No one should ever face negative responses – like the tedious political cries of ‘U-turn’ – for changing their minds after mature reflection and/or more and better information.
There is, however, a role for consistency and straight dealing.
We have always been of the view that the Prime Minister has been playing games with the British people on the issue of the UK’s EU membership, teasing us with suggestions that there might be a referendum of the issue [but, if at all, not until the next parliament] – while having no serious interest of Britain moving on.
Allowing the British public to hope that they can at last have a vote on continuing our EU membership or not, has stoked the sort of responses Mr Cameron hopes will strengthen his hand in negotiating with the EU for the repatriation to Britain of some of the powers it had ceded to Brussels.
Those responses to his teasing have, however, roused the EU and America to come out baldly and more or less instruct the UK not to consider moving out. In each case, this stance is born of their own interests, not of the UK.
The UK is America’s ‘trusty’ within the EU and the Obama administration’s mouthpiece who spoke out, Philip Gordon, a senior official in the US State Department, actually said that said it was in America’s interests to see a “strong British voice within the EU”.
On their part the EU needs Britain’s political status as well as its ‘net contributor’ role to help caulk its leaking timbers. The makeweight President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, was also shocked into speaking without disguise, saying that the UK Prime Minister’s drive to take back powers from Brussels could cause the EU to fall apart quickly and inflict immense damage on the single market,
These signs of alarm actually mean that David Cameron, if he keeps his nerve – not his strongest suit – could win the game he set out to play. Whether or not that is the right game to play, never mind to win, is another matter.
But at home David Cameron has stripped off five or six of his seven veils in his teasing and has raised popular expectations of a referendum on UK membership of the EU to the point that he must now either fulfill them straightforwardly or pay the electoral price for a no-show.
He is also constantly having to trim his tacking to keep the burgeoning UKIP at bay and to lash together the fighting ferrets in his own sack. These are the Tory Eurosceptics in bis own party and the pro-EU Liberal Democrats who, having found a policy, hang on to it like the drowning men they are, whatever the circumstances that suggest a need for a rethink.
And today, following the PM ‘s pronouncement that the UK ‘would be mad to leave Europe’, Treasury Secretary, Colonsay’s own Danny Alexander, has attempted to leverage the Lib Dem position by declaring that ‘No responsible leader could contemplate leaving the EU”. This is a pretty witless statement. So no responsible leader could ever contemplate leaving the EU – regardless of its condition, of its actions or of its demands?
This cloth-eared carte blanche is, however, much less likely to relate to Alexander’s judgment than to making his mark in ongoing struggles within the Treasury for Cameron’s ear. It is unlikely to be a coincidence that it is only a few days since Alexander’s boss, chancellor George Osborne, issued the strongest yet British position statement, saying that the EU ‘must change’ if it is to avoid a UK departure.
The converse of Alexander’s sally this afternoon is, of course, the reality. Any responsible leader has to contemplate rationally today what was unthinkable yesterday before coming to a decision.
Times change and we all know the moment when yesterday’s clothes no longer fit.
Note: What will focus Mr Cameron’s concentration, in advance of the major speech he has been trailed to make on Europe, in Europe, by the end of the month, is that a ComRes poll to be published tomorrow on UK voting intentions for the 2014 European parliamentary elections, is showing UKIP in second place to Labour, one point ahead of the Tories.