This morning was one of those seismic historical moments which changed Britain’s political trajectory.
Britain’s relationship with Europe changed irreversibly with Prime Minister David Cameron’s long-awaited speech on our relationship with and within the EU. That does not mean Berlin, Paris, Madrid or Rome were surprised but it does mean the semantic cartwheels and ambiguous description of where the UK’s position is in the European Union are over.
Britain’s view, through David Cameron’s big speech this morning at Bloomberg in Central London, has been made clear: we want to negotiate repatriation of a number of powers from the EU, which we will then put to the British people in an “In or Out” Referendum. If the British people like what they see after the negotiation, they’ll vote to stay in the EU; if they don’t, the United Kingdom will exit the European Union entirely – no Norway model, full exit. The choice will be made by 2017.
BUT. And it’s a big BUT.
The Conservative Party needs to win the General Election in 2015. Mr Cameron’s speech today has certainly improved their chances. But the EU is not the only issue which causes disaffected Tory activists to defect to UKIP. The Coalition Government’s continued policy of uncontrolled immigration, a lacklustre handling of the economy which may mean Britain is heading for a triple-dip recession, and still no plan from Cameron & Clegg on how to get the banks lending to small-business owners and prospective house buyers are, actually, further up the priority list for UKIP-minded people than the European Union.
There’s also another factor at play. As soon as David Cameron had finished describing his vision for the EU and offering an “In or Out” referendum, his yellow peril sidekick, Nick Clegg, was sniping at the sidelines that the PM was not “acting in the national interest” over Europe. This weight around Mr Cameron’s ankle will continue to cause immense harm to the Tories’ prospects of winning a majority at the next General Election – that and the most powerful indicator of electoral success: the economy. George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, has merely snipped at the Government department budgets when there should be wholesale slashing and burning of wasteful bureaucracy and pointless quangos to cut down on how much Government the taxpayer is forced to buy each month out of their decreased or stagnate wages. Above all, it is the state of an elector’s finances which will decide how they vote in May 2015. “It’s the economy, stupid”, as a former US president once said.
Credit where credit is due: David Cameron has done well today. He has grasped the nettle whilst confusing the hell out of Labour, which can only be good for Conservative prospects. I personally would like to see an “In or Out” EU Referendum before 2015 but let’s be under no false pretences: this can’t happen. The Liberal Democrats would not stand for it and would implode the Government and then there would be no majority to get the Referendum legislation through parliament. This post-2015 promise from Cameron is the only way of placating his Tory backbenchers and bringing some UKIP defectors back to the Tory fold. But will it be enough to give him the keys to No.10 in his own right. You know what? I’m not sure it is.