There’s been an outbreak of Euroscepticism in the Tory party — or at least we could say that the firmly-held conviction of most party members and activists has once again broken through the arrogance, hubris and indifference of the leadership. The reason for this is not hard to find — stark panic at the advances of UKIP in the County Council Elections, in the opinion polls and in the media. Even Tory MPs who were not known as sceptics are panicked about their prospects in 2015.
But in the party’s querulous mood, some of the sceptic voices have tempered their position by arguing that “Leaving the EU won’t solve all our problems!” — as if anyone ever said that it would. Consider the journey they’ve come on so far. They inhabited a world where leaving the EU was the province of cranks, gadflies, clowns and closet racists. Now, the idea that we will benefit from leaving has become so mainstream, after interventions from Lords Lawson, Lamont and Forsyth, from Boris Johnson and Michael Portillo, that some are feeling moved to warn that “Brexit”, though now desirable, is not a universal panacea.
Surprising. Nevertheless, we have Boris warning that many of our problems are home-made. There is powerful if anecdotal evidence of a reluctance to engage in serious work amongst British young people, a sense of entitlement, a failure to benefit from state education, even a failure of the state education system (though Michael Gove is doughtily battling the regressive teachers’ unions to drag education screaming into the 21st Century). Boris of course has a point: he should recall Simon Heffer’s famous comment: “We have an underclass because we have decided to pay for one”.
Then we have Dominic Raab, who has been one of the clearest sceptic voices amongst the Tories, arguing that “You can’t blame Brussels for Britain’s debts”. Well maybe not, Dominic, though if you think that Tim Congdon’s estimate of the real total costs of Britain’s EU membership is anything like right, at £150 bn a year, leaving the EU would be a massive help with our debt problems.
But all this is to miss the key point, which is that while leaving the EU would not solve all of Britain’s problems, it is the single most significant thing we could do to promote growth and competitiveness, to relieve regulatory obstacles to enterprise, to control energy prices, to control our borders, and above all to return democracy and self-government to the British people.
At the weekend we had Ed Miliband telling us that the voter doesn’t really care too much about “Europe”. She cares about jobs, and immigration, and the cost of living — as though those issues were wholly unrelated to the EU.
We should not be surprised when the son of a noted Hampstead Marxist makes this elementary error, but it really is more worrying to find Benedict Brogan doing the same. He says “The (Conservative) party is divided on an issue that scarcely one in ten lists as a priority“. Benedict, you need to get out more. In particular, you need to go and talk to voters on the doorstep, as I have, whether in Labour Rotherham, or Lib-Dem Eastleigh, or the leafy Tory Sires of my East Midlands region.
You’d find that voters care about jobs, about living costs and food prices, about energy prices and fuel poverty. They care about immigration. Many of them care about the march of wind turbines across our green and pleasant land. And every one of those issues is directly and adversely affected by our EU membership.
On any realistic estimate around three quarters of our new legislation comes from Brussels, and Westminster acts as little more than a rubber stamp. This surely brings to mind Tolkien’s Middle Earth: “One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them, One Ring to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them”.
It is overwhelmingly Brussels that controls broad swathes of our legislation and our public life, to our great detriment. The reason that voters rate “Europe” way down their list of priorities is that, intentionally or otherwise, our politicians have chosen to conceal (or at least not to make clear) the extent to which we’ve surrendered control of our own affairs. It is the historic rôle of UKIP to let that cat out of the bag. I find that the more I tell voters about the EU, the angrier they get.
P.S. I’ve just noticed that in my nice picture of the EU flag, above, culled from a Guardian web-site, the flag is shown upside-down!