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Published on December 13th, 2011 | by Ben Phillips
Image © It's very difficult to sympathise with anyone involved in last week's EU summit, in the aftermath of which the sense of Britain's unprecedented isolation in Europe is impossible to ignore. Let's start with Cameron. His behaviour has been inept and cowardly: his spurious claims of having drawn a red line around the City of London aside, there is no question that the summit in Brussels ended the way it did for the UK simply because he did not feel able to bring a new EU treaty back to the profoundly Eurosceptic mass of his own backbenchers. Cameron has, of course, been stuck between the rock of Brussels and the hard place of Tory Euroscepticism from the moment he stepped into 10 Downing Street. Prior to this weekend, he had maintained a rather unconvincing but basically necessary level of equivocation, delivering the Eurosceptic rhetoric demanded by his party members whilst in practice pursuing a pragmatic approach to dealings with Brussels. In the early hours of Friday morning, that balancing act went by the board, and Cameron surrendered to his own right wing. As Paddy Ashdown, formerly the leader of the Liberal Democrats, wrote on Saturday, the Prime Minister acted for his party rather than his country. Peter Mandelson's magisterial skewering of Cameron, from this morning's Guardian, is also worth a read:

'He clearly thought it was safer to lose Britain's place in Europe than risk losing the support of rebellious Tory MPs...Since Britain's membership began, it has been axiomatic that we should never retreat from exercising influence over European policy and that we should never vacate a table at which a decision was being taken that affected British interests. Edward Heath created this principle, Margaret Thatcher cemented it and John Major rammed it home at Maastricht. David Cameron has abandoned it, not because he wanted to but because he lacks the political authority in his party to assert it.'
The irony of this is that Cameron's sudden playing of his cards, his lurch towards his own right wing, almost certainly dooms him. For the moment he may be, in Sunder Katwala's words, 'the toast of the 1922 committee'; within a short space of time, I feel fairly sure that he will merely be toast. As I've written before, Europe is only the most visible of the Conservative Party's right-wing enthusiasms. There are plenty of others, with which Cameron's vaguely modernising, compassionate-Conservative aura (such as it was, anyway) is completely at odds. His performance in the Commons this afternoon confirmed the problem. Having in effect declared for the Eurosceptic Tory right, he attempted to qualify his actions by reaffirming Britain's long-term commitment to EU membership. This will satisfy few in his party. Most Conservatives, as Tim Montgomerie pointed out two months ago, are in favour of either renegotiating Britain's EU membership or leaving altogether: Boris Johnson - the most formidable of Cameron's likely challengers in a hypothetical leadership contest - recently called for a renegotiation, as did Bernard Jenkin on Friday's Newsnight. Yet the compelling argument of one Economist blogger, widely circulated on Twitter, suggesting that this episode spells the beginning of the end for Britain's EU membership will resonate with others in the coalition too. The barely-disguised fury of the Liberal Democrats at what happened on Friday morning - Nick Clegg and Vince Cable were conspicuously absent from the Commons this afternoon; the latter is reported to be considering his position - worsens Cameron's position considerably. He has made himself hostage to a right-wing majority, with whom he identifies at best superficially, while at the same time alienating his more moderate supporters. It is now very hard to say where exactly Cameron's constituency lies. Still, there's a lot more to this episode than the familiar tale of perfidious Albion once again swinging its Atlanticist wrecking-ball through European institutions. Cameron's cynical behaviour aside, the broader truth is that the new EU treaty is yet another milestone in the technocrat-driven assault on European democracy and a deal that Britain has done very well to get away from. As the Guardian's Larry Elliott writes, the new fiscal pact, which will apply to all EU member states except Britain regardless of their place inside or outside the Eurozone, is 'ferociously deflationary in its conception', a top-down imposition of right-wing austerity economics across the whole of Europe. Preventing countries from running budget deficits beyond 0.5% of GDP, and requiring annual 5% reductions of national debt under an arbitrary 60% debt ceiling, the treaty's curbs will 'seriously restrict the freedom of action of individual countries to run independent fiscal policies.' That, Elliott continues, is why Angela Merkel proposed them in the first place, since 'Berlin's idea is that the single currency would be better off if everybody played by one set of rules, German rules.' A situation borne of the fundamental economic mismatches within the single currency, a point on which Norman Tebbit is entirely correct, is now to be solved by legally binding all concerned to becoming as much like Germany as they possibly can. This takes the democratic deficit of the Euro crisis, about which I've written before, to a whole new level. 'By enshrining in national and international law the need for balanced budgets and near-zero structural deficits', the ever-excellent Paul Mason writes, 'the eurozone has outlawed expansionary fiscal policy.' The new treaty spells the death of Keynesian economics in Europe for the foreseeable future, effectively outlawing left-wing government wherever it is ratified. A natural conclusion to the highly ideological reaction of France and Germany to the Euro crisis, it is also grossly offensive to democracy. This aspect of the treaty may sneak under our collective radar for the moment, but the likelihood of the socialist Francois Hollande winning the presidency in France early next year will surely change that. Until then, we will, at least, have the irony of David Cameron having unwittingly secured the future of social democracy in Britain to keep us amused in the dark days ahead.

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Britain and Europe (occasional series)

It’s very difficult to sympathise with anyone involved in last week’s EU summit, in the aftermath of which the sense of Britain’s unprecedented isolation in Europe is impossible to ignore. Let’s start with Cameron. His behaviour has been inept and cowardly: his spurious claims of having drawn a red line around the City of London aside, there is no question that the summit in Brussels ended the way it did for the UK simply because he did not feel able to bring a new EU treaty back to the profoundly Eurosceptic mass of his own backbenchers. Cameron has, of course, been stuck between the rock of Brussels and the hard place of Tory Euroscepticism from the moment he stepped into 10 Downing Street. Prior to this weekend, he had maintained a rather unconvincing but basically necessary level of equivocation, delivering the Eurosceptic rhetoric demanded by his party members whilst in practice pursuing a pragmatic approach to dealings with Brussels. In the early hours of Friday morning, that balancing act went by the board, and Cameron surrendered to his own right wing. As Paddy Ashdown, formerly the leader of the Liberal Democrats, wrote on Saturday, the Prime Minister acted for his party rather than his country. Peter Mandelson’s magisterial skewering of Cameron, from this morning’s Guardian, is also worth a read:

‘He clearly thought it was safer to lose Britain’s place in Europe than risk losing the support of rebellious Tory MPs…Since Britain’s membership began, it has been axiomatic that we should never retreat from exercising influence over European policy and that we should never vacate a table at which a decision was being taken that affected British interests. Edward Heath created this principle, Margaret Thatcher cemented it and John Major rammed it home at Maastricht. David Cameron has abandoned it, not because he wanted to but because he lacks the political authority in his party to assert it.’

The irony of this is that Cameron’s sudden playing of his cards, his lurch towards his own right wing, almost certainly dooms him. For the moment he may be, in Sunder Katwala’s words, ‘the toast of the 1922 committee’; within a short space of time, I feel fairly sure that he will merely be toast. As I’ve written before, Europe is only the most visible of the Conservative Party’s right-wing enthusiasms. There are plenty of others, with which Cameron’s vaguely modernising, compassionate-Conservative aura (such as it was, anyway) is completely at odds. His performance in the Commons this afternoon confirmed the problem. Having in effect declared for the Eurosceptic Tory right, he attempted to qualify his actions by reaffirming Britain’s long-term commitment to EU membership. This will satisfy few in his party. Most Conservatives, as Tim Montgomerie pointed out two months ago, are in favour of either renegotiating Britain’s EU membership or leaving altogether: Boris Johnson – the most formidable of Cameron’s likely challengers in a hypothetical leadership contest – recently called for a renegotiation, as did Bernard Jenkin on Friday’s Newsnight. Yet the compelling argument of one Economist blogger, widely circulated on Twitter, suggesting that this episode spells the beginning of the end for Britain’s EU membership will resonate with others in the coalition too. The barely-disguised fury of the Liberal Democrats at what happened on Friday morning – Nick Clegg and Vince Cable were conspicuously absent from the Commons this afternoon; the latter is reported to be considering his position – worsens Cameron’s position considerably. He has made himself hostage to a right-wing majority, with whom he identifies at best superficially, while at the same time alienating his more moderate supporters. It is now very hard to say where exactly Cameron’s constituency lies.

Still, there’s a lot more to this episode than the familiar tale of perfidious Albion once again swinging its Atlanticist wrecking-ball through European institutions. Cameron’s cynical behaviour aside, the broader truth is that the new EU treaty is yet another milestone in the technocrat-driven assault on European democracy and a deal that Britain has done very well to get away from. As the Guardian‘s Larry Elliott writes, the new fiscal pact, which will apply to all EU member states except Britain regardless of their place inside or outside the Eurozone, is ‘ferociously deflationary in its conception’, a top-down imposition of right-wing austerity economics across the whole of Europe. Preventing countries from running budget deficits beyond 0.5% of GDP, and requiring annual 5% reductions of national debt under an arbitrary 60% debt ceiling, the treaty’s curbs will ‘seriously restrict the freedom of action of individual countries to run independent fiscal policies.’ That, Elliott continues, is why Angela Merkel proposed them in the first place, since ‘Berlin’s idea is that the single currency would be better off if everybody played by one set of rules, German rules.’ A situation borne of the fundamental economic mismatches within the single currency, a point on which Norman Tebbit is entirely correct, is now to be solved by legally binding all concerned to becoming as much like Germany as they possibly can.

This takes the democratic deficit of the Euro crisis, about which I’ve written before, to a whole new level. ‘By enshrining in national and international law the need for balanced budgets and near-zero structural deficits’, the ever-excellent Paul Mason writes, ‘the eurozone has outlawed expansionary fiscal policy.’ The new treaty spells the death of Keynesian economics in Europe for the foreseeable future, effectively outlawing left-wing government wherever it is ratified. A natural conclusion to the highly ideological reaction of France and Germany to the Euro crisis, it is also grossly offensive to democracy. This aspect of the treaty may sneak under our collective radar for the moment, but the likelihood of the socialist Francois Hollande winning the presidency in France early next year will surely change that. Until then, we will, at least, have the irony of David Cameron having unwittingly secured the future of social democracy in Britain to keep us amused in the dark days ahead.

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