David Cameron gave his keynote speech at the Conservative party conference today. There’s a transcript here. It wasn’t a bad speech – not his best, but reasonable. But some of it annoyed me… Cameron showed a strong belief in standing together against globalization, and then expected plaudits when he shouted down such an approach in the European Council.
And the Olympics showed us something else.
Whether our athletes were English, Scottish, Welsh or from Northern Ireland…
….they draped themselves in one flag.
Now, there’s one person who didn’t like that…
…and he’s called Alex Salmond.
I’m going to see him on Monday to sort that referendum on independence by the end of 2014.
There are many things I want this coalition to achieve but what could matter more than saving our United Kingdom…
…let’s say it: we’re better together and we’ll rise together – so let’s fight that referendum with everything we’ve got.
Contrast that with…
Here’s something else this party’s done in government.
Last December I was at a European Council in Brussels.
It was three in the morning, there was a treaty on the table that was not in Britain’s interests…
…and twenty five people around that table were telling me to sign it.
But I did something that no other British leader has ever done before…
…I said no – Britain comes first – and I vetoed that EU treaty.
We’re doing big, Conservative things.
“We’re better together, and we’ll rise together” compared with “Britain comes first”. Anyone noticing a double-standard?
Those of you who’ve read me regularly will know I’m vehemently pro-European. But what bothers me most about the europhobe camp is the fact that they so clearly ignore their own arguments when it suits them. Apparently, we’re all better together. And I believe it’s true. We’re living in the era of globalisation. As Cameron said “We are in a global race today. And that means an hour of reckoning for countries like ours. Sink or swim. Do or decline.” That’s true. It’s why I can’t truly support Scottish or Welsh independence, though I am a strong believe in localism and regional autonomy. As barriers come down, as the world gets smaller, the small get squeezed out.
Even Britain. We currently punch well above our weight. We assume “[t]hat we can earn our living as a major industrial country…and we will always remain one.” But “[i]t has fallen to us to say – we cannot assume that any longer. ” I agree with Cameron thus far. But then why is he acting so negatively towards our membership of the world’s largest market?
If Britain is to compete in the new globalised world, Britain needs to make friends, not enemies. The very fact that Cameron was in a situation where it was 26 vs 1, shows a lack of leadership and strategy. It used to be that Sweden and the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, could be counted on to support British free-market interests. When Cameron has alienated even then, it is a tragic day for Britain.
It isn’t even true that the old countries are on their way down. If we take a look at the following graph, the Guardian has made it look like our export market is ever increasing in the developing world, countries such as the BRICS of India, China, and Russia. Which is true, our exports there are increasing, and faster than to most European countries or Commonwealth states. But it takes a second-look to notice that our trade with China and India combined is still less than our exports to Ireland. Add in Russia and Hong Kong, and it’s still only equal to our exports to France. And despite Cameron’s attitude, our trade is still growing with the vast majority of Europe.
And while Cameron argues that the Old World is “sclerotic, over-regulated, spending money on unaffordable welfare systems, huge pension bills, unreformed public services”, that ignores that Asia is building welfare states across the continent. The demographic crisis that is going to hit China necessitates at least some form of a welfare state. It’s true that they’re not very regulated – but that’s not always a great thing. Remember, regulation is what stops our children’s toys being slathered with poisonous lead paint.
It may be true that while we are, at present, having a tough time across Europe “on the other side of the world, China is moving so fast it’s creating a new economy the size of Greece every three months” it doesn’t matter to us if they aren’t buying what we have to sell.
As László Andor, EU Social Affairs Commissioner said today in an interview with the FT, Cameron’s attempts to curtail the right of Europeans to live and work in Britain merely serves to damage our economy. Why should we close our doors to the best and brightest, when instead they could contribute to our economy. When the UK economy benefits to the tune of £90bn per year from levy-free trade throughout the 27 country European Union, and yet only pays an £8bn contribution to the EU for access… I cannot find a better example of “we’re better together, and we’ll rise together”. I just wish Cameron would wake up to this.