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Tuesday 25 October 2011

PM shoots himself in the foot... others follow

I tweeted yesterday (#munificus) that UK Prime Minister David Cameron was naïve in his handling of the debate on a potential referendum on UK membership of the European Union. Last night's performance in the House of Commons will probably be seen as a pivotal moment in his career.

It really was a case of shooting himself in the foot, an injury which is rarely fatal... but the political consequences could be.

Shot one:
By resorting to a three-line whip for the vote, Mr Cameron alienated a large part of his party. He seems to have forgotten that nearly ten percent of MPs will lose their job at the next election. This is simply a result of reducing the number of members of parliament from 650 to 600 at the next election. These people will have to be selected as candidates by their local party. Showing that they actually listen to the will of the electorate (remember that over 100,000 people wanted the issue of a referendum on membership of the European Union debated) can only enhance their chances of selection. So the most likely candidates for selection will be the 81 members who defied their 'leadership' (is the first lemming to jump over the cliff a leader?). These selfsame 81 must now be disciplined for having defied the three-line whip; failure to do so will undermine any semblance of authority. The only good news in this for Mr Cameron is that Messrs Clegg and Milliband also called a three-line whip so they have 1 and 19 recalcitrants respectively to 'punish'.

If politicians have any intent of representing their constituents then, there must be a large proportion of the members of parliament, who having voted against a referendum (483 from all parties) must now be wondering about how good a memory their selection committees will have when the time comes. Who would wish to put forward a candidate who has already shown that he will ignore the will of the people.

Mr Cameron wakes up today as a weakened leader of his party.

Shot two:
The rationale put forward for insisting that the proposal to offer the people a referendum on membership of the European Union be defeated was "now's not the time". The somewhat facile solution was to arrange for the debate to take place at a more propitious moment. The alternative was to allow a free vote. The outcome of the vote was of no great political consequence in itself as it was not a government motion. A vote to hold a referendum would have actually reinforced Mr Cameron's negotiating position vis à vis his European partners. He would have been in a position to negotiate from strength by telling his European colleagues that the British electorate need 'concessions' before the vote on membership.

Instead of this he has tied his own hands. Other European countries know that there will be no referendum and that the government is prepared to risk everything to remain in the club.

Shot three:
It is reported that, at a meeting on Sunday, French President, Nicolas Sarkozy told David Cameron "You have lost a good opportunity to shut up. We're sick of you criticising, us and telling us what to do. You say you hate the euro. You didn't want to join and now you want to interfere in our meetings". All this could well have been provoked by an impression that Mr Cameron is confusing the 27 member club (European Union) with the 17 member club (Euro). The United Kingdom is a member, even if a reticent one, of the former, the UK has not even applied for membership of the latter. Mr Sarkozy's outburst would therefore seem quite justified. Mr Sarkozy is also due to seek reelection as early as next year. Scoring points on the international stage can only be good for his chances.

Groucho Marx probably had the right idea about clubs. He said "I don't want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member".

Shot four:
It is being reported that Mr Cameron's advisors were saying, after the vote last night that "the Prime Minister is standing firm on his policy. He doesn't have any regrets". This really is a case of the emperor's new clothes. When your advisors try and convince you that a mistake made is an illusion... beware. Apparently nobody challenged the spokesman to define the 'policy' to which he was alluding... ignoring the wishes of voters?

In conclusion, it looks like the first shot was an accidentally self-inflicted flesh wound to the right foot, probably caused by lack of training. The cause of the second shot is identical but to the other foot. The third shot was fired by an enemy; the exact damage is not known. As far as the existence of an enemy is concerned, one hopes that forewarned will be forearmed. The fourth shot should give the most concern; this type of fire tends to be in the back. Massage of the ego will not prove to be an adequate cure.

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