What does the Conservative Party have to do to win the next election?

By Matt Beebee

The 2010 General Election should have been a clear Conservative victory. It wasn’t. 64% of those that voted backed other parties. This was a perplexing outcome given the Tories were facing a tired and battered Labour Party, trudging through a global financial crisis with rising public debt. Under the leadership of the young David Cameron, who had shifted the party towards the centre ground, victory looked all but certain. Yet failure to win outright forced the Conservatives’ hand into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats; a relationship that has been tetchy to say the least.

The relatively poor show was always going to give the Conservatives, who were polling 20 points ahead of Labour before the 2010 election, an uphill struggle in the 2015 general election given the tough decisions they would have to make in government – on the economy in particular. Former Cabinet minister Michael Portillo has blunted declared “the Conservatives appear to be doomed” at the next general election. He could be right; no party has ever increased its share of votes at a subsequent general election since 1955.

With such pessimistic inevitability, should the Tories concede themselves to losing the election? No. Much could change during the remaining two years of government, but the Tories have three big obstacles they must – and more importantly can – overcome to win the next election.

First, there is the matter of the Labour Party. Despite Labour consistently polling around 10 points better than the Tories, they come out worse in two important polls: preferred leader and economic competence. Although it iz grossly unfair to dismiss Ed Miliband as a leader based on his physical appearance, the electorate do seem to lean favourably towards David Cameron’s style and aptitude as an orator. Labour’s continual dithering over turning ideas into policy, if left too late, could play into the Tories hands. To their credit, they have a plan and are sticking to it. Likewise, Ed Balls, Labour’s shadow chancellor, is considered a prime target to personify Labour’s ineptitude with his rowdy, firebrand style of politics. The Conservatives will seek to push this idea; Labour has no strategy for taking tough decisions in government and opposes with little in the way of alternative policy.

Then there is Europe; the Conservative Party’s ‘elephant in the room’. Cameron has already committed himself to an in/out referendum in 2017 if he is Prime Minister. The paradox is that Cameron does not wish to leave the EU; he wishes to reform it politically while retaining the economically vital single market. He has felt the urge to accommodate the Eurosceptic crowd given the surge of UKIP and the perceived natural Euroscepticism because of Britain’s island culture. This pandering should be avoided. A YouGov poll from January stated 34% would vote to leave the EU while 40% would vote to remain. Cameron should instead be pushing for a reformed EU treaty – something he is confident of doing – that reclaims parliamentary sovereignty and supports economic liberalism, demonstrating that he does worry about European encroachment while emphasising that leaving the EU single market is to the detriment of the UK’s private sector. This should win back the Eurosceptic defectors and render a dangerous referendum unnecessary. Despite its many troubles, voters must remember the EU is still the world’s largest market and the UK’s major trading partner.

However, it is the economy that wins elections. Although ComRes, a polling consultancy, found the electorate are more likely to trust ‘Team Cameron & Osborne’ over ‘Team Miliband & Balls’ on the economy, this should not cause complacency. The deficit may have fallen year-on-year since 2010, but only minimally; public spending is continually higher than it should be, largely due to automatic stabiliser payments and continual ringfencing of certain government departments – international aid is a particular bitter pill for a domestic electorate facing squeezes. Removing ringfencing will allow for efficiency within departments, further reduce departmental spending on waste, while also freeing up money for capital spending projects, generating multiplier effects on job creation and consumer demand.

Unemployment continues to creep above 2.5million, too. More should be done to cut unnecessary red tape that hampers job creation. Pressing ahead with radical reform to the welfare system, although painful, seems to strike a chord with the electorate. If people can be pushed back into work through welfare and regulatory reform, job creation and growth will soon pick up. If growth, rising employment and greater deficit reduction can be achieved the Tories can at last claim to have moved the economy out of the doldrums, significantly boosting their electoral hopes.

Securing an outright majority in 2015 will be a tough ask for the Conservatives given the precarious position they defend and the fragility of the economy is by no means bound to change, despite recent upturns. With a clear focus on the right policy choices over the next two year,, so to outmanoeuvre their main rivals, the Conservatives stand a better chance of re-entering government in 2015.

The Sochi boycott won’t happen, but we still need to reunite politics and sport

By Alex Bryan

Stephen Fry’s heartfelt and powerful open letter to David Cameron arguing that Britain should boycott the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics in light of Russia’s restrictive and prejudiced new anti-LGBT laws has provoked a debate about the relative merits of a boycott. David Cameron and Sebastian Coe were unequivocal in their response; both stated that they did not support boycotts, and that dialogue rather than isolation was the road to social change. Supporters of Fry point to increased violence against gay people in Russia, and argue that to participate is essential to collaborate with Putin’s government.

Though the suggestion to boycott Sochi is relatively new, sporting boycotts themselves are not, and the merits of boycotts as a method of achieving anything are at the heart of this debate. Coe claimed that he is ‘against boycotts’ as they do not ‘achieve what they set out to do’. This seems quite an extreme position; surely the success of a boycott in some way depends on the numerous variables at hand, such as the aim of the boycott, how extensive it is, how it is implemented etc. Some boycotts do seem to work, such as the sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa, so to take an absolute anti-boycott position seems extreme.

Regardless of whether it would be successful, given the position of Coe and Cameron and the necessity of mollifying the strategically important and volatile Russia, a boycott seems highly unlikely. In any case, a boycott of Russia would expose activists to accusations of hypocrisy; why boycott Olympics in Russia but attend in China? However, that does not mean we should ignore the suggestion, as the statements made by those opposing a boycott betray an underlying falsehood which is important to refute; that sport and politics should not mix. This supposed divorce between the two is fallacious, doing nothing to protect sport and everything to protect the oppressive regimes and the international sporting authorities who aid them from proper scrutiny.

A preliminary point to make, regardless of what one thinks of the suggestion of a boycott, is that governing sporting bodies, such as the IOC and FIFA, are responsible for choosing where their events are to take place. It is clear, from the IOC’s decision to stage the Olympics in China and Russia in two of the last three events, and FIFA’s decision to host in Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 that oppressive laws are of little concern to these organisations, with potential economic rewards taking precedence. This is both sad and necessary; international sport cannot be a contest between liberal western democracies. The major emerging global powers (India, China, Nigeria and Brazil) all have sketchy human rights records, but will no doubt host global sporting events in the coming decades.

But maintaining the global nature of sporting events and incorporating countries with disgraceful human rights records is a different thing to separating sport from politics. The ancient Greeks realised this; the Olympic Truce may have suspended wars for the duration of the Games, but it was acknowledge that politics cannot be suspended, and the Games were often used for political purposes. By acknowledging that sport is not immune from political influence, that it is political, we take nothing away from the sporting event. Instead, we accept that it is a part of, rather than an exception to, regular human activity.

Rather than focussing our efforts on boycotting Sochi then, we should adopt a tactic which would be both more realistic and have more of a long-term effect, and focus on ensuring that politics and sport are no longer seen as distinct arenas. Politics is a part of sport; attempts to deny this are usually insidious, driven either by naked economic greed or ideological zeal. By ensuring the two are seen as united, or at least linked, we would in the process be ensuring that the rights of oppressed groups around the world are not ignored when commissioning events such as the Olympics. We would also be doing a service to the thousands of athletes who compete in countries where they would usually be given no chance for success on the basis of their gender, race or sexuality.

‘Rights for shares’ flop demonstrates wider crisis of creativity within the government

By Alex Bryan

This week it has come to light that George Osborne’s ‘rights for shares’ scheme has, two months before it is even due to begin, become an embarrassing failure for the government. It has been reported that only 6 companies have enquired about the plan, much lower than expected from a scheme which was deemed important and popular enough to star in the Chancellor’s speech to the Conservative Party conference.

When the policy was announced many, including myself, were sceptical, firstly of the chances of such a move boosting a dormant economy and secondly of the desirability of aiding businesses through the disempowerment and exploitation of their workers. The muted response to the policy shows that these reservations are widespread, and signals another failed attempt in the government’s search for growth.

With hindsight, it seems ludicrous that such a policy could have been given such a high billing, not only because of its limitations as a policy but also due to its rather traditional character. The general theory that restricting the rights of workers will enhance productivity and profits is steeped in history and, for a government (and specifically the leadership of the Conservative Party) which presents an image of modernisation and fresh thinking, rather staid.

The now entrenched divide between Conservative frontbenchers and backbenchers seems to be largely based on David Cameron’s process of ‘detoxification’, which involved the rejection of a number of key traditional conservative mantras. The Cameroons are often derided by those who do not regard them as ‘true’ conservatives, often to the point where backbench rebellions threaten government credibility.

It seems strange then that such an image would be maintained despite the central placement of such policies. However, this is not an issue of a backbench-frontbench divide. Rather, it is demonstrative of a wider crisis of creativity within the government at present. With the exception of a few ministers most departments have tended to continue presenting rehashed versions of old ideas, which have been embraced by Number 10.

The ‘rights for shares’ scheme was not only poorly thought through, it was disappointingly predictable. The specific implementation of the idea might be new, but the idea itself is far from it. This is not to say that all government policies must be entirely original, or that there is not something within political history that governments could learn, but that faced with the particular crises that are at hand, and with a government which trumpets the importance of innovation and entrepreneurialism from the rooftops, one might expect more interesting thought.

Even most of the policies floated in opposition to the government by their own MP’s are lacking in intellectual vim. The ‘Alternative Queen’s Speech’ floated by a group of Conservative backbenchers was more a 1913 vintage than a 2013, other than a sole sensible and interesting suggestion (to establish a maximum number of members of the House of Lords).

Sometimes though, backbenchers come up with better ideas. This week Nadhim Zahawi MP echoed Boris Johnson’s previous call for an amnesty of all existing illegal immigrants within the UK, saying that the move would be economically advantageous as well as electorally astute for the Conservatives. Writing for a conservative think tank aiming to increase the popularity of the Conservative Party among ethnic minority voters, Zahawi’s suggestion is clearly far from selfless, but it is still brave and worthy of serious consideration.

Unfortunately, the government distanced itself from the suggestions as quickly as it could. The fact that the government could promote Osborne’s ‘rights for shares’ policy so whole-heartedly and yet dismiss Zahawi’s idea without public discussion demonstrates the wider pattern of unimaginative policy. Before David Cameron came into office, he was aware that this could be a problem, and he tried to solve it by bringing in unorthodox policy guru Steve Hilton. Since Hilton’s departure, the problem has only become more pronounced.

The economic crisis, in both length and character, differs from any we have previously faced. Globalisation, climate change, international terrorism and energy crises have created a peculiar political environment, which will not revert to a fabled status quo. In times of trouble, it is imperative that leaders are creative and imaginative, thinking about problems without genuine openness and ingenuity. Unfortunately, at the moment, it remains to be seen whether our leaders are thinking at all.

The government must keep its promise to enshrine the aid budget into law

By Alex Bryan

Throughout the past 3 years, a popular lament from Conservatives has been that the Government is being prevented from enacting truly conservative policies by the presence of the Liberal Democrats alongside them in office. The complainants have been particularly vocal with regards to policy areas such as Europe, law and order and liberalisation of employment laws. These are areas where the parties simply disagree, and have managed to form policy around the small amount of common ground they have, occasionally sniping at each other in the media in order to placate grumbling party bases.

Strangely, there are also issues which both parties have previously committed to which have now become areas of disagreement and backbiting, one of which became clear with the Queen’s Speech this week. Despite it featuring in the 2010 Conservative manifesto and the Coalition agreement, no commitment to enshrine the current 0.7% foreign aid budget into law was mentioned by the Queen. Both parties have said that they want to retain the current levels of spending, and both extol the virtues of Britain’s international role. Yet three years down the line their commitment to codify this into law seems to have been forgotten.

Why? Consensus seems to be that Cameron is bowing to his less moderate backbenchers, for whom foreign aid has always been an expensive luxury not to be afforded in hard times. A nice idea perhaps, but not one to be given priority at a time when British people are hurting, and our 0.7% would be a welcome boost to the budgets of more important departments. It is not only Tory backbenchers and members who think this: 7 out of 10 people believe that the UK spends too much on foreign aid, with only 7% thinking that the aid budget should continue to rise and be protected from Whitehall cuts.

David Cameron, though a confessed believer in the power of foreign aid, has already given approval to channel some of the aid budget into peacekeeping funds for British soldiers in those roles around the world. This is not a huge departure from the function of the aid budget as it existed before; the money would not go on combat operations or equipment, and would help to stabilise and support peace in troubled states around the world. In terms of ensuring that the aid budget promotes the security and development of individuals to the highest degree per pound around the world, this reform (as long as it does not subsume the rest of the aid budget) is not a bad thing.

But the danger remains that with an unwilling public and an increasingly disgruntled and vocal party, David Cameron will succumb to demands to cut the budget. The chances of doing that in the current Parliament are small, but by refusing to encase the current levels of spending in law, Cameron leaves open the option to cut the budget.

It has been well publicised that the UK has given aid to a number of countries, such as India, Russia and China, which are wealthy enough to be able to look after their own citizens. But international aid, operating in the way the UK government does, is centred around the poverty of individuals or groups of individuals around the world, not on nation-states. Aid channelled through the right kind of non-corrupt organisations into wealthy countries can help lift individuals who receive no help from their own government out of extreme poverty. This remains as true in Russia and China as in Rwanda and Chile.

Unfortunately, the recent changes in where we send foreign aid have meant that some countries such as China and Russia – and also Vietnam, Cambodia and Serbia-  will no longer receive funds. The argument that aid is needed by the poorest people in the world, regardless of how rich their government is, has been lost. But we cannot allow this to become a precedent, the start of a drift into isolationist and realist approaches to the world.

Aid makes a difference. At its most fundamental level, it saves, transforms, enriches and preserves lives. As a developed nation, we do not only have an obligation towards our citizens and allies; we have a duty to attempt to lift the general standard of human existence. In addition to stressing the moral imperative involved in international aid, David Cameron has become increasingly keen on stressing that aid and development help to protect us from extremism. Such an argument seems to me unnecessary, but the premise which supports it is hugely important; that the fight against poverty, illiteracy and war is also a fight against hatred, bigotry and brutism. It is a fight for a better world.

David Cameron and Nick Clegg know this. They know the importance of British international aid across the world; after all, it was they who committed to enshrine the current level of spending into law in the first place. Whilst in office, the previous Labour government was a great champion of international aid, tripling the aid budget from 1997 to 2009. In the midst of an unprecedented financial meltdown, the pressures on the budget were bound to increase, especially given the difficulty of quantifying the effects of aid. The government must resist such pressure and legislate to ensure that aid spending remains at least at 0.7%. It may well be the most important thing they ever do.

Cable wrong to call for more spending

By Robert Hainault

David Cameron has yet again pledged to get the economy ‘back on track’ while ignoring Vince Cable’s calls to increase spending. He claims that to change tack now would plunge the economy ‘back into the abyss’. I think it’s probably time that we looked at some figures.

Eamonn Butler of the Adam Smith Institute pointed out in October of 2011 that despite general gnashing of teeth about cuts, the government had actually spent more than the previous year. The April-June quarter of 2011 was 1.3% higher than in the same quarter the year before when adjusted for inflation. In fact, despite Cameron pledging early on in his premiership to cut spending on beurocracy, Whitehall spending was 7.2% higher in August 2011 than it was a year earlier.

So, an inauspicious start.

Since then, not much has changed. In 2011 total government spending was £681 billion . Last year it  was about the same when adjusted for inflation. However, what is often overlooked is the interest on the new debt we have incurred. The government spent £90 billion more than it raised. It’s reaction was, as with all previous governments of recent years, to print more money, exacerbating inflation which is a further drain on our national economy and is, in effect, a stealth tax. A tax which leaves people with less money in their pocket, and thus less to spend in the economy.

In 2012 the government paid nearly £51 billion in interest on our national debt. That was twice what they spent on transport and even more than we spent on national defence.

And it’s not getting any better. At the current rate of ‘cuts’ our government will have managed to shrink its expenditure to £668 billion by the year 2014-15 (again, adjusted for inflation), a reduction of only 2.9%. Yet by 2014-15 the interest on our national debt will be £60 billion, and repayments will need to comprise 10% of the budget in order to keep the debt at the current level.

So not only will the national debt not have decreased by 2015, it will be considerably larger. Though the coalition have made some small progress in reducing the deficit, the debt is spiralling out of control, and with economic growth still on vacation there will be no more revenue in 2015 than there is now. In short, we will owe more and have less.

Unless, of course, we can see government spending drastically reduced between now and then, we will not only be unable to keep up with out debt repayments, but we will be unable to stop them growing larger and larger.

What we need, if we are to avert disaster, are sober and serious cuts to the public sector, which still makes up over half of our economy. It is a simple principle: public sector services cost money; private sector services generate money. Getting the economy ‘back on track’ requires only two things: that expenditure should go town and revenue should go up. In order to reduce expenditure public sector services need to be cut to allow the private sector to provide them. This, in turn, generates capital which means more taxable income for the government.

What we must not do is carry on as we are. Worse than that would be an increase government spending. The government is already spending too much on services and too little on debt management as it is. The more we spend on services, the less we have to pay off our debt without incurring yet more debt in order to do it. Though it might be unpopular, the only thing that will save our country from bankruptcy is to drop the secateurs and pick up a chainsaw.

David Cameron: the ‘heir to Blair’?

By Joseph Perry

After becoming party leader in 2005 David Cameron cleverly opted to cement his modernisation strategy intentions by citing himself as the ‘heir to Blair’ in an attempt to break the Conservatives from the legacy of Thatcher. This shrewd declaration was at first demonstrated by Cameron’s bold initiative to take the Conservatives somewhere they had vacated a long time ago: the centre ground. Comparisons can be drawn with Blair’s own jump for the centre ground through the scrapping of Clause IV and Labour’s ‘out of touch’ socialist routes. The ‘heir to Blair’ assertion has developed further throughout this Parliament as Blair’s sofa style government has largely been carried on. Public service reform has also been a source of continuation, particularly in education. Furthermore, Cameron is earmarked as sharing a silver tongue with Blair as well as many charismatic and aesthetic features.

Does foreign policy follow suit? The Blair administration is a distinct period of British foreign policy represented by an apparent break from the traditional realpolitik thinking of the past in favour of an ‘ethical dimension’, reshaping Britain’s image as a ‘good international citizen’ and even putting Britain at the ‘heart of Europe’. These measures were short lived, however, as the consequences of 9/11 set in motion a reversion back to more traditional instincts of the ‘special relationship’, global activism and Britain having a world role to fulfil. With Cameron being in office for almost three years, there is evidence of a broad continuation within foreign policy. However, there are other variables which Cameron has had to factor in which has made his job much more difficult. In some respects, Cameron has learnt many lessons from Blair’s reign, though overall Britain is far from taking a different course.

Blair’s foreign policy remains scarred by the invasion of Iraq whilst the ethical dimension of his government’s foreign policy is all too often forgotten. Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, read out a Mission statement after New Labour’s landslide victory in 1997, essentially saying that this government would remould Britain into an influential, caring, and active member of the international community. ‘Rule Britannia was out, Cool Britannia was in’. Human rights were shoved to the top of the agenda, replacing the old fashioned focus on the national interest. However, throughout this period it is evident that rhetoric often failed to match with any substantial action: beneath the spin arguably very little had changed. In particular, the underlying principles of British foreign policy remained the same, illustrated in the Strategic Defence Review. Britain was to retain an independent nuclear deterrent, the means to project force globally, and an emphasis on the importance of the ‘special relationship’ with the United States for our security. Crucially Blair, like many Prime Ministers before him, refused to choose where Britain’s allegiance lay: Atlanticism or Europe. Instead Blair quickly laid out his belief that Britain was a ‘pivotal power’, a middle-ranking power with ties in both the US and Europe, and should use this to project influence in both theatres whilst also acting as a go between.

Blair quickly acquired a taste for military adventure, unafraid to project British force, whether in alignment with his Chicago speech and the resulting ‘Blair doctrine’, or in the national interest. Global activism, to some degree, is based on Britain retaining some degree of great power status, safe-guarding its strategic and vast global economic interests, and continuing to ‘punch above its weight’, contrary to the importance of Cook’s Mission statement or the ‘Blair doctrine’.  Five times in six years British forces were used, becoming an iconic feature of his reign. This foreign activism was conducted on a peace time budget as the strain of two ground wars meant that Britain’s military flirted with apparent ‘overstretch’. The culmination of a busy period for foreign policy was the invasion of Iraq 2003, the event which seemed to unravel all of what Blair previously stood for and had achieved. The failure to bring key European allies with him, suggested that Britain’s role as a ‘pivotal power’ was exaggerated. The emphasis on being a good international citizen working within multilateral institutions was all but revoked. What is more, Blair never recovered in the eyes of the British electorate: Iraq was clearly one intervention too far. It was a grave warning that in the 21st century, global activism has to be legitimate, quick, and with a clear objective after the initial conflict.

So far in Cameron’s foreign policy there have been no grand policy initiatives that can mirror New Labour’s ‘ethical foreign policy’. The promotion of British exports is one theme of importance to Cameron’s foreign policy, evidenced by his trade delegations to India, Brazil, and the Middle East. Still, this by no means symbolises a paradigm shift in foreign policy thinking. Overall it seems that foreign policy is one area of government which is not seen to be in need of a radical overhaul. Rather, foreign policy should resort back to the advancement of the national interest. However, this inaccurately paints a picture of Britain quietly going about its business, whilst aiming to boost its exports.

Cameron seems to share Blair’s view of a global outlook for Britain, following on from New Labour’s devotion to globalisation; Cameron now talks of winning the ‘global race’. There is also a shared presumption that Britain should always play an active role in the international arena. British forces have been used three times now, albeit Afghanistan is an inherited war and there are no combat troops in Mali. Even so Libya was a fine example of Britain projecting its force, attempting to shape events rather than being shaped by them, in true Blair fashion. Further tests lie ahead where again British forces may well be used in North Africa, Iran and Syria, all whilst the military is undergoing setbacks through defence cuts. Where Blair and Cameron are similar, though under difference circumstances, is their reliance on Britain’s military to achieve foreign policy aims whilst either underfunding or cutting it. Though Cameron, along with the Defence Minister Phillip Hammond, has suggested that Defence may be spared in the next round of budget cuts, one thing will remain: Britain’s armed forces will continue to operate above our means, perhaps even more so now than ever. Meanwhile the overseas aid budget has increased. Perhaps this is Cameron’s own method of implementing a moral dimension into Britain’s relationship with the world and being a good international citizen. Echoing Blair and ‘the War on Terror’, the current Prime Minister has warned of a ‘generational struggle’ against terror, boldly stating in the House of Commons that “We must frustrate the terrorists with our security; we must beat them militarily.”

Yet differences have stemmed from Cameron’s speech in 2006: “Foreign policy decisions are not black and white, something which the public well understands. We need a sense of balance, judgement and proportion in handling the complex and dangerous challenges of foreign and security policy in the 21st century.” Maybe this is why Cameron has taken bold steps in balancing the books instead of becoming involved in Syria, for example, or putting boots on the ground in Mali. Restraint is something not inherited from Blair. Instead perhaps it is a lesson, after the costly invasion of Iraq, that consequently recent operations have been smaller and more controlled in accordance with European allies such as in Libya. As mentioned earlier there are vital factors working against Cameron being the ‘heir to Blair’, even if he wished so. The lack of a special ‘special relationship’ and a difficult relationship with Europe are factors which restrict advancing Britain’s national interest and projecting influence. Currently there is little evidence of UK/US relations being little more than a good working relationship, nothing like the closeness shared by Blair with Clinton and Bush. As the US pivots towards Asia and shows little sign of wanting to engage in the world trouble zone, Britain will find it difficult to operate in the fashion that Blair did alongside a hawkish US foreign policy. Does this create an opening for greater cooperation with Europe? Don’t count on it. Contrary to Blair, Cameron has the grim problem of his party’s attitude to Europe to deal with. Although on a positive note Anglo/French relations continue to show strength, possibly rejuvenating the spirit of the St Malo agreement. Both powers took the lead regarding Libya and Mali with the noticeable absence of the US, something Blair could never achieve.

In some respect Cameron has continued in Blair’s shoes in that Britain has continued playing an active role in international affairs ‘punching above its weight’ and thus fulfilling the title of ‘heir to Blair’. However, rather than foreign policy being simply a continuation of Blair’s reign there has been adjustments: Cameron has demonstrated restraint, opting for diplomacy, and acting legitimately with key allies within liberal institutional frameworks. This tamer foreign policy is a result of defence cuts to key military capabilities, the growing reluctance of US activism, and the lessons learnt from how interventions abroad can turn out. Trouble zones such as Syria and the growing instability of the Sahel will provide tempters for Britain to get involved. It would make sense for Cameron to stick to this current course of balance, between acting in the national interest but also within Britain’s means.  Then lessons will have been learnt from the mentor, not just in how to modernise a political party, but also on how to conduct Britain’s foreign policy.

The problem is not Europe, it’s the European Union

By Alex Bryan

Attempting to halt the disturbing rise of UKIP in opinion polls, David Cameron is set to give a speech later this month in which he will set himself up as someone wanting ‘real change’ in the relationship between Britain and the European Union. Predictably, this had led to sceptical commentary from euro-sceptic pundits , claiming that even if Cameron does starting walking the walk, the talk is still far from forthcoming.

One of the possible outcomes of UKIPs rise to a position of mainstream political credibility is that a deal will be formed between UKIP and the Conservatives whereby UKIP do not run any candidates in the general election in exchange for the Conservatives enacting UKIP’s central policy.

The increasing anti-EU sentiment makes many feel like an in-out referendum is the only option. Conservatives rally against the restrictions the EU brings with it – the working time directive, European Court of Human Rights, unrestricted labour movement and the need for Parliament to comply with EU Laws. Liberals and those on the left are quieter about the flaws of Europe, but from a left-wing perspective there are clearly some problems. The imposition of austerity on Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal when the people were clearly opposed suggests that the EU is intent on implementing a centre-right fiscal strategy. Nothing that the IMF or the ECB has done in the years since the financial crisis has done anything to dispel this notion.

The trouble with both of these arguments is that they will simply be opposed by the contrary political position. For liberals, the working time directive and the human rights act are two of the best pieces of EU legislation, and Conservatives fear the impact of populist fiscal policy around Europe. But clearly there is a problem with the European Union. One does not have to subscribe to a Hobbessian notion of sovereignty to think that the EU’s undemocratic structure is a problem, one simply has to believe in democracy. This is the attraction of UKIP’s argument.

One thing that has not really been commented on, but is of vital importance, is the semantic practices around the EU. More often than not, we refer to it as ‘Europe’. This is worth commenting on, because it is crucial to note that the EU is not synonymous with Europe, neither is it the only possibility for a European political project. Perhaps the most insidious aspect of the EU is that it is essentially immune from revolt or revolution. Riots in Athens have had no effect on the IMF/Greek fiscal policy. When accountability is lost in a legislative ad bureaucratic labyrinth, who exactly is meant to revolt?

The essential problem with the notion of an in-out debate is that it ascribes these problems to ‘Europe’ rather than ‘the European Union’. It suggests that being out of the European Union means cutting the string irreparably and launching for Ellis Island. The point needs to be made that just because the European Union is an anti-democratic, restrictive, quasi- tyrannical relic of the cold war era does not mean that a new European project can never be launched with different ideals and principles.  Indeed, it would have to be. The age of nations being able to dominate (or even compete) on their own terms within the international community is gone. The terms these days are ‘co-operate or bust’. Unfortunately, the European Union seems to be drifting into a Kafka-esque state of eternal confusion and dehumanisation. This need not be the fate of Europe. Whether it would be more effective to fight for a better European project from inside or outside the EU is a question no one knows the answer to. The frightening thing is that few seem to be asking the question. 

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