David Cameron & the EU; Putting Baby in the Corner

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Cameron & Britain 2David Cameron has not managed the UK/ EU relationship very well . In fact, one could say he’s done pretty bad both with respect to EU level partners (from eurocrats to national reps) but also with respect to national level partners (from his own party to voters). More weirdly facing mounting demands from the extremes of his party; the indifference of the Labour party that shares a “anything goes" attitude, and more importantly the lack of personal political force has put him in a position where he promised a referendum in 2017 if the Conservatives win the upcoming elections.

To an extent this move was supposed to deal with mounting pressure from the right wing within his own party but also UKIP. However, what this move has done is further weaken the Prime Minister’s position within his own party, with respect to UKIP and with respect to his voters. First, he has assumed that the Conservative party which already does not have a majority must satisfy its MPs by caving into the wishes of the more vocal ones.  Perhaps the fact that Labour was in power for 15 years would suggest that the relationship is inverse.  Cameron has finally led the party into government.  Therefore MPs that want to raise the stakes of the negotiations by arguing they will just leave the party could go ahead and face the blame.

Second, by taking the same position as UKIP and other anti-EU senti-mentals Cameron has pushed voters to those parties instead of claiming them back.  As the UK/ EU issue is a salient one, parties with a narrow and more focused agenda that relates to the subject in question and have been campaigning for this for a longer time will get the credit.  The conservatives will not appear as the party that listened to its voters but the party that listened to UKIP.

Third, with elections looming and polls suggesting that Conservatives might not reach a majority has caused intense power struggles within the party.  More importantly ministers and high profile members of the party will attempt to gain more power by adopting further anti-EU position to appeal to voters and party members.  The latest comments by Gove and May are just an early indicator.

Fourth, with European Parliament elections coming up in one year and the economy still barely avoiding a 3ple dip, voters are likely to utilize them as a protest vote.  This means voting for extreme parties that push all of the UK’s problems under an EU umbrella.  This will further empower smaller and more extreme parties and weaken the conservatives; further increasing pressure onto the PM.

No one puts David in a Corner

There are a couple of ways out of this uncomfortable situation.  First, Mr. Cameron can always hope that the economy will pick up within the next year which would allow him to claim some voters and put him back in centre stage.  However, this seems unlikely.  Second, and more realistically, with EP elections coming up the conservatives could start a series of public debates on the UK/ EU relationship that would blunt arguments from the extremes.  Also, a more honest and less xenophobic approach to immigrants would be nice.  It would decrease the horrible argument of the story that “too many immigrants are coming to the UK” and in particular through the EU".  That seems to be one of the main arguments of the anti-EU camp.  Finally, politics is not always about avoiding battles; it’s also about picking which ones to have.  David Cameron regardless of which side of the fence he sits on this should stop postponing the inevitable and have this argument earlier rather than later.  Otherwise he risks being further pushed into the corner and pushing the debate into extremes.

PICTURE: www.thejournal.ie

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