I didn’t start this blog to gripe about Lib Dems doing dumb stuff, but those MEPs and Lords mouthing off to the media about Cameron’s Brussels veto are making our party look like naiive Euro-Federalists with no regard for our national interest. Oakeshott, Davies et al are running against the grain of public opinion and the press are seizing on this to damage the Lib Dems.
On the substantive issue, all the OMG about the veto is as much froth. This won’t change Britain’s relationship with the EU on a fundamental level: Europe needs Britain, Britain needs Europe. Most countries joined the EU for free trade and the common market, not French protectionism or German domination.
Whipping up a frenzy over the issue is purely domestic politics, on all sides: the British right wants to present this as a victory; Sarkozy has an election coming up, so has domestic reasons of his own for giving Cameron the cold shoulder and railing against the City of London. Diplomacy sometimes involve sticking to your negotiating positions. Compromise is not always possible. There wasn’t a politician around that negotiating table who didn’t understand that.
The British public are broadly Eurosceptic, and Cameron will have won himself a great deal of support. You only have to look at the popular press to see that. The media is also entirely hostile to the Liberal Democrats, so it’s no surprise that they are encouraging Europhile Lib Dems commit political automutliation on our behalf.
So we have extremist Europhiles Chris Davies MEP and Lord Oakeshott going on TV claiming to represent the Liberal Democrats. We have “senior Liberal Democrats” (although this could mean anything) briefing the press anonymously that this means that Clegg may not be able to control the party any more, there will be a Lib Dem revolt over this, and the UK government will fall. I believe that all they are doing is confirming public suspicions that the Lib Dems are not sound on Europe.
I don’t even vote Lib Dem in European elections, and I’m obviously not the only one: in the 2009 Euro elections the Lib Dems got 13% of the vote and came fourth. There are huge numbers of Lib Dem voters and members who still can’t stomach Chris Davies and our MEP contingent.
It’s always worth mentioning that Nick Clegg’s chapter in the Orange Book is about the EU, and remains one of the best statements of a liberal, British position on Europe that I have ever read. It starts from the position that the EU is broadly a good thing, but that it is an imperfect system and still in desperate need of reform.
British interests need fighting for, and it’s hard to see how any liberal could agree to a treaty that legislates against democratic, local budgeting decisions and enshrines in international law a strictly European People’s Party view of economic governance.
MPs like Nick Clegg and Simon Hughes are doing a good job of presenting a sensible liberal position on this, but their work is being undermined by noisy, unpopular Federalists.