The Conservative Party 'communication' ('Securing Britain's Future: Real Change in Europe') for the upcoming European election (which was passed through my letter box the other day) looks almost identical to UKIP's. Yes, the polices are almost identical. That's not in the least bit a surprise. The Conservative Party is in direct competition with UKIP and the latter seems to be more popular at the moment. Hey! So why not pretend to be UKIP – at least when it come to the European Union? Yes, I know that UKIP also calls for a complete withdrawal from the EU. Nonetheless, the Tories' points and criticisms are almost identical to UKIP's at this moment in time.
(This is a link to UKIP's website European election manifesto. So it evidently contains more words than the Tory leaflet I'm referring to.)
None of that really matters. Everything that this mini-manifesto – or leaflet - promises and says may well be jettisoned on May the 23rd. So no problem there. The Conservative Party, and David Cameron himself, has promised some of the things in this communication before and, predictably, they have never come up with the goods.
'Securing Britain's Future: Real Change in Europe'
The opening statement of the Conservative Party communication says it all:
It says it all because it is indeed true that this is the first time since that Eurozone crisis (which began in 2009) that we can have our say on the EU. In fact the truth is that we can hardly ever have our say on the EU. Or, more correctly, whatever the majority of Brits say on this matter doesn't seem to have the slightest impact on either the EU and our relationship to it. What's more, British people having a say come May 22nd probably won't make much of a difference either! That's primarily either because the Conservative Party will renege on its promises - which is what usually happens - or the EU itself will not allow any change (or at least it won't allow any radical change).
And yet the Conservative Party - in this leaflet at least - says that the “EU needs fundamental change”. Then again, people, even Tory leaders, have been saying that for decades. So nothing new there then.
Of course you'd expect a manifesto about the upcoming European elections to be mainly about the EU. Nonetheless, I would say that what the Conservative Party says in this leaflet should also be said - almost word-for-word - in any upcoming leaflet on the main British election in 2015. What I mean is that the issues tackled here - such as immigration and excessive EU power - are of vital importance to the UK regardless of the European election on May 22nd.
But of course in the 2015 British election these issues will take a back seat or even be ignored entirely by the Conservative Party.
For example, discussing “benefit tourism”, “keeping our border controls” and even “bringing power back to Britain” (the words used in the leaflet) will not play as well - or so the Tories think - within the context of everyday post-election British politics. In other words, the Tories think they can get away sounding more radical in this European-election context than in an everyday post-election context.
Talk of “benefits tourism” and “keeping our border controls” scares the Conservative Party in the everyday domestic context because every time it opens its mouth on such issues the massed battalions of the Left (e.g., the race and rights industries, posh socialist lawyers, university professors and university think tanks, the Guardian, the BBC, parts of the Church of England, charities, etc.) give it hell. And the Tory Party is genuinely scared of these unelected but powerful Leftists and left-liberals. These people do indeed have substantial (though unelected) power and they can alter the political climate both before and during elections.
The trouble with this leaflet is how vague it is. I know it's only an election leaflet and you can't really expect any hard-core analysis in such a thing. Nonetheless, what is said in here is precisely the sort of thing you see and hear when Tories, or David Cameron himself, are interviewed and when they give their party political broadcasts.
The thing is, many voters don't go much beyond these soundbites and in fact politicians rarely do either. And there's probably nothing much that can be done about that.
Take this statement:
I don't want to be pedantic... but reducing immigration by one would still be a case of “reducing immigration”. In addition, you could reduce immigration by one million but only do so over a five year period. As usual with claims like this, it depends on timescales and the exact amount of the reduction.
Here's two more tasters aimed specifically at the EU:
i) “Keeping our border controls and cracking down on benefit tourism.”
ii) “Getting a better deal for British taxpayers.”
Now even the most ardent Euro-bureaucrat or Euro-zealot would (publicly) agree with those words. In fact even a Euro-socialists would. Nonetheless, that's not to say that they would mean it. That is, publicly a European socialist MEP, for example, would agree with i) above but nonetheless quite possibly be working towards dismantling border controls and indeed the nation state itself. It's just that he can't - as an MEP or Eurocrat - state such a thing in public. And of course even a British Euro-socialist can't argue against the UK “getting a better deal for British taxpayers” (not out-loud anyway).
Despite that, these Eurocrats, Euro-workers and Euro-zealots will most certainly have a problem with the Conservative Party's other two points:
In terms of i), the Euro-zealot would simply say:
An “even closer union”, as you put it, would itself secure more trade. So what's your problem?
This is what a Euro-sceptic could say to Cameron:
If the Conservative Party happily admits that “more trade” can be established without an “even closer union”, then perhaps even more trade than that can be established without any (political) union at all.
As for ii), such demands from the Conservative Party seem to attack the very essence of the EU.
What I mean by that is that the EU is not and never has been “all about economics and jobs” (as New Labour deceitfully said both about both the EU and mass immigration): it's also about - in the jargon - “common standards of justice” and “universal human rights”. Now if there are indeed common standards of justice and universal human rights, then who better to implement them and see that they are followed than the EU? Indeed who is better to punish those states – such as the UK – who infringe those common standards of justice and abuse those universal human rights? Yes, none other than the EU!
The UK's EU Contribution
The Conservative election leaflet offers us some suspect economic stats about the EU and the Conservative Party. Then again, virtually all economic stats - especially when offered up by political parties or by, for example, the Leftist economist Jonathan Portes - are suspect in some way.
For example, the leaflet says that the Conservative Party has “cut the EU budget, saving British taxpayers £8.15 billion”. That does sound a lot. However, it leaves out the time period in which those savings were made. It also depends on what the government – or the British taxpayer - contributed to the EU before that cut.
But there's a problem with this figure. In 2011 we contributed £5.85 billion. Now let's just say that the we have contributed around £5 billion each year since the Conservative Party was elected in 2010. That would roughly equal a £20 billion contribution to the EU since the Tories gained power. Now this leaflet claims to have “cut the EU budget” by “£8.15 billion”. So that's even more than a year's contribution to the EU. And that's seemingly equivalent to saying that in one year we contributed nothing to the EU. Remember, the Tories claims to have cut £8.15 billion from the EU budget (presumably meaning our contribution to it); yet we contribute around £5 billion a year. Again, that cut is more than a year's contribution. Have I gone wrong somewhere?
The EU Referendum
The Conservative Party communication on the May 22nd European elections says that the British public will “get the final decision on Britain's membership of the EU at an in/out referendum by the end of 2017”. So why is the promised date of 2017?
No doubt the Conservative Party has an answer to that question. The problem is, I couldn't find that answer. The answer cannot even to be found on its 'Let Britain Decide' website.
Firstly, why wasn't this promise made in the pre-2010 Conservative Party manifesto? Secondly, the issue of a referendum is even more pressing now because the actual British (not European) election is in 2015. (Clearly it is now too late to do anything about that.)
To state the obvious: 2017 is two years after the next election in 2015. Why? Is it because by then the Tories can see which way the wind is blowing before the election after that? That is, if they are out of power in 2017, then promising a referendum may be good for the party. However, if they are reelected in 2015, then a referendum in 2017 may not be so good. Decisions decisions.
I don't want to say even more evil things but it's quite possible that the referendum won't even happen in 2017 either – even if the Tories are elected in 2015. After all, one or even twice, political parties have been known to lie.
On David Cameron's previous statements about an EU referendum.
From what I know, the debates I've seen are mainly based on two statements Cameron made: both of which are on video. (One is from 2009 and the other is from after his election in 2011.) Some defenders - some of whom claim not to be Tories (though they're clearly pro-EU) - have said that he didn't offer us a referendum about actual membership of the EU in 2009 (or before that). He simply offered us a referendum “on the Lisbon Treaty or any other future EU treaty”. That appears to be correct.
But none of this really matters. What Cameron said before power (prior to 2010), or before an election (as in leaflet), and what he does after an election, are two entirely different things: as every British voter knows. British voters are fully aware that politicians promise certain things before an election and then - sometimes almost immediately – renege on those promises. That is, the British people know that politicians lie. In fact we've got so used to these lies that we expect them and have even learned to live with them - even if they do still piss us off.