Most opinion polls demonstrate that when people are asked their views on what they consider to be the important political issues of the day, Britain’s membership of the European Union trails in somewhere near the bottom of the list. Ipsos/Mori recently showed that out of 10 issues of most concern to voters, the EU, the Euro, or Europe was 10th in the list of concerns mentioned by respondents. However, I suspect the actual priorities listed may mask real concerns people have about the whole European project. If you look at the top three concerns in the Ipsos/Mori poll, the economy, (un)employment and immigration, although the respondents may not have actually mentioned Europe in their answer, they are all issues massively influenced by Europe and the European Union.
We should also bear in mind that if we actually ran the country based on responses to opinion polls about political priorities, government would have been run for decades by whichever political party promised to get dog shit off the pavement. Maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, because you can put no more trust in a politician that promises to eradicate dog shit than one who tells you that his party is Eurosceptic and will repatriate powers from the EU.
For years on this blog I have pointed out to Tories taken in by David Cameron’s EU rhetoric that they were delusional. Their long time in the political wilderness had convinced them that they were the natural party of Euroscepticism. It didn’t matter how many times you told them about Heath, Thatcher and Major being the chief UK architects of the whole Eurofederalist project, they chose instead to create some romantic myth which portrayed the Conservative Party as the defenders of British sovereignty.
Ken Clarke is absolutely spot on. They can rage and froth at the mouth as much as they want, but the Conservative Party are no more likely to repatriate powers from Europe than their Labour predecessors… nor those in the Labour Party who hope one day to defeat them. Being Eurosceptic in opposition is like criticising your opponent in the Council elections for failing to deal with dog shit… easy to do, and pretty damned unlikely ever to happen.
The powers Cameron would like on employment protection, to be able to sack workers easier, to scrap the TUPE regulations, cut back of safety and equalities… are as Delors told the TUC back in 1988, essential components of a single european market. If the British are allowed an opt out and can operate a cheaper labour market because of it, you are allowing a single country to distort the so-called single market. The same argument is used to prevent a Labour government from using state funding to prop up Britain’s uncompetitive industries. The sell-off of Britain’s nationalised utilities wasn’t done because Thatcher was a privatisation freak (although she was) but because the EU requires a free-for-all in energy. Sadly, impotent trade unions greedily held their hands out to grab the crumbs from Delors table. It made their job so much easier if the bureaucrats in Brussels did part of their job for them. Much easier than having to organise their members.
So Cameron can throw raw meat to his ravenous backbenchers, but it is just for show, and like Thatcher waving her handbag in Bruges, rest assured… it is little more than appeasement.