Monday, July 02, 2012
'It's time to open the door and consider a referendum': Cameron to give Britain a vote on Europe
British sovereignty to be restored and multinational government to be forced into retreat? The crackup of the EU would be a near-fatal blow to the world-government freaks
David Cameron paved the way for a historic popular vote on Britain’s role in Europe yesterday by indicating he is ‘opening the door’ to a referendum.
Voters could be asked if they want the UK to stay in or out of the European Union, or to sever many of its existing ties with Brussels.
The Prime Minister is gearing up to resolve the matter once and for all – but not yet. He is considering turning the next Election, due in 2015, into a vote on Britain’s membership of the EU – or holding a referendum afterwards if he is still in No 10.
Mr Cameron believes it is too early to decide the crucial question to be put to voters: whether it be a straight ‘in or out’ choice, or a proposal to grab back some of the powers lost to Brussels bureaucrats.
And he believes it would be a mistake to hold such a vote before the dust settles over the euro crisis.
A source close to the Prime Minister said: ‘It is time to open the door on this matter and consider a referendum. It could either be a standalone referendum or it could be part of the Conservative manifesto at the next Election.’
Explaining why Mr Cameron has not yet decided on the wording of the question to be put to the nation, the source added: ‘Now is the wrong time when Europe is in flux and the whole continent is changing before our eyes.
‘We need to see where everything ends up before we consult the British people.’
Mr Cameron’s hand has also been forced by the financial crisis in the eurozone, which is forcing member countries to negotiate ever-closer ties.
The accelerated integration is likely to lead to full-scale treaty renegotiations in the coming years.
Although cynics will describe the referendum as another Government U-turn following the Budget measures such as the ‘pasty tax’ and the aborted 3p petrol duty, the pledge is the latest evidence that Mr Cameron is increasingly turning his attention to political life after the Coalition.
If he does call an referendum, it is almost certain that arch-europhile Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg would be on opposite sides to Mr Cameron.
Recent polls show a majority of voters want a referendum, and a significant number are ready to turn their backs on the EU completely. However, the result would not be certain.
In the run-up to the last referendum on Europe in 1975, surveys suggested a ‘No’ vote, but in the event, the public decided against going back on Britain’s decision two years earlier to join what was then known as the Common Market.
Mr Cameron’s pledge comes in the face of intense pressure from Tory backbenchers to give the public a vote.
Last week, 100 Tory MPs – more than half of all backbench Conservatives – sent a letter to the Prime Minister which argued that there was ‘a consistent majority in this country who believe that the EU meddles too much in our everyday lives, that the regulation on our businesses is too burdensome, and that the cost of membership is far too high’.
They also pointed out that the EU is ‘very different’ from the Common Market that Britain originally signed up to – and that no one under the age of 55 has had a vote on the nation’s membership.
The picture appeared confused on Friday when Mr Cameron emerged from a marathon Brussels summit on the euro crisis to say: ‘I completely understand why some people want an in/out referendum – some people just want to say, “Stop the bus, I want to get off.”
‘I completely understand that, but I don’t share that view. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do. There are other things I would like us to get out of. That’s the trouble with the in/out – it only gives you two options.’
Newspapers interpreted the remarks as a sign that Mr Cameron had ruled out a vote on the UK’s membership of the EU, while Peter Bone, one of the signatories to the backbenchers’ letter, said it showed that Mr Cameron was ‘on the wrong side of the argument’.
Furthermore, Ministers were increasingly worried that Labour leader Ed Miliband might outflank Mr Cameron by pledging a referendum if Labour won power.
Mr Cameron has hardened his stance in an attempt to seize back the initiative.
In addition, Mr Cameron faces a growing Election threat from the anti-EU UK Independence Party, which has overtaken the Liberal Democrats in some opinion polls.
Worryingly for the PM, many eurosceptic Tory voters are switching to UKIP and its populist leader Nigel Farage. There are also persistent rumours that some Tory MPs could defect to Mr Farage’s party.
More than 80 Tory MPs defied Whips to demand a referendum on Europe during a major Commons rebellion last year.
Government insiders say the most likely outcome is a 2015 Tory manifesto pledge seeking approval to renegotiate the terms of British membership of the UK if Mr Cameron wins the Election.
This could see Brussels bureaucrats stripped of their power to decide legal, social and employment rights in this country.
Alternatively, he could promise to hold a referendum along the same lines – or offer a straight in/out vote – if he is returned to power.
By then, it is possible that the EU landscape could have changed beyond recognition – and public opinion with it. Greece is already teetering on the edge of leaving the single currency bloc, and there is speculation that Spain, Italy and even France could follow it in the coming years.
The centre has moved Right, not Prime Minister David Cameron
The Conservatives are not 'lurching' to the Right but struggling to keep up with the people’s change of mood
So it’s game on, right? The next general election campaign has begun. The blizzard of U-turns in which proposed tax rises were vaporised, and that evangelical speech on the need for even more welfare cuts – all of the noisy shifting of rhetorical furniture which comes under the BBC’s heading of “Lurch-to-the-Right” – means that David Cameron is “re-positioning himself” or “redefining” his party’s message (or something else that sounds carefully planned) in order to set the Conservatives on the road to outright victory. No more messing. The Tories are sharpening their act (or reverting to type, depending on your political tastes) and making a serious effort to galvanise their core vote. David Cameron is coming home!
If this were true, the obvious question would be: if Mr Cameron and his friends now know that this is the way to win elections, why didn’t they adopt it the last time? When exactly did they discover that talking turkey on immigration and attacking the entitlement culture were more likely to appeal to voters, and not just Tory ones, than being soft on crime and soft on the causes of crime? If it is positively useful (as I’m sure Downing Street knows that it is) to have Left-wing newspapers shrieking about the return of “the nasty party” in the run up to 2015, why was it “toxic” in 2010? Why has there been such a dramatic strategy change and who is responsible for it? There would seem to be two possible explanations. The more hopeful, from a Conservative point of view, is that Mr Cameron has had an epiphany which compels him to embrace his genuine convictions: he is a natural advocate of free-market, low-tax economics and of the private virtues, and is now prepared to commit himself openly to these because he has learnt the value of conviction politics. I personally have not met anybody who believes this.
Alternatively, there is the more generally accepted account which is that the Cameron-Osborne project is now so punch-drunk with exhaustion and tactical disaster that it is simply falling back on the old religion. This is the view of the BBC, the Left-liberal commentariat and a proportion of the Right-of-centre press which has no more confidence in Mr Cameron’s revised set of stated principles than it had in the earlier version. But both of these theories – the optimistic one and the cynical one – are based on a false premise. That is, that something in the basic philosophy of the Tory leadership has really changed. In fact, the most fundamental axiom of Cameron Conservatism is that there must be no fixed strategy except for the one unalterable rule of remaining on The Centre Ground.
If the Downing Street clique has changed its position on, say, immigration or welfare, it is because it wants to remain where it perceives the majority of public opinion to be at this moment. They are not, as the Guardian comment pages would have it, giving up the centre ground in order to move to the Right. They are moving to the Right because that is where the centre ground now is. They are still standing by what they have always believed, which is that they must follow public opinion rather than lead it. Of course, this makes them look as if they have changed their minds – and are being wildly inconsistent – on really major issues: as if they are in the business of re-defining the party’s basic objectives in order to distance themselves from the Liberal Democrats in the lead-up to the election, etc, etc. But that is the effect rather than the instigating cause of their tactical shift.
What they have discovered about the Gospel of the Centre Ground is what many of us tried to tell them – oh, so long ago, when they used to thrust their opinion poll data triumphantly under our noses. The CG is not a fixed point at the precise mathematical centre of every public policy argument. It moves all the time. In the 1970s it was on the Left – so far to the Left, indeed, as to constitute a kind of soft Marxism. In the 1980s, it was on the Right – infuriated by trade union militancy and enthusiastic about share ownership. In the 1990s, it was Left-ish: private prosperity and the belief that life would always get better bred a “willing to pay more tax” generation which complacently embraced bourgeois guilt. That was the era in which Mr Cameron properly entered the scene. It was to that incarnation of the CG that he believed (or was told) that he must appeal. So he re-invented a Tory image that was acceptable to the salon liberals who, as it happened, were the inheritors of the paternalistic tradition with which he felt comfortable, and he seemed to assume that this was a permanent solution to his party’s future.
Now we are in the post-2008 recession. The electorate is hard-up, economically insecure and tough-minded. The CG has moved to the Right again: perhaps further to the Right than it was in the 1980s, when extreme Labour Leftists could still comfortably win control of local councils, as they certainly could not now. So the Conservatives are not leading – for some unsavoury or misguided reason – a quixotic charge to the Right of mainstream opinion. They are actually struggling to keep up with the people’s change of political mood and priorities. The idea that they are being forced to resurrect old pieties by a Right-wing press (we should be so omnipotent) or a few influential websites is absurd. Newspapers and blogging sites must respond to the demands and views of their readers even more attentively than political parties, if they are to survive. Elections come up every four or five years: circulations and viewing figures are a day-to-day test of the quality of a media outlet’s relationship with its consumers.
Paranoid fantasies about the power of a handful of media conspirators who supposedly manipulate the opinions of millions of people this way or that – with no connection to the real experience of their lives – are an insult to the populace. Voters, especially politically committed ones, are not passive lumps waiting to be told what to think by self-serving editors or vainglorious proprietors. Media outlets survive and gain authority to the extent that they are in tune with a significant tranche of ordinary people’s views.
If Mr Cameron and his party seem to be changing (or reverting) to a more robust, hard-edged social and political stand, that is not because they have been coerced or bullied into it. It is because they have gathered that that is what the people want. It remains an open question whether the people – who heard them espouse very different views such a short time ago – will be convinced that this time they really mean it.
The British public is more than ready to see benefits made fair
Public attitudes towards the welfare state have been hardening for years. The British Social Attitudes survey showed that the proportion of people who feel that benefits for the unemployed are “too high and discourage them from finding work” had risen from 44 per cent in 1999 to 55 per cent in 2010. Today’s Sunday Telegraph poll confirms that these opinions are not softening, with 56 per cent of people responding that benefits are too generous.
The recession has something to do with this. With families struggling to make ends meet, there has been a backlash against anyone seen not to be doing the right thing. This is true at both ends of the income distribution. At one end we have seen protests where CEO pay has diverged from performance. At the other end, the public is frustrated with the idea that benefit claimants are living off hard-working taxpayers’ money but not seriously trying to get back to work. Reports have indeed shown that some job-seekers on benefits in Britain spend as little as an hour a week actually looking for work. Compare this to the 40 or 50-hour weeks on close to minimum wage that many people have to endure and it is clear why this could be seen to be unfair.
The conditions placed on claimants in return for benefits can also be feeble. In general, three “job-seeking” activities are required each week, but these could just include looking for jobs in a newspaper, or getting a haircut. We need to get people doing more, so they get jobs faster. So it is right that the Coalition has focused on strengthening these conditions. The Prime Minister’s speech earlier this week is the latest in a series of announcements aimed at ensuring benefit claimants are serious about finding work; it outlined some sensible proposals, including that benefit claimants must have an up-to-date CV. But, while extensions to these requirements are needed, they must not be the only focus.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that, in fact, most benefit claimants are unlikely to fit the stereotype of “benefit scrounger”. These claimants are desperate to find work, might have children to support and could have real disadvantages in the labour market. They may be young people leaving the care system, former addicts or just long-term unemployed, who desperately want the steady job that firms are unwilling to give them. These people all need extra help to find work, but the current system does not distinguish them from those not willing to look seriously for work. Policy and public discourse must become more nuanced to ensure that requirements are increased for those who are not doing all that they can, but support is stepped up for those who need it.
The second reason for wider reforms is that the “contributory principle” – that people who pay through National Insurance and income tax get something back from the state when they fall on hard times – has been completely eroded. Families who have been working hard all their lives but find themselves unemployed because of the recession realise that they get nothing more than those who have never contributed.
With this in mind, it is unsurprising that a poll commissioned by Policy Exchange found that over half of respondents believe that “no benefits at all” should be given unless people have contributed. It was encouraging to see a mention of this principle in David Cameron’s speech, but much more needs to be done. In general, “much more needs to be done” summarises where we have got to with welfare reform. The Coalition has made a good start in ensuring that all claimants are doing all they can to get back to work. To really tackle the problems with the welfare state it needs to ensure the something-for-something approach rewards the right behaviour, as well as punishes the wrong behaviour, and that people in need get personalised help to find work.
Food Stamps, Handouts, and America's Ever-Expanding Welfare State
In their never-ending efforts to buy votes with other people’s money (see the first cartoon in this post), politicians have been expanding the welfare state and creating more dependency.
This is bad for the overall economy because it means a larger burden of government spending and it’s bad for poor people because it undermines their self reliance and self respect.
It also has very worrisome long-run effects on the stability and viability of a culture, as shown by these two cartoons.
A stark example can be seen in the food stamp program, which has morphed from a handout for the genuinely poor to a widespread entitlement for everyone from college students to the Octo-mom, and for products ranging from luxury coffee to lobster.
Here are some of the unpleasant details about the fiscal costs from Veronique de Rugy’s column in the Washington Examiner.
"When the food stamp program was first expanded nationally in the 1970s, just 1 in 50 Americans participated. Today, 1 in 7 Americans receive $134 each month… With the bipartisan Farm Bill going through Congress right now, these high levels of dependency may become permanent. Some 70 percent of the nearly $1 trillion Farm Bill recently passed by the Senate will be spent on food stamps — that’s $770 billion over ten years. …An estimated 45 million Americans received food stamps in 2011, at a cost of $78 billion. That’s a twofold increase from just five years ago when 26 million people received benefits at a cost of $33 billion. …food stamp enrollment increased and spending doubled, even as unemployment and the poverty level dropped modestly between 2007 and 2011. The more important part of the story comes from the eligibility changes implemented by the Bush and Obama administrations."
The last sentence is the key. Eligibility has been expanded dramatically. Food stamps are slowly but surely becoming mainstream and that should worry all of us.
But food stamps are just one form of income redistribution. Welfare spending also is a problem.
Here are some excerpts from a New Hampshire story, featuring a store clerk who got fired because she didn’t think welfare cards should be used to buy cigarettes.
"Jackie R. Whiton of Antrim had been a six-year employee at the Big Apple convenience store in Peterborough until a single transaction sent her job up in smoke. The store clerk was fired after she refused to take a customer’s Electronic Balance Transfer card to pay for cigarettes. …Whiton said she did not think EBT cards could be used to purchase cigarettes and refused to sell to him. The two “had a little go-around” as the line got longer behind him, said Whiton. “I made the statement, ‘do you think myself, that lady and that gentlemen should pay for your cigarettes?’ and he responded ‘yes,’ ” Whiton said. …Charles E. Wilkins, the general manager of the C.N. Brown Co. that runs the stores, said the EBT cards in the cash phase could be used for any items, including alcohol, tobacco and gambling. Wilkins said the company gave Whiton the option of staying but she said she would not accept the cards anymore. “She didn’t think it was right and just wasn’t going to sell to people in that program anymore,” Wilkins said. Whiton said when she came to work the next day, her manager asked her how much notice she was giving. When she responded “a week,” she was told the home office had just called and fired her."
Ms. Whiton is now one of my personal heroes, joining Mr. Mothershead, another store clerk who had the right reaction when confronted by someone who tried to get something he didn’t earn (albeit using a different tactic).
Last but not least, above is something that arrived in my inbox yesterday.
A bit harsh, but we have gotten to a strange point where the Obama Administration is bribing states to add more food stamp recipients and even running ads to lure more people into food stamp dependency.
So, yes, Billy Fleming (assuming he’s real) has a right to be upset.
Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.
American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.
For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN (Note that EYE ON BRITAIN has regular posts on the reality of socialized medicine). My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when blogger.com is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.