Most papers are full of back-slapping panegyrics for Dave ‘David’ Cameron. I wasn’t around when Wellington came back from that field in Belgium, but I doubt the accolades he received were of greater intensity. Nor, I don’t think, did the then mayor of London congratulate the Iron Duke on having ‘played a blinder’. Wellington, as school children used to be taught, won the battle of Waterloo. Which battle did Dave win?
The taxes and regulations that were aimed at the heart of the City haven’t been retargetted. The treasonous Maastricht treaty still bears a British signature. The European Human Rights court still has jurisdiction here, and innumerable EU regulations are still in force. Dave, say the pundits, has distanced Britain from the rest of the EU. He did, in the sense in which a dog on a long lead is farther away from its owner than one on a short lead. But the dog can’t run away.
At the same time, the sideline and isolation merchants are screaming themselves hoarse. Because of Dave’s putative heroism, they emote, Britain won’t be able to affect decisions made by the EU. That’s tragic. Hold on a second, let me wipe my eyes. I’m bleeding inside and all that, but is one allowed to suggest that the EU won’t be the only place to hold us in such contempt? At the time of this writing, Britain can neither veto nor vet the decisions made by the US Congress. The Chinese also stubbornly keep us out of the loop. And even the ungrateful Commonwealth countries insist on thinking for themselves, as a result of which bloody-mindedness Australia, say, managed to escape the worst ravages of the debt crisis. And it’s not as if decisions made by other governments didn’t affect us. They do, as they are bound to in a globalised economy. And yet do they ever ask us? Do they, hell.
The difference, you’ll say, is that Britain isn’t yet the fifty-first state of America, but she is a member of the EU. This is true. It’s precisely the problem. And this problem Dave didn’t solve. In fact he only did two things of any importance: 1) he made a grand-stand symbolic gesture that for the time being seems to have sufficed to mollify his party and hold the coalition together, and 2) he drove Sarkozy satisfyingly close to apoplexy, thereby pleasing no end those of us who are blessed with a keen aesthetic sense.
Dave ‘David’ has climbed onto a high moral ground, but, not to come tumbling down from it, he must take the country out of the EU altogether. Then we’d be able to treat the EUSSR in exactly the same way as we treat the USA, China or Brazil. Actually perhaps better than that, for, superficial similarities notwithstanding, I’m convinced that culturally Britain has more in common with France than with the USA, to say nothing of China or Brazil. Friendly aloofness would work wonders: if they wanted to trade with us, we’d be all too happy to oblige. If they attacked our finance industry with protectionist laws, we could respond in kind by introducing retaliatory protectionist measures that would hurt them more than they could hurt us. If they wished to take issue with our foreign policy, or we with theirs, then NATO institutions would provide an ideal arena to settle differences and coordinate policy. And we could even give Sarkozy a free copy of Debrett’s Etiquette for Young Ladies, to help him learn good manners and stop behaving like a hyperactive child with learning difficulties. But we must get out first.
When the trimphant Dave has finished doing his laps in the chariot, showered with laurel wreaths and flowers, perhaps he could get around to the actual business of a good British government. Running sensible budgets. Rebuilding our manufacturing capacity. Rolling back the welfare state. Creating a favourable investment climate for our friends around the world. Protecting the realm. Returning to education that educates. Doing whatever a government can do to invigorate the church (which isn’t much, but every little bit helps). Formulating a foreign policy based on our national interests, rather than those of a foreign power. That’s the kind of blinder he ought to be playing. PR flackery can wait.