Power to the people
by Richard North
The Mail on Sunday is all over the shop with this story. On the one hand, it is telling us that “a powerful cross-party coalition of MPs plans to put unprecedented pressure on the Government to pull back from Europe – as support grows at Westminster for Britain to leave the EU altogether”.
It thus has Tory MP Douglas Carswell telling us that support was growing for complete withdrawal from the EU, added that it would be as successful as the battle to keep the UK out of the single currency.
“There were three distinct stages in the fight to make sure we kept out of the euro”, he says. First came the stage when we were branded mad for wanting to stay out. Next they said it was OK in theory to stay out – but it was impractical to do so. Finally, we have got to the point where the same people are claiming it was always their idea all along.
Says Carswell, “We are following exactly the same pattern on the idea of quitting the EU completely. Most people have left stage one, and are currently poised somewhere between stage two and three”.
So … four cheers for Carswell and trebles all round … except that the Mail piece concludes with the message that campaigners see the chaos in the eurozone, triggered by the near certainty of Greece defaulting on its debt, as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to “refashion the EU” and “repatriate” key powers to Westminster.
In other words, this is exactly the “same old – same old” about which Booker and I (and many more) complain. That the Mail is all over the shop simply reflects the confusion in the ranks. In truth, the MPs have no idea where they are going, have little idea what they want, and even less idea how to get there.
Therein, in fact, lies the peril. Lower profile than they were during, say, the campaign to get Britain to join the single currency, the europhiles are still there – a dark, brooding presence, buoyed up with huge funding from the EU commission and other sources, and unanimity of purpose that, at the moment, we cannot match.
Here, I stick to my position, that renegotiation is not an option, but further add that, should a referendum be called, we could not guarantee a victory. Thinking strategically, I also take the view that leaving the EU would not make very much difference. Our entry to the communities and continued membership is simply a symptom of the decline of our political competence.
If we address the root cause of our problems, withdrawal becomes a necessary and almost incidental consequence – and something that is going to happen anyway, as the EU progressively collapses. Our focus then, should be on a post-EU political settlement, in much the same way that discussion during the Second World War focused on “peace aims” and the shape of Britain when the war had ended – thinking which ushered in the 1945 Attlee government.
To give him his due, Carswell – with his soul-mate Hannan – recognises that something more than EU withdrawal is needed. The pair have at least come up with their own template, called The Plan. The trouble is – for me, at least – is that I find their recipe no more alluring that what we have already.
Like so many superficial thinkers, this pair concentrate on the processes, rather than the realities of power. Their emphasis, therefore, is on creating additional tiers of elected officials, with insufficient attention given to how we control those officials. And, as we all know, elections are capable of giving us nothing other than an elective dictatorship, unless other measures are in place.
For sure, the deadly duo do doff their caps to the idea of direct democracy, but the main issue of importance is control over the annual budgets – at local and national levels. And in the nature of power, politicians are never going to accept the transfer of control over something as vital as the money tree.
Thus, as always, if we the people want such power, we are going to have to take it. There is an absolute truth here, which we must confront. Power of any consequence is never given. It always has to be taken. We need people power, but we are going to have to take it. No one is going to hand it to us on a plate.
Based on recent experiences and long-term thinking, I have some ideas of how to make this happen. I will start addressing our own “plan” tomorrow, as I attempt to pull together the threads. They, the political classes, are weaker than they look. The time is right for change. Even a small number of determined people is sufficient to bring them down.