parliament. Secondly, and perhaps of more significance in Cameron’s world, is the fact that the Tories in the European Parliament withdrew from the EPP five years ago.

Now that the British Conservatives are not in the mainstream centre-right group, not only has their influence diminished, but they have also alienated European leaders whose support they may have needed to stop Junker. Chief among these is Angela Merkel who was very unhappy when the Tories formed the European Conservative and Reformist (ECR) Group in 2009. She is now even more angry because the Conservatives in the European Parliament have, within the last few days, allied with the Alternative for Deutschland, who are more or less the German equivalent of UKIP. The Tories went down that route because, needing to reconstitute the ECR for this parliamentary mandate, they were obliged to meet the European Parliament rules which state that to form a political group there must be 25 MEPs from seven countries.

Clearly it is rather foolish to upset Mrs Merkel, who in reasonable circumstances would be a Cameron ally. Cameron himself then went on to alienate almost the whole European Council when he threatened that the UK would leave the EU if a federalist became the head of the Commission. Subsequent Cameron interventions proved no more subtle or adept.

Responding to reports that Mr Cameron had warned Britain could leave the EU over Mr Juncker’s appointment, Mrs Merkel is quoted in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph as stating: “I made myself clear by saying that I am for Jean-Claude Juncker. But when I made that statement in Germany I also made the point that we act in a European spirit. We always do that. Otherwise we can’t arrive at a compromise. We cannot just consign to the back-burner the question of European spirit. Threats are not part and parcel of that spirit, that’s not how we usually proceed.”

Given that Mrs Merkel started the discussions on the European Commission by not being particularly pro-Junker, David Cameron has scored a spectacular own-goal. Step forward the Prime Minister who snatched defeat from the jaws of what could possibly have been a victory.

I, and most of my Labour MEP colleagues, share the concerns that the EU is remote. Many of us would not call ourselves federalists and would not support the federalist, integrated concept of Europe against the looser idea of nation states working together as analysed by Daniel Finkelstein in the Times today. But we all recognise that if you want your view to prevail in Europe you have to negotiate skillfully, taking account of the sensibilities of those who have power.

David Cameron is obviously no John Major who successfully negotiated Britain’s opt out from the Euro in the teeth of huge opposition. Cameron instead seems to be trying to ape Margaret Thatcher’s famous hand bagging strategy. Thatcher won the British rebate over 30 years ago. The EU and the zeitgeist are very different now. All David Cameron has managed to do is let the side down.

Cameron and Hague are being dishonest on Europe

Labour Party

The excellent David Aaronovitch of the Times now joins the FT’s Janan Ganesh in the ranks of national political commentators who are getting to grips with the European Union.

Aaronovitch’s colourful metaphor in yesterday’s Times summed up current Government’s position and showed just how flawed their line on the EU really is.

David had a childhood friend called Denny with whom he played toy soldier games re-enacting the Napoleonic Wars. Denny, the French commander, was, according to Aaronovitch, “dashing, ingenious and fatally elaborate. His plans were complex and daring, involving clever feints and diversions. But to come to fruition they relied on the other players behaving in ways that they simply didn’t. So usually he lost.”

The brutal fact of the matter is that the while Cameron-Hague “route map” may appeal to Eurosceptics, and maybe even those who are lukewarm on the subject, these are not the people Messrs C&H will have to convince.

In order to achieve the holy grail of treaty renegotiation and repatriation of powers from Brussels to London, the British Government will have to convince all 26 other EU member states that this is in their interest, the interest of the EU as a whole. Aside from some justice and home affairs matters where the UK can opt out, the idea that powers will come back to Britain is utter pie in the sky.

I would ask all of you reading this to seriously ask yourself why would the 26 other EU member states agree to the UK taking back powers? EU treaties are exhaustively negotiated and eventually agreed by all the countries. In most instances change can therefore only happen if all member states, or at the very least a substantial majority, agree.

The feral Tory Eurosceptics claim to love the EU single market. In order for trade to be fair across the single market with no country having an unfair advantage or disadvantage, the market is regulated and laws put in place to secure the same treatment for employees across the EU. Membership of the single market therefore confers responsibilities as well as rights.

It is these rights the Tories want to repatriate, to destroy in other words. Employment and social legislation would go as would the equalities agenda. This Conservative-led Government wants the UK to enjoy the privileges of the EU single market without its responsibilities.

I ask you again, why would the other 26 member states confer this special status on the UK? Why would 26 countries who accept the responsibilities as well as the rights of the single market allow one country, who, to be honest they don’t really like, to opt out of the difficult stuff?

The rest of the EU is simply not going to behave as Cameron and Hague want them to. David Aaronovitch’s analysis is far more realistic: In his piece yesterday he puts forward this scenario:

“In the run up to the European elections the Conservatives will announce their commitment to a referendum on Europe based on their negotiations about powers. A year later they’ll go to the country on a manifesto based on negotiating the new balance and promising a referendum based on the results. [Assuming they win the 2015 election which I don’t think they will] they’ll then negotiate – their hand supposedly strengthened by having won an election on those terms – and a referendum will finally be held in 2017 or 2018. In their imaginations the referendum will endorse the newly negotiated position and Britain and possibly a few other countries will take their places, um, somewhere in an imagined optimal adjacent European space, where you get all the advantages of European association and few of the downsides.”

Dream on Messrs Cameron and Hague. I assure you your dishonesty will be found out.


Why I disagree with Judi Dench about the Olympics

Labour Party

It’s a shame, to put it mildly, that in the minds of some, the Olympics and the arts are diametrically opposed to each other, especially where money is concerned.  It is perhaps an even greater shame that Dame Judi Dench, who incidentally doesn’t like to be known as a national treasure, feels the need to join in the debate and thereby polarise matters further.

Dame Judi made it clear in the Times yesterday that she believes theatre subsidies are being siphoned off to pay for the 2012 Olympics.  She then continued by telling us that, “There’s no question that the recession has had an effect on the arts, especially British films.”

No-one would dispute that we live in straitened times.  However I, for one, do not wish to see funding for cinema, theatre, literature, music and the visual arts cut.  What we need to do, therefore, is find a way of maintaining support for the arts while meeting our Olympic obligations, even while the economy is not in the best of health.

A tall order indeed, but not necessarily impossible.  We need, I believe, to take a long hard look at arts and sports funding taking a creative approach to the money available.  The cake may not be as large as we would like, but there are always several ways to cut it.

Firstly, as regular readers will know, I am a strong supporter of the Olympics.  The 2012 Games will put London even more on the map than we already are, bring in large revenue streams and provide an infrastructure for use in the future.

 Indeed, one of the solutions to Dame Judi’s complaints could be found in an article in the Evening Standard  later the same day.  The new board of the Olympic Legacy Company, due to meet for the first time next week, could, and should, consider arts usage for the land and buildings once the Games are over.  This, I am sure, would provide a real boost to the arts in London and even nationwide.

Using some of the Olympic site in this way together with a commitment to put aside some of the revenue generated by the Olympics for the arts, if handled well, could overcome the problems to which Dame Judi refers.  Granted, this would not come into effect for three years, but I am sure a commitment now would make a big difference.

Above all, we should stop this playing off the Olympics against the arts.  Sport, in all its forms, plays a vital role in our country, as do the arts in a different way.  Let’s make sure all our culture and entertainment, in essence what makes our lives fun and interesting, gets the support it deserves, and let’s also all work together to bring this about