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The battle-lines are being drawn

Being cynical about politics, a default position for many of my acquaintance, can become a full-time occupation these days if you let it. As a fascinated observer (the BBC2’s Daily Politics and Sunday Politics being the equivalent of old friends if I ever find myself near a television when the right time of day comes around) I have come to regard those of all political colours on the inside of the ‘Westminster bubble’ as playing a ‘game’ of sound-bites and insider issues as they exploit one of political life’s necessary but attractive evils – i.e. any cast-iron opportunity to present themselves to the vast mass of the voting public.

The more I see of it, however, the more I view British politics as a mess.

Labour is currently in a state of confusion following the advent of Jeremy Corbyn because apparently he has principles to which he sticks, which is a bit of a problem when his approach collides with the ‘pragmatism in the face of events’ by which Westminster traditionally operates. His supporters view Mr Corbyn as a plus, believing the Westminster Labour party is wrong to regard him and his leftist policies as ‘unelectable’: on the contrary, their line is that Labour lost the 2010 and 2015 elections because it wasn’t left-wing enough. Meanwhile those Labour MPs who have held office in recent Labour governments – most of them adherents to New Labour’s conviction that ‘the centre ground’ is the key to national electoral success – are tearing their hair out because (as they see it), if Corbyn is allowed to remain leader to 2020, Labour will accidentally but deliberately have condemned itself to lose the next, if not the next two General Elections.

Which brings me to the EU and the second of my problems with politics-watching as a pastime: the tendency that, the more of it you follow, the more it not only frustrates you but compels you to continuing watching.

My views are complicated by my conviction that – when it comes to the really big issues, and the continuation (or not) of the UK’s ‘EU membership’ definitely qualifies as one – there are Establishment forces and groupings involved who possess greater importance and power than any mere politician sitting in Parliament or elsewhere. Taking that thought one stage further, the intriguing thing about the issue of EU membership is that there are different elements of this ‘Establishment’ lined up on either side of the ‘in/out’ argument.

Above all, here it is a case of the Tory party in turmoil. The narrative goes like this. Panicked by the apparent (but ultimately illusory) electoral popularity of UKIP in the run-up to the 2105 General Election, the Prime Minister and his strategists sought to ‘cauterise’ the perceived threat by making a manifesto commitment to hold an ‘in/out’ referendum on EU membership, intending to appeal to those thinking of voting for UKIP but also keep the EU-sceptic wing of the Tory party on side.

This initiative, of course, proved worthless and indeed a hostage to fortune when the UKIP threat failed to materialise. It also forced Mr Cameron into Don Quixote-mode, having to pretend that, as Britain’s leader, he was going to force the EU monolith to accept a radical re-alignment of the UK’s relationship with EU principles and other members and – if this was not accepted by our EU ‘friends’ – the UK ‘people’ [whose view outweighed whatever he or other politicians might think or say] might well vote to leave.

And so we reached the ‘renegotiation fudge’ that was presented to us yesterday as an historic deal painstakingly achieved by our Churchillian leader against all the odds – albeit that, by searching behind the headlines, the reality was revealed that it isn’t quite a done deal yet because all the other members of the EU still have to put pen to paper upon it … and that eventuality make take the shedding of even more blood, sweat and tears inevitable.

Following the lunchtime launch of the supposed ‘breakthrough deal’, for the remainder of the day the media was awash with politicians and pundits ‘reading its entrails’ and or ‘spinning’ the respective camp’s lines upon its effect.

boxPersonally I began in the corner that believes it was all irrelevant to what will be the key battle-ground of the forthcoming EU referendum (which, according to the smart money, is likely to take place on 23rd June) and I also ended there.

Mr Cameron had made himself look an idiot by maintaining, against all the evidence, that he has achieved something very special – a spectacular victory – which now allows him to campaign for the UK to remain in the EU … and saying in passing yesterday that, if the UK had been currently outside the EU, he would have snapped somebody’s hand off if they had offered him these terms to join in 2016.

The fact is that neither the ‘stay’ or ‘come out’ camps will have their stances altered one jot by his still-unsigned deal. In other words, for the protagonists involved in the referendum, he needn’t have hatched or embarked upon his re-negotiation at all and could have saved himself the bother – and perhaps a whole lot of trouble – by staying at home and doing nothing.

For the rest of us – and I’m presuming I am in tune with the minds of the British population here, which I’m probably not – the issue isn’t anything as specific as regaining control of our borders, or immigration, or sheer frustration at the stream of rules, regulations and edicts pouring out of the EU in our direction.

It’s simply the inner ‘sense’ that – overall, and when push comes to shove – we’d just feel happier with the UK being able to decide whatever it wants for itself, bring in such laws as it wants to enact, be free to opt for ‘A’ in say 2016 and then change its mind and switch to ‘Z’ (the exact opposite) if it wishes in 2017 should a different new government get voted in … this rather than being de facto bound by decisions made years before which, in some form or another, weren’t originated in the UK, weren’t voted for in the UK, don’t seem relevant to the UK and/or even in its best interests.

When – and if – I vote in the Referendum, that’s the only thing that’s going to be on my mind.

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About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts