David Cameron’s just given in his long awaited speech on Europe. Not much in the way of surprises. He wants a referendum to sort out the democratic deficit at home (code for getting the UKIP monkey off his back on the way into the next general election), and to open negotiation with a Europe that is already wracked by terminal indecision over the far deeper problem of the Euro mess.
Public negotiations to try to squeeze Labour are taking place already on Twitter:
— Tim Montgomerie (@TimMontgomerie) January 23, 2013
Cameron’s problem may be that the proposition is too complicated to signal anything clearly enough to do him the good he wants out of this. So, for now, his position is that he wants a referendum. If negotiations are successful, he will clearly back an IN vote.
The reforms he’s looking for are relatively modest (which they need to be in order to engage any attention with European leaders who have more on their plate than democratic deficits. As Ian Birrell notes:
DC speech seen as a gamble for UK. But also an important moment for EU: do they close ranks or sort out democratic deficit & vast wastage?
— Ian Birrell (@ianbirrell) January 23, 2013
Let’s just ignore some of the hurdles, and presume Cameron finds a way to get something past the Europeans. Will it satisfy UKIP? Tim Stanley again:
Ukip has grown in the past 5 years to the point where it’s a more complex, multifaceted vote than it was before – and its supporters are angry with the Tories over more than just its equivocal stance on the EU (gay marriage, wind farms, taxes, greenbelt building etc). Critically, Ukip’s base is motivated by a deep suspicion of the political establishment in its entirety, and many will judge that they can’t actually trust Cameron to deliver on his promise.
We’ve seen splinter parties come and go, but UKIP has this much in its favour. It knows its own irritant value, and has exploited it beautifully over the last ten years. Where there are negotiations there are favours to be won. A seat pact may well bare them some fruit at Westminster for the first time. Something they have been preparing for quite some time.
Ironically, having the Tories lose the next election would suit UKIP, especially if Labour follow Martin Kettle’s advice and choose not to call a referendum. They could grab what value there is to be had from Cameron and get to continue their permanent revolution against Britain’s technocratic elites.
The question is how motivated will Labour be to shoot the fox that’s eating Mr Cameron’s chickens?
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty