In-out, shake-it-all-about…

So Cameron has finally delivered the much awaited Euro-speech, having had a stay of execution last week. Here is the Tribune column I did for the first issue of the new year, when we were first anticipating the thing – not a lot has changed really.

It was in the Monty Python film Life of Brian that the now well-worn phrase “what have the Romans ever done for us?” was famously uttered. As columns swirl around the commentariat and blogosphere from the right slamming our membership of the EU and urging an “in-out” referendum the rhetorical question posed by the John Cleese character could almost be adapted in into the singular with the word “Europe” as the cause of bafflement having had at best rather mysterious benefits to many.

Indeed the daily relevance of Europe and the job of the MEP might not seem obvious to many average voters yet there is an impressive list of achievements we can rack up. The EU goes much further than a purely economic remit.
Important social gains include maternity and paternity pay, consumer protection and working time directives. Even if thanks to Gordon Brown’s five economic tests did we never sign up to the Euro as our currency, UK EU membership has afforded us unfettered access to the world’s largest single market of 500 million. The work continues. The Commission has recently proposed package of measures to promote youth employment known as the Youth Guarentee.
We are best off at the heart of Europe rather than carping from the sidelines. We cannot take a pick-and-mix approach in the Cameroonian way. It’s sad to see any business go to the wall but he should remember that Woolworths business model failed.

Cameron is deluded to think the UK has the right to isolate itself with its unilateral insistence on its own EU changes. His recent macho tough-taking statements suggesting that he cherry-pick are more a showing off exercise to appease his Eurosceptics thereby putting the Tory party before British long-term interest. If he does allow them their much craved for referendum given a choice between a campaign mounted by the “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” of UKIP (his words) in one corner and the sensible mainstream in the other the result could counter-intuitively see the British public opting to remain in the EU.

Indeed the Tories are deeply divided spanning those like Ken Clarke (who I remember encountering at a Britain in Europe dinner organised by the now defunct pro-Euro pressure group in the run-up to the 2004 European election) to right-wing ideologues of the 2010 MP intake. In a Guardian column Peter Mandelson has written that the way the Conservatives are tearing themselves Labour party in the 1980s. Conservative splits in the 1990s over the very same issue denied them power for thst entire decade, something unprecedented for the modern Tories who hitherto had been an election winning machine.

Notwithstanding the fact many of the EU’s detractors seem to derive their living from it: like Nigel Farrage MEP or Tory rightwinger Daniel Hanan MEP, last weekend’s Daily Mail poll projects a big win for Labour the European Elections predicting it’s on course to more than double its current total to scoop 31 seats. Of course we have over a year to go so Labour should not lose its nerve. Surely the most sensible way to put the brakes on any centralising EU tendencies is institutional reform, as argued for by Ed Miliband, rather than jeopardising influence and repelling investment with this simplistic posturing.

When Cleese asked the Life of Brian question in that political game-changing year 1979 his audience reminded him of Roman improvements leading to his own admission “apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health…” All progressives (Lib Dems too if they have the backbone) need to not lose sight of making the positive case for Europe between now and 2014.

We were told that when it happened it’d be worth the wait, apparently like tantric sex. More like an anti-climax I’d say…