The intrigue around the UK's Europe Union membership ratcheted up several notches today as Lord Lawson (once the ardent follower of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism ERM) proclaimed himself to be in favour of a complete EU exit; quite an about face. Would Lawson have made such a pronouncement without the surprise Ukip performance in the local elections? I rather doubt it. Was he put up to it and who stands to gain? Goodness only knows but the conspiracy theories will start to reverberate.
has become clear is that the issue of Europe is set to rival the economy as the
overriding political issue in the UK.
|Lawson in his pomp|
As the recession has worsened the arguments have polarised. The ‘out at all costs’ brigade blame all our woes on our EU membership, some are rational like the threat of more Eastern European immigration and some are wholly irrational like the loss of our historic export markets. Opposing this, the left (Labour and the Libdems) see Europe as a bulwark against unbridled capitalism and the glue that will save these islands from splintering into our constituent parts. Somewhere is the middle of all this muddle is David Cameron, perhaps the unluckiest British politician since records were kept. He finds himself having to manage his way through the global depression, whilst dealing with two macro political issues – the future shape of the United Kingdom and our membership of the European Union. On all sides Mr. Cameron is beset by the forces of conservatism who want to step back into the past, slightly surreal for a Conservative Prime Minister.
Ukip’s leader, Nigel Farage has pretty clear tactics, which are to play on some of the basic fears that other politicians have stopped talking about – immigration, criminal justice and welfare cheats. These are all popular motifs of the right but they have been out of fashion for many years in the UK, as the Tories have sort out a softer image and the ‘middle ground’. Good politicians need to be lucky and Farage has benefited from a quite unexpected shift, which is that austerity has made Britain more right wing, the reverse the European experience.
The Tories party’s response to this threat to their core vote has been blind panic. Frightened backbenchers are now insistent that new polices are brought forward that are, anti-Europe, anti-immigration, anti-scroungers, hoping to steal Ukip’s clothes. While Mr Cameron seems open to at least some of these demands he is somewhat constrained by his coalition partners who are vehemently opposed to these measures. Our Prime Minister mixes an astute political brain with a complete absence of back bones, so it will be interesting to see if he tracks to the right or remembers the years of opposition induced by narrow minded ‘Little Englander’ policies.
There are a couple of known un-knowns that need to be resolved before Ukips political arrival can be trumpeted. Firstly, will they survive any up-tick our economic fortunes and secondly will there be a new settlement in Europe for the UK? If our economy improves and Cameron can negotiate a better deal with Angela Merkel then Ukip will be toast; if he fails on the economy then he may well find his support slipping away and if he fails on both he will become the candidate for butter and marmalade.