David Cameron's Europe "Strategy" is Going to Fail - Spectator Blogs

14 January 2013

2:45 PM

14 January 2013

2:45 PM

This is unfortunate, not least because the Prime Minister is a greater realist than many of his erstwhile supporters. They, too often, seem to be another bunch of Bourbons. They helped destroy the last Conservative Prime Minister and they seem determined to help vanquish this one too. The country is not nearly so obsessed with Europe as the Conservative party thinks it is and, whatever the people’s frustrations with Brussels and the European Union, I still think it unlikely the electorate is liable to be impressed with or by a party that spends quite so much time and energy on the European question.

Not that the Prime Minister is helping. His forthcoming euro-speech has been so widely and lengthily trailed that it now has almost no chance of succeeding. The press, damn their eyes, is already bored by Mr Cameron’s speech. (The public is probably only dimly aware there’s going to be a speech). A fed-up press corps is not likely to judge the Prime Minister kindly or generously. That’s the nature of the beast and there’s no point wishing it were different.

Nor, however, can Mr Cameron placate his own party. A ConservativeHome survey of 1,500 Tory members makes this clear. Some 38 per cent say Britain leaving the EU is their preferred outcome. Another 40 per cent want Britain to ‘win’ a ‘common market relationship with the European Union’.

The 38 per cent find themselves opposed to their own leader’s policy but at least their position has the comparative virtue of clarity. The 40 per cent are swimming in a sea of delusion. It might be a fine thing if a Common Market relationship with the EU was available; unfortunately it is not. At least it’s not available in the terms many – perhaps even most – of these people understand it. A one-page free trade agreement with the EU would be a braw thing. But so are unicorns. And they don’t exist either. Markets come with laws and regulations attached and, again, while we might wish it otherwise we cannot wish awkward facts away. No, not even with heroic dollops of British grit and willpower.


It doesn’t end there. 50 per cent of Tory members sampled want the Prime Minister to announce a specific date for a referendum (preferably to be held before June 2014) and resign if no referendum takes place on that date. Ordinarily it might be thought useful to know what you wish to have a vote on before announcing the date of that vote but the ordinary rules do not seem to apply whenever conversation turns to Brussels.

(A question I wish Tim Montgomerie and his chums had asked: Which 2014 referendum is more important: a Europe vote or the Scottish independence referendum? I suspect this might have produced an interesting answer.)

I digress. 85 per cent of the Conservative members polled say the Prime Minister is only making this ballyhooed euro-speech because he needs to respond to the ‘growing euroscepticism within the Conservative party and within the electorate’. On this, I am sure the Tory members are correct. They have the Prime Minister on the run and they know it. And once you start running, once a Prime Minister is being pursued by his own hounds then it becomes exceedingly difficult to stop or find a useful and secure hiding place.

Which is why I say that Mr Cameron is most unlikely to find any kind of euro-strategy that can satisfy his erstwhile supporters, far less one that assuages them while also impressing the rather larger number of Britons who are not presently members of the Conservative party.

Again: he begins from a position in which his evident preference  – Britain remaining a member of the EU – is supported by barely more than six in ten of the party’s most committed supporters. That’s a hopeless position from which to start, not least since there is, I suspect, almost nothing Mr Cameron can do to placate these Tories. At least not on Europe.

History does not, of course, always actually repeat itself. Nevertheless, Europe was one of the issues that did for John Major (though the economy and time were vital players too) and it looks increasingly likely that it may eventually do for Mr Cameron. Again, nearly 40 per cent of his party thinks he’s a hopeless squish and another 40 per cent cling to an impossible, reality-defying dream.

How, faced with this, can Mr Cameron win? He may have been bullied into talking about Europe but I suspect little good can come from talking about a subject upon which he has few options that combine the useful qualities of being both attractive and realistic.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.

Show comments
  • Adrian

    I don’t think we should have a referendum, the Surrender of British Sovereignty always was and always should be an act of Treason. If the EU, or the UN, or Gatt, or the WTO, or WHO or the IMF, or the World Bank ever did enact a decent law, there would have been nothing against our own parliament debating and enacting a similar law as a Sovereign nation, free at any time in the future to repeal such a law(s).
    There never was any real reason why we should have permanently shackled ourselves to laws made by Foreign powers.

  • Roy

    Cameron should let the people speak. He has nothing to say of relevance. He, nor anyone else, has the right to sign any document committing the British people to a drastic change of nationhood and a capitulation to laws made by others.

  • Jan Cosgrove

    Do we have rank hypocrisy here? Cameron told the SNP lot no devo-max option, in or out? on the ballot paper. Now he wants to push for devo-max re the EU? Whoops.

  • Richard Brinton

    If everyone is so sure of the majorities wishes then lets have a general election and the sooner the better. From the comments I read, David cameron will have a landslide victory but it is my conviction that Ed Miliband would win the election with his commitment to not having a referendum.
    Besides, British democracy is historically a parliamentary democracy, referendums, proportional representation etc. are the chaotic mechanics of foreign democracies where the rabble rules.

  • Macky Dee

    “…only making this ballyhooed euro-speech because he needs to respond to the ‘growing euroscepticism within the Conservative party and within the electorate…”

    Correct! He is responding to the electorate – Something not often done by PM’s or MP’s in general – he is responding to the Nation! He will tell us what his position is, try to renegotiate, then let us vote! He is the only PM for a long time to respond correctly to the electorate. People like myself who are close to accepting the view that the UK could leave the EU, are rather hoping that David Cameron pulls out a blinder of a speech that clarifys what the best position for the UK would be considering the EU will change fundamentally due to EuroZone. I am willing to listen to David Cameron purely because he is listening to the electorate.

    Alex Massie – I don’t think you understand this

  • 700islands

    Fiscal union is now a certainty if the Europeans want to save their Euro. You just cannot get around it. You have to have a lender of last resort that has the ability to raise its own funds and direct them to the parts of the Eurozone that need it most. This requires pooling economic sovereignty. Since the public purse is the heart of sovereignty, well, that’s pretty much game up really, isn’t it? Welcome to the Federated Republic of Europe, or some such name.

    Renegotiation of the European treaties is now a reality. Its going to happen as sure as night follows day. The Germans want new rules and powers. The French President came to power with a mandate to change the treaties. Brussels wants more powers. Britain is not joining their party. We all know this now. Even the Europeans know this now. Its not a bluff. Its not blackmail. Its the other side of our indifference. We don’t care. Well, we care that they sort out their Euro because its failures are damaging our economy, so we’re willing to go along with that. But we don’t care about being “Europeans” or “Solidarity” or singing the Ode To Joy. We just blink at that stuff and say “oh, come off it.” But they mean it and they’re going to do it and then needs us to nod it through.

    Any new central power in Europe will have implications for Britain. That has to be addressed. It changes the centre of gravity, of power. So Britain has to renegotiate too. That’s not “sleepwalking” or leaving by “accident” or “playing politics”. Its reality. Everyone else, from what’s his name who leads Labour down, are chicken. They hide in among the squawking. Someone has to stand up and be counted and speak for Britain and where its place is going to be in this new order. Someone’s got to have the mojo.

    And there is much more to go for than Alex Massie – who is clearly a bit down – acknowledges. Yes, Europe will always be a very important trading partner for us, we need access, and what happens there matters. But we matter to them. Britain is one of the world’s most powerful countries, we don’t match America’s hyper power, nor are we ascendent as China is, but we are a power non the less. We are one of the largest economies, one of the great trading nations, the financial capital of the world, we excel in science and R&D, our military is the biggest in Europe and one of the big four in the world, and we are, not least of all, one of Europe’s most important markets. We matter. But this is not where our value to the “Europeans” ends. Those who see themselves as European, who are building this new state, need to tie in all the great powers of Europe in order to fulfill their dream. Without Britain one of the big three is missing. Without Britain there is no longer a single centre of European power. There are now two. Two competing ideas, visions, forces. Without Britain the EU is less market friendly, less liberal, less worldly, less outward looking. It becomes ever more protectionist, statist, big government, regulated. The price of doing business goes up as the place becomes less competitive. Ultimately it becomes relatively poorer. They need us and deep down they know it. Without us there is no Europe, it unravels.

    To get the Europe they want they have to give Britain the Britain we want. At the end of the day Cameron’s speech does not have to impress our press, or the Tory party, or even our voters. It has to impress the Europeans.

    • Geo Shepherd

      That’s well argued 700islands but in reality Cameron does have to impress the Tory party because let’s face it unless he delivers an In/Out Ref; he will be hounded out as leader – so it matters to him (if not the country) what he says and does over Europe over the next couple of years

      Also although your logic isn’t wrong re; Europe needing (or at least wanting) us in, the reality of political negotiation means that because they (the rest of the EU) are so much bigger than us we will be at a disadvantage when it comes to detail so any attempt at repatriation of powers will inevitably leave the UK at a disadvantage

      Plus nobody seems to have factored in the possibility of Scottish independence…….

    • Macky Dee

      Good point, well made. I also think that David Cameron is the only Politician that has the mojo to fight for what we believe. Imagine if Tony Blair were still El Presidente. We would have nodded through the budget, given up our rebate…

  • abystander

    Massie is right.
    Better strategy would have been to not mention Europe except to say, realistically it is here to stay.

    • LEngland

      Of course Europe is here to stay, in marked contrast to the wretched and malicious joke that is the EU.

  • williamblakesghost

    Anyway the reality is the Tory position on Europe has been a mess for decades and now is an emblem of the dysfunctionality and contrariness that the Conservatives now represent. Its long since passed the date when the wets and Thatcherites as they were once called should have broken up this no longer fit for purpose party. Its why people like myself increasingly are discounting the Conservatives as a viable political party. They are all over the place……

  • Iain Herd

    Referendum post 2014 please – Scotland first, then Europe – don’t want all those pro-EU Scots votes to be counted. England will then be freed to focus on being the Singapore of Europe.

    • Vindice

      Precisely. First campaign for English independence from the Scottish electorate, then for English independence from the EU.

    • Macky Dee

      That’s a bloody good point!

  • williamblakesghost

    Again: he begins from a position in which his evident preference –
    Britain remaining a member of the EU – is supported by barely more than
    six in ten of the party’s most committed supporters. That’s a hopeless
    position from which to start, not least since there is, I suspect,
    almost nothing Mr Cameron can do to placate these Tories. At least not
    on Europe.

    Naughty naughty conflating the idea of having a common market with Europe with retaining membership of the EU is not exactly an honest statement of what people’s views are now is it as Norway and Switzerland can confirm? I suspect in reality membership of the EU is favoured by less than 30% of those asked if suitable trade agreements were in place. So Cameron is in far more trouble with this issue than you suggest. Particularly as all he intends to do is kick it into the long grass!

  • Ronald Whitehand

    Why is Mr Massie misquoting the Conservative Home stats to support his argument?. I always thought it was a leftie privilege to massage facts. If he used the right stats his piece does not stand up.

  • Steve

    People care to varying degrees. Massie thinks you can ignore the subject and stop dreaming about unicorns, spitfires blah, blah, blah, but the EU refuses to be ignored. Whether it be the Euro disaster or the banking union which will lead to a United States of Europe, no Prime Minister can keep Europe out of the headlines.

    A referendum will put clear blue water between the parties. Miliband will be in the uncomfortable and less than inspiring position of saying stay in the EU and accept whatever they throw at us because to say no would be to lose influence. People can see through that argument.

  • InbredBlockhead

    The answer seems fairly straightforward , if as is claimed the UK is a democracy then hold a referendum . Let the people decide what they want , not what the business sector , bankers , politicians all of whom have `led ` us into this mess decide for them . Then work with the result . It is reminiscent of WWI `Lions led by Donkeys ` .

  • Daniel

    Its a great analysis. The Middle England Tory Grandees that now have a stranglehold over this bodged and uu-elected right wing administration by political consequence have sent this already rudderless ship of a government to the high seas.

    As for ‘a majority’ of the electorate wanting a UK exit from the EU, that can only become clear once Tory sympathetic dailies from the Murdoch/Desmond stables get a hold of the true facts and a REAL debate is held, rather than a ‘sleepwalking’ reactionary one which has been held since it’s inception.

  • Ed Gooch

    Many people are concerned about the European Union. It has had huge social consequences in terms of immigration for this country and will continue to do so as it grows.

  • teledu

    He’s to talk about the EU ( EUROPEAN UNION) not “europe”.

  • Nick

    Alex Massie has got this wrong.The vast majority of the great British public do care about the subject of the European Union & the vast majority want us out of that failed experiment.The matter is discussed in pubs,betting shops,between neighbours,in the workplace,in church & on the seats in Lemon Quay,Truro,Cornwall over a pasty & a coffee.
    Alex seems to be so out of touch with the great British public……And so does the PM.

    • jh1971

      Sorry, I disagree. Not amongst the people that I know – most opinion ranges from don’t care to we would be daft to leave… Most of the noise seems to be media driven as far as I can see.

      • Nick

        I suppose the flavour of the conversation depends on where you are.In deepest Cornwall,it’s a hot topic where many of the population want out of the EU.Mind you,some of the same people want out of England but that’s another matter.

      • williamblakesghost

        Ah so I can take it that your circle of acquaintances is more representative of the national mindset than opinion polls? Tell me what demographic weightings do you use?

        • jh1971

          No, it represents my circle of friends opinions… and a healthy distrust of media, politicians and statistics (ergo opinion polls)

          • Ron Todd

            Probably a posher circle of friends than mine.

            • jh1971

              I cannot see why poshness has anything to do with it, to be honest. Are you suggesting that posh people are more likely to be pro-europe? That isn’t even true in the Tory party!

              I just hear a lot of noise about Europe from the media but would like to make my own mind up.

              • Ron Todd

                Pposh people are likely to appreciate cheap plumbers and nannies and not worry about their wages being pushed down. Posh people don’t worry if the working hour directive has cut the amount of overtime they can do. Posh people can walk round Waitrose without caring how much the CAP is adding to the food bill. Posh people can pay the electric bill without worrying about how much EU ‘green’ energy policy is putting up the bill. And Posh people are more likely to be liberal and liberals are more likely to be pro EU.

      • Macky Dee

        Are you from a very small village, of which you may be the idiot?

        • jh1971

          Wow. How can I argue with your persuasive argument? Did you write that all yourself?


      Know lemon Quay very well, nice chips from there , And yes we want out of Europe

      • Nick

        Yes there is a very good chippie on the quay & if you walk towards the indoor market entrance there’s a small take away cafe that serve excellent slices of pizza and also good hot coffee.

    • mike2R

      A little over half seem to poll in favour of leaving the EU, but consistently refuse to use the issue to decide who to vote for in general elections.

      Also referendums suggesting major changes tend to be harder to win than opinion polls suggest, and in a referendum the case for both sides would be made, unlike the constant eurosceptic drip drip that is happening at the moment.

      There’s an anti-EU echo chamber thing happening among those who are strongly against it, and I’m sure you genuinely believe the few voices you hear opposed are the ones who are out of touch. But have a look at some bookies odds for a more realistic assessment. There are a lot of people who care as much as you do about the issue, but you are a long long way short of being a majority.

      • Nick

        Hello Mike.I note your interesting comments about the bookies but from where I am,leaving the EU is a hot topic.

        • mike2R

          I find it a hot topic online. But out in the real world? That isn’t my experience is all I can say. I guess I might have talked about the issue occasionally, but it isn’t what I’d call a regular topic of conversation.

          • Wessex Man

            Strange that it’s the hot topic in every Pub I go in, at work and at the Gym now City are getting relegated.

      • chforsyth

        “consistently refuse to use the issue to decide who to vote for in general elections”

        Perhaps, but I don’t recall being presented with policies that differed much in that area, except for the Lib Dems being really remarkably keen.

    • Richard Brinton

      If you are all so sure of the majorities wishes then lets have a general election, just as soon as you like. From what you say, David cameron will have a landslide victory but it is my conviction that Ed Miliband would win the election with his commitment to not having a referendum.
      Besides, British democracy is historically a parliamentary democracy, referendums, proportional representation etc. are the chaotic mechanics of foreign democracies where the rabble rules.

  • kevin blair

    Methinks it’s you who’s out of touch Mr. Massie. The vast majority of people are concerned about europe and the way things are heading and want us out before anymore damage is done.

    • Spammo Twatbury

      “The vast majority of people are concerned about europe”

      Says who?

      • kevin blair

        Most people.

      • Wessex Man

        The vast majority of people?

    • jh1971

      This issue does seem to be a bit smoke and mirrors… doesn’t it? UK economy not very good. Lets blame the EU/Bankers/Labour/etc. Sounds a bit too much like the politically driven ‘workers’ and ‘scroungers’ game to me.

      • Wessex Man

        Ours is in an appalling shape but far better than the Eurozone.

  • Sqizzle

    So, what do you propose Cameron does, ignore it?
    You seem to think that he should ignore 60%+ of the population that want a referendum? Hoping the Eurozone crisis solves itself and not bothering to try and mitigate the effects, while ignoring the housing and welfare issues eating into this govenments credibility.

    Massie Bating is not a useful substitute for offering workable solutions, something that is conspicuously absent in your ‘analysis’.

  • Geo Shepherd

    Astute analysis as ever Alex
    Cameron’s situation is not helped by his lack of “real” leadership skills
    He talks the talk but he doesn’t walk the walk
    He is an empty suit and even his own party seem to sense this