Monday, October 22, 2007

The New EU Treaty's effect on the Labour Government

Some commentators are predicting that it will be like Maastricht. I don't think so. Britain has changed utterly since the early 1990's.

Though the Single European Act was signed in 1985, it didn't come into effect till 1 Jan 1993, which meant that Britain in 1991-1993 was still a country trapped on it's island looking fearfully outwards, with some older people like Nicholas Ridley muttering darkly about how the re-unification of Germany was sure to mean that World War Three was imminent. In this atmosphere, scare-mongering about Europe was easy.

In addition, when the Single Act came into force it contained many things that upset Tory little Englanders, such as health and safety regulations, which the anti-Maastricht people latched onto as a reason not to ratify any further treaties. The Sun began to campaign about the latest directive from Brussels (including many directives that didn't actually exist outside the Sun's imagination).

Stupider Tories blamed a conspiracy of eurocrats. Actually it was all the work of the Blessed Margaret, who had instigated and signed the Single Act some eight years previously. Mrs T did give a good defence of the provisions of the Treaty in her Autobiography, but few of her supporters bothered to read it. Indeed to this day they maintain that the Single Act merely removed tariff barriers. Actually tariff barriers were removed in 1968. The Single Act was about removing non-tariff barriers by harmonising health and safety and other standards. I think Tories practice self-delusion so that they don't have to admit to themselves that the only way to have stopped the EU harmonisation was to have voted for the then anti-EU Labour party in 1983.

Outside this mad Tory bubble though, Brits in general didn't fret too much about harmonisation, but focussed instead on another aspect of the Treaty which had just come into force in 1993 - freedom of movement. Booze cruises became popular overnight. Shows started to be made about the idyllic life lived by Brits in Provence. When the 1997 election came, people enthusiastically voted for New Labour's pledge to put Britain at the heart of Europe, and dumped the Tory eurosceptics.

By 1999, shows such as "A Place in the Sun" were drawing millions of viewers, and Brits had got into the habit of popping to Europe on the new low-cost airlines for their stag dos, and for any reason really. As property started to recover at home, some people cashed in to move permanently abroad. Meanwhile in France, newspapers started producing articles with titles such as "I went to London and got a job in a day!" Young Europeans moved to London and met and married Brits.

When the Eastern European countries joined, there was again a two-way movement. British property entrepreneurs went to snap up deals, and young easterners came here to work (and again, many have married Brits).

And now we have this new reform Treaty that will make the EU more efficient, and the euro-sceptic newspapers are promising to oppose it every bit as much as they did Maastricht in 1992, some of them using the same tired arguments as in 1992.

Only the readership of these newspapers has declined sharply since then, even while the population has increased, and Brits are enjoying their EU benefits and european connections too much to stir up angst over Europe (polls show that Europe hardly features in people's list of concerns). Besides, the euro-sceptic press didn't really make a difference to public opinion in the 1990s - people voted in droves for Blair's europhile New Labour and proudly watched him go to France and make a speech in French. So why should they make a difference now, when we are so much more integrated with Europe? There's a reason that 1983 Labour manifesto is known as the longest suicide note in history - it would be lovely if Tories adopted it's anti-EU provisions for the next election...


Hughes Views said...

I think you're probably correct.

The only party with anything much to fear over the EU issue is the Conservative party. Already Cameron is being dragged into quicksand by those in his party who are demanding that he commit now to a retrospective treaty-ratification referendum should he ever become PM.

European unity has caused major headaches to every Tory leader right back to Churchill's days and it seems that it will continue to bother them well into the new century.

Labour's best tactic might be to let the head-banging sceptics get on with it – the more they rant the dafter they look to the majority of Britons...

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