Tuesday 25 October 2016

How Europe became the pivotal issue

Tim Stanley

Published 09/05/2015 | 02:30

<a href='http://cdn1.independent.ie/incoming/article31208055.ece/2b61a/binary/NEWS-ELECTION-GRAPHIC.png' target='_blank'>Click to see a bigger version of the graphic</a>
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WINNER TAKES ALL: Outgoing Labour leader Ed Miliband, outgoing Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and re-elected British Prime Minister David Cameron attend a ceremony at the Cenotaph in London to mark VE Day just hours after the Conservative Party defied all the polls and won an overall majority in the UK elections
Victorious David Cameron outside 10 Downing Street yesterday
Ed Miliband resigned as leader of the Labour party
Nick Clegg quit as Lib Dem leader

Stunning news on Thursday night as scientists discovered that the world doesn't revolve around Russell Brand.

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The defeat of Labour, its luvvie endorsers and their jaded narrative of "Tories Killed the NHS" is surprising not only because it contradicts the polls. It's also a shocker because the UK election was supposed to focus entirely upon the economy. Yet it ended up being a debate about the constitution.

In Scotland, nationalism was the key issue (and may have shifted a few votes in England, too). But just as important all over the UK was the European question. And it's surely going to be the biggest question for the next two years.

A key part of the Tory platform was the promise of an EU referendum by 2017.

It was vital to winning back disaffected Conservatives who had embraced Ukip, and it played a big role in the "don't waste your vote" campaign in the final days of the election.

It turned out to be a smart move: euroscepticism has been growing in Britain since the crash and the fast decline of the Eurozone and there's a feeling out there that the relationship between Westminster and Brussels needs to be renegotiated. The issue isn't just related to who writes what laws - the bête noire of the Right that is flung around with varying degrees of accuracy.

Indeed, people may not have consciously, explicitly voted with Europe in mind.

But Ukip has helped to tie Europe closer to immigration in people's minds by making the case that membership of the EU is responsible for mass migration - along with crowded hospitals, anarchic schools, falling wages, declining blue collar employment.


In other words, the commitment to hold an EU referendum represents in the minds of many voters the chance to "get our country back" in the broadest possible sense. It is one of the biggest and most important battles in the culture war.

If the Tories gained votes by exploiting the EU, Labour surely lost votes by ruling out a referendum. They say "don't kick a man while he's down" - but Ed Miliband needs a good pummelling on this one. By refusing to countenance a popular ballot, he gave away so much ground to the Right.

And, again, it spoke to something wider than just the specifics of the issue.

It confirmed the impression that Miliband was aloof and contemptuous of the opinions of ordinary voters. It also turned out to be the only thing he had to say about helping business - underscoring his lack of understanding about how to grow the economy.

If Labour proceeds by sticking to this orthodoxy that the EU is never up for renegotiation, it will continue to lose working-class English support.

They are totally out of touch with their traditional supporters on Europe. That they can't grasp this is surely at the root of their astonishing defeat.

But, of course, the EU referendum isn't a done deal. Having made it part of his manifesto, Cameron will actually have to deliver what he's promised - and he has U-turned before.

Eurosceptics of all stripes (for they exist on the Left as well as the Right) will have to hold him to that. In fact, they ought to start thinking right now about how to run their campaign .

A once-in-a-generation chance has emerged for the British people to retake control of their destiny. The establishment will doubtless rally to defeat it through a mix of honest argument, propaganda and media bias.

The British people have got to be ready for that. (© Daily Telegraph London)


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