Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Good God, I'm agreeing with Peter Mandelson about something!

Yes, in an article in the Guardian co-written with Alan Milburn and Stephen Byers (Milburn I kind of like for no good reason, Byers I also dislike), Mandelson has helped intelligently to analyse almost all that has been wrong with pro-European tactics in Britain.

This is, naturally, all in response to the Blair Referendum U-turn.

"The forces of anti-Europeanism have been allowed to get away with the most outrageous misrepresentation of the facts without being properly challenged." Damn straight they have - hence me setting this up over a year ago. (And then, like the rest of the pro-Europeans in this country, neglecting it utterly, assuming that there's no point as pro-European arguments are so patently sensible as to eventually convince everyone anyway.)

The only trouble is, the article is directed to "Labour pro-Europeans", not pro-Europeans from other parties (and let's face it, Labour will need a cross-party alliance to win this one). It also makes public doubts within the Yes Campaign that should probably have been kept behind closed doors. It makes the pro-European cause look in a state of abject disarray, and scared of a near-inevitable defeat. That'll only bolster the confidence of the Eurosceptics, and prompt even more lies and distortions about the nature of the EU.

Plus, of course, there's the problem that the article has been penned by two disgraced former ministers, Mandelson and Byers, whom nobody with any kind of political memory can possibly take seriously.

But nonetheless, perhaps through Milburn's influence, they make a lot of very salient points: "Of course, the European social model needs urgent modernisation and reform." Why don't the pro-Europeans admit this more often? If they did, it might convince some of the borderline Eurosceptics that we aren't all a bunch of Ted Heath idealists, dreaming of some kind of continental Utopia, but are actually astute enough to realise that the current set-up is nonsense, and needs urgent reform - hence the attempt to work out the Constitution in the first place. I mean, this is a bit long-winded, but it does the job:

"The case for Europe does not consist of some misty-eyed vision of European unity but a robust calculation of how we advance our national interest in the modern world, exploiting the economies of scale at our disposal, to the benefit of our businesses and trading potential, to create jobs and boost living standards - as well as maximising our protection and projecting our full continental strength in a world that is threatened by instability and lawlessness."

It's also hard to disagree with this one: "unless Europe gets its act together, the chances of America by itself sorting everything out are pretty near zero." A common European defence force and foreign policy would make a certain amount of sense. It also would have prevented Blair from committing us to invading Iraq despite a million-strong protest march through London last year, and despite the fact that no one sensible in this country wanted anything to do with it.

Unfortunately, at points the article descends to petty, inaccurate party rivalries: "the Conservative party is dominated by neo-liberal, Thatcherite ideologues whose world view is seen through a neo-con lens." What does that even mean? How can they be neo-liberal and neo-con at the same time?

The final paragraph is typical of politicians, in that it misses the broader picture: "Labour cannot afford to see Europe as of second-order importance. We cannot allow the anti-European press to win an anti-democratic triumph. The party's political future depends on it. We must unite behind the prime minister to achieve a historic victory."

This read as follows: "Britain cannot afford to see Europe as of second-order importance. We cannot allow the anti-European press to win an anti-democratic triumph. The country's political future depends on it. We must unite behind the prime minister to achieve a historic victory."

Much as it pains me, and much as I don't agree with everything in the Constitution in its current draft, we really do have to unite behind Blair on this one. Otherwise the whole European project could go to pot - and then where would we be? An isolated, rainy island, desperately running around after America for scraps of influence in a world that will have become too big for us. A fairly ignominious end for what was once the most powerful nation the world had ever seen...

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