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Wednesday, October 31, 2012 

Cameron gets the shit touch.

Here's a political concept that some people seem to have difficulty understanding: when in opposition, what you do first and foremost is oppose.  As long as you stay within certain boundaries, you can be as opportunistic, hypocritical and shameless as you like if the overall goal is to make the government look divided and weak, as well as pursuing the wrong policy.  The Tories, notably, did the opposite while Blair was still perched in Downing Street, supporting him and the other Blairites on academies while the party's own backbenchers voted against.  The end result?  Michael Gove's continuing attempts to wrest control of schools away from local authorities as a whole, and the almost certain eventual insertion of privatisation into education.

There are obviously limits to this approach.  Doing it too near to an election is to treat the electorate for fools; and you can't go from one extreme position to the other without doing much the same, unless the facts have changed.  For the most part, Labour have obeyed these rules: it's questionable whether opposing giving more money to the IMF achieved anything for instance, especially when err, Eurozone economies not collapsing is clearly a good thing all round, but otherwise the two Eds have mainly played safe.

While you can see why some of those who are pro-Europe within the party have then objected to today's decision to vote with the headbangers on the Tory right, it still made perfect political sense.  David Cameron after all keeps telling us that he wants to stay in the EU, but there has to be a fundamental renegotiation of our membership.  Presumably then he'd support a cut in the EU's budget in real terms, as the amendment supported by Labour called for?  Well, no.  Ever since his cack-handed "veto" last year which achieved precisely nothing, the rest of Europe have treated us pretty much as we deserve: as whining carpers who've spent the past 40 years in a perpetual sulk.  Even if Cameron wields his "veto" again, all that will happen is the budget will roll over, or increase automatically.  He's not going to win whatever happens.

For Labour, the defeat of the government is a fantastic achievement.  It's the first significant defeat for the coalition in parliament, and it came on the day Ed Miliband compared Cameron to John Major.  If anything, Cameron's predicament on Europe is worse than it was for Major: he might have had his "bastards", but they for the most part didn't want to be out of the EU completely.  This current lot do, and Cameron knows that's something he can't possibly deliver, not least due to how the vast majority of business is quite rightly opposed to leaving.  The more he talks up what he's going to do and the more he fails to achieve anything whatsoever, the more the anti-EU vote is going to desert the Tories and turn to UKIP, improving Labour's chances in the marginal constituencies they need to win back.

Moreover, calling for a cut in the budget is the right policy, whether you want to stay in the EU or not.  When member states are across the board introducing austerity, rightly or otherwise, it's absurd that the union should be getting an above inflation budget increase.  Any comparisons with what Labour did in 2005 are beside the point when the EU was about to expand eastwards and the economy was growing strongly.  In any case, no one's going to remember in 3 years time whether Labour's position was cynical or not; if they recall it at all it'll be that Cameron couldn't get his party to support him.  For a while it seemed as though it was George Osborne who couldn't do anything right.  Now the shit touch seems to have been transmitted to the prime minister as well.

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