The speech - as a speech

How did Cameron's speech measure up?

Did Cameron do Britain proud?
Charles Crawford
On 23 January 2013 16:32

So, how was it for you? Not so much in policy terms, but as an actual speech?

It started with the usual windy European self-congratulation, mixed metaphors, and horrible clunky lists. Much of this should have been savaged by ruthless editing:

Healing those wounds of our history is the central story of the European Union...

Today, hundreds of millions dwell in freedom, from the Baltic to the Adriatic, from the Western Approaches to the Aegean…

The map of global influence is changing before our eyes. And these changes are already being felt by the entrepreneur in the Netherlands, the worker in Germany, the family in Britain... From Caesar’s legions to the Napoleonic Wars. From the Reformation, the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution to the defeat of Nazism. We have helped to write European history, and Europe has helped write ours…

[Memo to number 10 speechwriters: lists like this are what dim but keen sixth formers work up for the debating society -- omit]

It then made this important claim:

Our geography has shaped our psychology. We have the character of an island nation – independent, forthright, passionate in defence of our sovereignty. We can no more change this British sensibility than we can drain the English Channel. And because of this sensibility, we come to the European Union with a frame of mind that is more practical than emotional...

Does this mean that for some unexplained reason people who live on the mainland European continent are ipso facto more likely to be emotional than practical? The fascinating idea that geography shapes political culture could have been developed: I recall discussing it wittily during my final civil service exams in 1979.

Moving on:

For us, the European Union is a means to an end - prosperity, stability, the anchor of freedom and democracy both within Europe and beyond her shores - not an end in itself.

This is a huge point, thrown in almost as padding. It needed developing, not least to acknowledge the idealism that others in the EU, much to our own mystification, earnestly  profess.

We move to substance:

I don’t just want a better deal for Britain. I want a better deal for Europe too.

What is the significance of the qualifier "just" and those shifty comparatives? Less is more: "I want a good deal for Britain. I want a good deal for Europe".

Things pick up, with thick rhetorical repetition working quite well:

More of the same will not secure a long-term future for the Eurozone. More of the same will not see the European Union keeping pace with the new powerhouse economies. More of the same will not bring the European Union any closer to its citizens. More of the same will just produce more of the same – less competitiveness, less growth, fewer jobs. And that will make our countries weaker not stronger.

Part of what the Prime Minister is up to in this speech is trailing ideas and hints for the sort of package he hopes to recommend to the British people in a few years' time. Fair enough. But the risk is that the examples used seem banal in the context of the big picture problems he is discussing (see also his reference later to the impact of the hateful Working Time Directive on the NHS):

It is nonsense that people shopping online in some parts of Europe are unable to access the best deals because of where they live ...  I want us to be pushing to exempt Europe’s smallest entrepreneurial companies from more EU Directives

It’s all very well arguing for "more Europe" in these prosaic areas. Brussels elites are already retorting that if the member states such as the UK were not so prissy about their sovereignty this could be done far faster.

This next passage is philosophically good, and another hint at what the U.K.'s eventual package might include:

Let me make a further heretical proposition. The European Treaty commits the Member States to “lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.

This has been consistently interpreted as applying not to the peoples but rather to the states and institutions compounded by a European Court of Justice that has consistently supported greater centralisation.

We understand and respect the right of others to maintain their commitment to this goal. But for Britain – and perhaps for others – it is not the objective. And we would be much more comfortable if the Treaty specifically said so freeing those who want to go further, faster, to do so, without being held back by the others.

Likewise this:

We need to have a bigger and more significant role for national parliaments. There is not, in my view, a single European demos.

It is national parliaments, which are, and will remain, the true source of real democratic legitimacy and accountability in the EU. It is to the Bundestag that Angela Merkel has to answer. It is through the Greek Parliament that Antonis Samaras has to pass his Government’s austerity measures. It is to the British Parliament that I must account on the EU budget negotiations, or on the safeguarding of our place in the single market.

Those are the Parliaments which instil proper respect – even fear – into national leaders. We need to recognise that in the way the EU does business.

The speech perhaps wisely does not go into any detail as to how that should be done, but I would have liked to see a strong swipe at the European Parliament as currently constituted, if only to show a steely determination on this key question.

Probably the toughest issue facing London in all this is how member states in the Eurozone will relate to non-Eurozone member states. The speech tackles this using the language of fairness:

My fifth principle is fairness: whatever new arrangements are enacted for the Eurozone, they must work fairly for those inside it and out. That will be of particular importance to Britain.

As I have said, we will not join the single currency. But there is no overwhelming economic reason why the single currency and the single market should share the same boundary, any more than the single market and Schengen.

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