Thursday, 17 January 2013

Home and abroad

It's usually the tories who get themselves in a knot over Europe but there is a some surprise as to how quickly the subject is translating from a single-party obsession to a factor likely to dominate mainstream manifestos come 2015.

It is the timing rather than the dynamics which is remarkable. Such a shift was expected. A generation of focus group-led strategies has all but bred the polarisation out of politics. The economy is fruitless territory for the parties as the next decade involves only slightly different shades of austerity. The same goes for welfare and employment whilst health is devolved. No-one even talks about [nuclear] defence anymore. Only Europe is left as the big 'defining' issue.

Cameron, who will set out his stall tomorrow, is facing what is probably the biggest challenge in his career. He has to convince opposing wings within his party that he can somehow reconcile deeply conflicting aims when it comes to Europe. His chances are slim to none. The outcome will probably be a commitment to hold a referendum on EU membership if Conservatives win the next election - coalitions notwithstanding.

Vince Cable has described the move as a dangerous gamble and not just for reasons of jeopardised investment and contrasting ideology.

Lib Dems know from first-hand experience that even the most grounded of Conservatives can get agitated whenever someone mentions the European Court of Human Rights. The PM could easily make himself a hostage to fortune and the nutter tendency within the party is not beyond mounting a leadership challenge if he is perceived to be backtracking at any stage.

But if Lib Dems are adamant about the benefits of EU membership then Labour is less unequivocal on the subject. According to the Telegraph, Ed Miliband seemed oddly reticent about totally rejecting the idea of a referendum - or even a free vote. Then again he has his own problems. The left has long held that the EU is basically a capitalist arrangement which provides a career path for former leaders. Only the social chapter element makes it tolerable in their eyes.

With more expected pressures on the Euro in the coming year as various member states need propping up yet again, the 'better in or out' debate is certain to continue. What is also certain is that no-one can really give a definitive answer. In the context of the global economy then it will probably not mean much in the way of impact. In Wales however it would mean the end of structural funding and a lot more.

Politicians of all the main parties recognise the risk of a referendum fostering confusion over the issues of sovereignty and separatism.  Yet a good number seem nonetheless unable to resist dangling the prospect of 'choice' in front the electorate if they think it will get them into office.

It's enough to almost make you that little bit more fonder of journalists and estate agents.

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