Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Peddling Europhobia: lies, delusions and Nigel Lawson

It is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate the Conservative Party from a dinosaur theme park.  When the solids/air conditioning interface becomes the dominant feature of internal Tory feuding, there are all the self-styled elder statesmen; memories of whom have only recently been stirred up by Thatcher's death - and whose sanctimonious physiognomies have been a salutary reminder to anyone who can remember their previous pomp.

So far, so Tebbit.  The latest manifestation of the undead was the re-emergence of Nigel Lawson, the greatest Anthony Barber tribute Chancellor in history - fuelling unsustainable booms and then recanting.  "Lord" Lawson is now reinventing himself as an arch-Eurosceptic, having been one of the leading figures of the regicide in 1990 - paradoxically because he was one of those Ministers most closely identified with shadowing the Deutschmark in the run-up to the establishment of the Euro.

Frightened rabbits are now assuming that the lights in front of them are the Eureka moments of salvation rather than the juggernaut of an irrelevant destiny.  So pulling out of the European Union is presented as a panacea for every failure that the neo-conservative experiment has visited upon the plebs and the rest of the world that is not cocooned through ancestral or other ill-gotten wealth, and which has a great desire to be seen to protect its own position through a Manichean confidence and hubris.

These old fools are peddling a major lie to the electorate.  The costs, impacts and practicalities of EU exit are large and not a one-way bet to the sunlit uplands of isolationist prosperity.  Whenever one of these loons screeches about a trading rather than a political relationship they fail to remind people that the status of non-EU countries such as Norway and Switzerland is of vassal nations, forced to comply with EU laws and regulations without even formal representation or participation in the decision-making process.

This means that any withdrawal will be partial rather than full - effectively refusing to engage in the diplomacy and evolution of EU politics and institutions, as well as running the significant risk that future benefits available to member states will be denied to England and Wales.  One of the key reasons for UK marginalisation within the EU has been the continued failure to engage, preferring instead to resort to the sloganising megaphone and the stereotype of perfidious Albion.  This has allowed the EU's direction to be dominated by Franco-German priorities - which has had mixed results culminating in the inappropriate austerity that has befuddled the Eurozone.

This distaste for engagement and refusal to compromise suggests that Clegg and Miliband need to adopt a Euro-realist position going forward.  So far, the dribbling xenophobes portray any support for European co-operation and involvement as the kind of starry-eyed idealism that should be reserved for ensuring that the lower orders know their place.  A few points need to be reiterated: we shall never be able to fully disengage from our major trading partners, we shall never be able to unpick the entire legacy of 40 years' economic, political and legal engagement and we shall never be able to prosper as a low-cost, exploitative offshore tax haven.

Pragmatists should also be prepared to point out that any withdrawal would be a constitutional and legal nightmare on a scale that would dwarf any of the areas of reform that the Tories vetoed as low priority - distracting from the economy and social and environmental progress.  The EU myths are pervasive, and, as is usual in the UK, complex to rebut.  However, the economic costs and benefits are important to keep in perspective.

Lawson is a cynical vulture circling round the Tory corpse - finally getting revenge for humiliation and marginalisation after his fall from office.  The propitiation of the Farage and the tweedy knuckle-draggers will only go so far - as Europe itself does not represent an election-swinging issue.  Perhaps the only consolation is that this now looks like the kind of private battle that beset John Major, and we all know what happened to the Tories after that.

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