Monday, June 09, 2008

Time for a new flag

Iain Martin, on the Daily Telegraph clog speculates on whether a new Conservative government would be prepared to renegotiate with the EU on a new "looser" relationship.

His conclusion is not, a view largely shared by Conservative Home. That site, in turn, refers back to our post, which opened up the debate – something which, of course, the anally retentive Telegraph would not dream of doing.

The fact is, though, that the writing has been on the wall for some considerable time. Right since the very start of the "campaign" against the constitutional Lisbon treaty, it has been evident that that the Conservative front bench team has been going through the motions, doing enough to look (in their view) credible, but not enough to rock the boat.

Now that it is clear that Cameron intends to buy into the status quo rather than go for a post-ratification referendum, any idea that the Tories are going to be our saviours – forlorn though it always was – can be kicked into touch.

UKIP supporters, as might be expected, are making "told you so" noises, but their calls for electoral backing in order that they can force the issue are likely to go unheeded. The brutal fact is that, when it comes to the electorally mandated reshuffle general election, voters will – as always – be ticking their ballot papers on the basis of domestic issues. And this time, as was the mood in 1997, the strong imperative will be to get rid of the incumbent.

With the co-operation of the other main parties, and the complicity of the media, the EU will hardly rate as an issue and is unlikely to influence the outcome of the election.

There are suggestions that a group of eurosceptic Tory backbenchers will then be pushing their leader to take a more robust line on the EU, and Cameron has already been warned that, with the encroachment of EU law, he will find it difficult to implement whole swathes of policy. But, in our view, that is unlikely to make any difference.

Those who might then expect an increasingly angry electorate to protest might also be disappointed. By then – according to most knowledgeable pundits – we will be in the midst of an economic crisis. The bulk of people will be more concerned with their own survival than with esoteric issues of national sovereignty and our relationship with the EU.

In pointing this out, we (or I) will no doubt be accused of defeatism and thereby tacitly "joining the ranks of our enemies", as I was for observing that eurosceptism is dead. But it is very hard to imagine any circumstances in which we are likely soon to achieve our aim of leaving the EU.

This is not defeatism – it is realism. If we are to have any chance of defeating this enemy of democracy, we must be candid to ourselves about the odds we face, and gauge our strategy accordingly. All that has changed in the last few days is that we have had confirmation that the Conservatives will not be part of the battle. But we knew that anyway. As always, they will talk the talk, but they will not walk the walk.

It is time for us to run up a different flag.

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