David Cameron is an honourable man.
Now there’s a shocking statement.
Perhaps you think I am simply misquoting Shakespeare’s Mark Anthony, and I mean the statement to be dripping with irony. Actually, I do not.
Mr Cameron, in my view, is almost completely lacking in vision for our country, and much more concerned about his own position in Downing Street than about any notion of fighting for our national interest.
In what sense, then, can I suggest that he is honourable?
I suppose that I do not really believe him to be honourable in the full meaning of the word. He is an honourable politician. The word “politician” lessens the force of the word “honourable”, leaving an overall impression of someone who is not very special at all as far as his profession is concerned.
He is honourable only in this sense: he speaks the truth. Time and again he has wrong-footed his opponents by using the power of being completely open about his intentions. He does so, though, in a context that implies he means something more. He leaves his audience believing him to have said, or at least to have hinted, more than he really did – and he does not take much trouble to disabuse them of their misunderstanding.
Consider the issue of Europe – because it is on this issue that Mr Cameron has used this technique most forcefully.
Before becoming Conservative Party leader, he promised to take the party out of the European People’s Party grouping in the European Parliament. Many thought he was simply electioneering – that once he was installed as party leader, he would quietly drop the idea. A nudge and a wink to the EU-loving part of the Tory Party hinted that he didn’t really mean it. And simultaneously a wink and a nudge to the Eurosceptics said that his commitment to leaving the EPP meant he was a Eurosceptic like they were.
Both camps accepted those contradictory propositions – because they both so much wanted to believe in those winks and nudges.
However, once elected as leader, he carried through the promise. His MEP’s left the EPP grouping, and formed a new grouping in the European Parliament.
The Europhiles in his party initially became upset at this development. After all, their winks and nudges had apparently been disproved. They became more settled however as it became clear that the practical effect of the move was almost nothing, since the policies pursued by the new grouping were nearly identical to those pursued by the EPP. But Mr Cameron had kept his word. He had done no more – and no less – than he promised.
Before the general election, he gave that famous “cast iron guarantee” that the Conservatives would offer a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Eurosceptics, especially the Right of his own party, are incensed that now he is Prime Minister, he has supposedly reneged on that commitment.
And yet, he did not promise a referendum on our EU membership. He promised a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty – and by the time he became Prime Minister, that Treaty was already in effect, so it was too late for any referendum.
He had promised something quite limited. His audience did not hear what he had promised. They heard what they wanted to hear – a promise of a general in/out referendum.
There was more: he gave the impression that he was hinting at a Euroscepticism within himself. And yet, was he? Even the implacably EU-loving Liberal Democrats had policy in favour of a referendum on the Treaty.
He had promised a referendum on the Treaty, not a referendum on EU membership.
What’s more, he had promised a referendum. He had not promised to campaign for a “no” vote. Indeed, he had given no indication whatever of what his own position would have been during a referendum campaign.
And again, a few weeks ago, he was using the same technique. He promised, proclaimed the media, “an in/out referendum on Europe”.
The BBC said, for example:
The prime minister said he wanted to renegotiate the UK’s relationship with the EU and then give people the “simple choice” between staying in under those new terms, or leaving the EU.
Let’s have a look at what he actually said.
He committed himself to supporting Britain’s full engagement in the European Union (and this was not the first time he had done so):
I speak as British Prime Minister with a positive vision for the future of the European Union. A future in which Britain wants, and should want, to play a committed and active part.
He spent a great deal of the speech outlining how he wanted the EU to change – to become less bureaucratic, to become more democratic, and to complete the Single European Market. All those sentiments could have been uttered by the most hardened continental EU fanatic.
He also said he wanted a more flexible EU, with countries not necessarily all adopting every part of its structures. That sentiment would indeed be regarded as heretical on the continent, and was duly denounced afterwards by senior European politicians.
None of that, however, diminished in any way Mr Cameron’s commitment to keeping Britain firmly in the Union.
And so on to the referendum. Mr Cameron quite clearly ruled out an immediate referendum:
A vote today between the status quo and leaving would be an entirely false choice.
Even the British media noticed that. So no referendum right now. Next, Mr Cameron said that he would go into the next election promising to renegotiate (or try to) Britain’s relationship with the EU.
The next Conservative Manifesto in 2015 will ask for a mandate from the British people for a Conservative Government to negotiate a new settlement with our European partners in the next Parliament.
And so came the key part of the speech, in which he promised that referendum:
When we have negotiated that new settlement, we will give the British people a referendum with a very simple in or out choice. To stay in the EU on these new terms; or come out altogether.
It will be an in-out referendum.
Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament.
That sounds like a pretty firm commitment, does it not? A firm timetable; the legislation being published before the election, so that we all know what we’re getting; a free choice for us all, with leaving the EU on the table.
Crucial questions, though, were left unanswered. What would Mr Cameron’s renegotiation seek to achieve, beyond platitudes about an “open” and “flexible” Europe? Could he not, then, obtain very little and yet proclaim the negotiation a success?
What about the key, fundamental question – of whether sovereign authority is vested in a European government in Brussels, or in our own elected parliament? He made no suggestion at all that he would be seeking a return of sovereignty – the legal power to govern ourselves. He would be seeking a return of “powers”, not a return of sovereignty. Those two should not be confused – and yet he glossed over the distinction.
If the others fail to offer anything at all, what then? Would there still be a referendum? Or would the negotiation be regarded as “incomplete”? Would a slippage in the timetable not be regarded as much more honourable and much more defensible than a change in policy? Would it not be better to wait just a while longer to get the best settlement possible, rather than rush into a premature decision? In short, would the government not argue that it would be sensible to delay the referendum until after the following election, due in 2019 or 2020?
Crucially, if there were a referendum, what would be the position of the British government in that referendum – whether it had “succeeded” or “failed” in the negotiation?
All these questions were left unanswered, and I do not believe it is an exaggeration to say that they have the effect of eliminating the referendum promise altogether.
Mr Cameron then spent the rest of the speech clarifying what his own position would be in any referendum campaign. There was a quite a long passage in the speech in which he argued that Britain should stay within the Union. He left, in fact, little doubt that he would himself, and that a Cameron-led government would, campaign for a “yes” vote to stay in the Union – regardless of the outcome of the negotiation.
And what else would you expect of the party that took us into the EU in the first place? The party that bashed Labour for being “anti-Europe” during the 1980s? The party that passed the Single European Act, introducing that single market – or single set of market regulations, set in Brussels and binding on all the member states? The party that forced the Maastricht Treaty (which created the Euro) through parliament on a three line whip – and that at a time when Denmark had already voted in a referendum against the Treaty, meaning that it was legally dead?
David Cameron has merely followed in the established position of the Conservative Party. They want a democratic and flexible EU – but they very firmly want Britain in it – “at the heart of Europe”, as previous Tory leader John Major so memorably put it.
To this extent, then, Mr Cameron is an honourable man. He has not hidden his position, and he has not changed it either.
On the Right of his party, however, are the people Mr Major called “bastards”. The Eurosceptics – or so they style themselves. What is their position?
They say that they want an independent Britain. And yet they choose to belong to that party with an established commitment to the EU.
They campaign for a referendum and tell their constituents that they are fighting for the people to have their say. And yet they choose to support a leader who imposed a three line whip on his backbenchers to prevent an immediate referendum.
They say they want a Europe that is about free trade only – and yet are content to remain within a party that is committed to British inclusion in the “ever closer union” and in the European project that is designed to create a single European government, parliament and State.
They say that their party has left the EPP in the European Parliament – and yet their supposedly Eurosceptic MEP’s vote with the EPP most of the time.
They hint (but never say) that they support the policies of UKIP, but never quite have the inclination to step outside their comfortable position in the Conservative Party and join the independence movement.
In short, they are hypocrites. It is those “bastards” on the Right of the Tory Party who are preventing the realignment of British politics.
Yes, I accuse them of preventing British independence. I accuse them of providing cover for the establishment to keep Britain in the ever closer union of the EU. I accuse them of helping those who are usurping the power of our elected sovereign parliament.
I do not know wether it is through fear or cowardice that they fail to act, or whether in fact their own true position is closer to that of the Prime Minister than to that of a believer in a sovereign British nation state. Perhaps some of them fall into each of those camps.
But act they do not, and by their inaction they betray their country.
That is why I left the Conservative Party two years ago. I spent too long on that decision, and should have left long before.
But in the end I did have the courage to act. You might say that I had little to lose, holding as I did no office in the party or public office. What I had to lose, though, was an adult lifetime spent campaigning for the Conservatives, and a whole mindset built up over several decades.
Those people who call themselves Eurosceptics, and yet still fly the flag of the Europhile Conservative Party – those are the people who are the most contemptible enemies of British democracy. The EU-loving Liberal Democrats, and their friends on the Left of the Conservative Party, would slay Britain with a stroke. At least they would strike in the open however. The Eurosceptics in the Tory Party, by contrast, are content to lurk in the shadows while others deliver the blow, or even to sink a knife in Britain’s back themselves when it is convenient to do so.
Perhaps we will not succeed in defending our nation’s history and the democratic rights of its people. But we will be fighting for the Independence of the United Kingdom.
Others will instead make Eurosceptic noises while supporting the EU-loving Conservative Party and the EU-committed Prime Minister. And yes, Douglas Carswell, Daniel Hannan, Chris Heaton-Harris and John Redwood, this means you. By your inaction you are making the defeat and destruction of Britain as a nation more likely.