12 December 2011

Labour post-"veto": the Kool-Aid drinkers return

Jeez Mick, if you want a bunch of professional doom-mongers, go to any Labour party blog and hang out there awhile. 72 hours after an initial euphoria at the stupidity of David Cameron's "veto" on the EU treaty, bloggers on the left are now doing their usual Kool-Aid act. Of course we'd expect to find ultra-LINO Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges doing his normal anti-Ed wail ("Miliband stranded in the middle of the English channel" indeed), but we've also got relatively sane people on Twitter - e.g. Sunny Hundal of Liberal Conspiracy - saying that Labour's been outmanoeuvred by Cameron.

Is this correct? I identified this possibility pretty early on, and I wasn't sure. I'm still not sure, but overall I think probably Ed Miliband is actually in a much stronger position than his critics, although Cameron certainly could get lucky out of this.

The truth is, the veto has achieved nothing in concrete terms at all for Britain as long as we remain in the EU. Some kind of deal will proceed with Britain excluded from the negotiations. The terms of the treaty on issues like financial regulation will cover Britain as an EU member. There will be some more legal shenanigans but the EU will be able to negotiate these. Cameron achieved no concessions or quid pro quos whatsoever. In short, as a negotiator Dave was a disastrous flop. Ed pointed all this out - very effectively - in the Commons today.

But as political theatre, Thursday's "veto" was a brilliant stroke. It gives Cameron, not a very popular PM to start off with, a big political boost based on the rabid anti-EU print media reporting that he's fighting for Britain's interests - the old "bulldog" line. Dave's doing no such thing of course: he's fighting for the rogue state which is the City of London, and none too effectively at that. But a poll for ComRes apparently shows that 57% support the PM's "veto" decision (I'd like to link to that but it was an unlinked source from Twitter). John Harris quotes similar statistics in an excellent Guardian article.

That backs up what I said in my last post - anti-EU jingoism is popular. At least, initially. John Harris's line is that Europhobia is now the mainstream majority position. On headline polling, yes: but I'm not sure people really give a shit enough about it one way or the other to turn out in droves and vote the Tories in with a majority based on this one issue. If that is the case why isn't UKIP way out in front in the polls rather than on about 7% max? The post-"veto" polling shows a small swing to the Tories but based on a transfer of support from UKIP rather than any wider movement of support - which is what I'd expect. And given that most of the business community appears to think the "veto" was crazy, in an election campaign I'd expect centrist support to fall away from the Tories - leaving them with William Hague's rump vote of 2001 once again.

There is one situation where Dave might see long term benefit from "the veto": if the Eurozone falls apart, and maybe the EU with it, Dave can say "I told you so" and become a kind of visionary. That would be a powerful argument. But I think it's still a long shot, although possible; more likely is that treaty change will force the ECB into becoming a proper central bank prepared to do QE to save the Eurozone, combined with fiscal union further down the line.

In the meantime, Ed Miliband can strengthen his position by coming off the fence and openly saying he would have signed the treaty - and then worked within the treaty framework for Britain's interest. That's what all previous PMs including Thatcher and Major would have done and it's a strong line which effectively exposes Cameron as a seat-of-the-pants amateur. Ed could also add that getting on board with the treaty is the UK's best chance of helping avoid a Eurozone breakup, which gives him the opportunity to say to Dave, "it's your fault" if the Euro does fail.

But yeah, I'm beginning to wonder whether I should send leading Labour bloggers boxes of anti-depressants - and I'm not even a Labour party member or supporter. Cheer up guys, for f***'s sake.

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