Sunday, April 24, 2005

Europe is missing

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the leader in The Sunday Telegraph today, rejoicing in the title "Europe is missing", is that it was published at all.

In common with the political parties, the media itself has been at pains to avoid bringing the European Union into the cockpit of general election politics, yet it is precisely that phenomenon which the is remarked upon by the Telegraph.

The paper notes that, four years ago, William Hague put the slogan "Keep the Pound" at the very heart of the Conservative election campaign - and was (rightly) pilloried after his defeat for taking that strategic decision. We recall that it was during that self-same campaign that the Conservatives ran with the fatuous slogan "In Europe but not ruled by Europe".

Now, however, it is one of the ironies of this election that Michael Howard's policies on Britain's membership of the EU are considerably more radical than Mr Hague's, but have attracted negligible interest.

As we have pointed out on this Blog, the 2005 Conservative manifesto promises not only that Britain would stay out of the euro under a Tory Government, but that Prime Minister Howard would negotiate "the restoration of our opt-out from the Social Chapter" of the Maastricht Treaty. Most ambitiously, the party pledges to repatriate control of the nation's fisheries - an entirely desirable step that would certainly involve a dramatic redefinition of Britain's membership of the EU.

Yet, in this general election campaign, the paper notes, neither Blair nor Howard have said much about the issue of Europe. For Howard, this is partly because of the divisive nature of the issue in the party while Blair has no desire so close to polling day to draw attention to his enthusiasm for EU integration - a deeply felt passion that sets him sharply at odds with mainstream public opinion.

Noting how low "Europe" features in voters' concerns (the paper's ICM poll today showing that only four percent of voters regard Europe as the most important issue in the election - only to be expected, given its marginal presence in the campaign) the Telegraph believes it would be a shame if European policy did not play a significant part in voters' deliberations, as it is one of the areas where there is a pronounced difference between the two main parties.

This is especially the case with the EU constitution where it appears that only a Conservative government is prepared to guarantee a referendum. But there is another reason why it should be an issue, to which the Telegraph does not allude. General elections are about choosing governments yet, in many respects our government is not (and will not be) in Westminster, but Brussels.

For this government we will not be allowed to vote, but the Telegraph elsewhere in its own pages gives us ample evidence of why we should have nothing to do with it.

Thus, if we are to chose a government – a British government – we must first dispense with the usurper over the water, which makes the logical choice the Party which is most likely to put distance between it and us. In the fullness of time, we hope that such a choice may provoke the same leader headline – "Europe is missing" – but in the context of it missing not from a general election campaign, but from our lives.

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