Saturday, 19 December 2015
The Road Less Travelled
David Cameron has come home from Brussels with a pathway. Not a deal, not just a ‘road map’ either, but an actual pathway. We don’t know the details; is it a gravel path with nice, tidy picket fencing up the side, or is it a meandering trail leading through dense forest? It might even be a nice paved ‘sidewalk’ leading... who knows where? And that’s a problem, isn’t it, because nobody on the outside knows where this pathway leads. Angela knows, as does Jean-Claude and so, of course, does Shiny Dave, but none of them are going to tell us that it leads, inevitably, to ever-closer union. They can’t tell you that, can they, because that would be yet another thing that Nigel Farage has been right about all along.
Nobody really knows, either, if Douglas Carswell is a fifth columnist for the Conservatives, a solitary cuckoo in the Ukip nest, although I’ve long suspected Carswell is out mainly for personal glory. But Cameron, Farage, Carswell, Merkel and Uncle Tom Cobbley and all are just part of the scenery along this pathway. Distractions to obfuscate and blur the lines; means to allow the campaign of fear to set the agenda for the referendum whose apparently simple question is: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” and that is the problem. What does this actually mean? What WILL we be voting for? And here’s the crux – nobody really knows.
A 40-year long grievance is “They said we were voting to stay in a Common Market, not a United States of Europe!” and this overly simplistic version of the big event of 1975 suits both pros and cons just fine, even though that is not what it is about at all. Common markets are no longer the way the world works. If you have something somebody else wants a way will be found to do the trade, and barriers such as punitive tariffs and customs unions are just bureaucratic confections of a bygone age. In the connected world of today, anything is possible. No, it’s not about trade alone.
Immigration then? A common complaint levelled at Ukip is that they only ever go on about immigration, which makes them evil and once again, suits both camps just fine. The Outers get to complain about Cultural Marxism and the Inners get to shout racist as loudly and as often as they can. But it’s not about that, either, not that alone. What then? Is it about who makes the laws, who controls the borders, our ‘place in the world’? Who our friend and enemies are? We are in a perpetual state of paranoia about that one and that, it appears, is exactly where they want us. It’s nuanced they say; trying to make it about binary choices is naïve.
And they have a point. The world is complex and that very complexity is the enemy of democracy. Every position on any aspect of the EU can be countered by an opposite narrative that has credibility. Look after our own borders, put out own first - or be stronger standing together? Specialise and dominate the market - or collaborate and reap the economies of scale? Is it a single currency that everybody understands - or a stifling constraint on money supply? And the EU commission is right, there can be no tailored pick’n’mix deal; it is all or nothing... except that ‘all’ is still nothing without the ability to take a different path when fortunes dictate.
How can a demos of ordinary working people, worried about job security, housing, education, healthcare, transport, defence and the like make informed decisions when for every piece of information there are a dozen nuanced interpretations of the consequences of choosing this way or that? I don’t want to live in a world that is too complicated for average people to understand because that leaves all the control in the hands of those who pull the levers and tweak the dials. It puts the power out of reach of those who supposedly decide, by voting, who has that power. And when they realise how impotent they are the only option left is to revolt, take up pitchforks and tear down the machines.
The inevitable fork in the rod metaphor!
But we do have a much simpler binary choice because unlike the rest of Europe we have an unshifting boundary which has served us as a moat for millennia. Yes, yes, yes, this is simplistic, but so too are any of the other criteria. This one, however, is the real question that should be put forward: “Do you wish the United Kingdom to be an independent sovereign nation, or do you wish to be a region of a country called Europe?” Of course it is a loaded and emotive question but look at a map. Europe will never go away, but neither will the opportunities it affords, in or out. Do you want to take the settled, once and for all path to independence, or do you choose the perpetual national neurosis of David Cameron’s chosen route? Do you want the cycle-path or the psycho-path?