“Literally eating our lunch”

John Rentoul

cameron miliband 1972329c 300x187 Literally eating our lunchToday the Prime Minister and three people who want his job all made significant speeches. David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Boris Johnson all spoke at the CBI, while David Davis, who has not forgiven Cameron for beating him to the Conservative leadership seven years ago, spoke at the St Stephen’s Club, where Cameron used to give his news conferences.

Of these, Davis’s was the least important but possibly the most entertaining. Although Johnson’s was no doubt also witty, even if he left out a joke about drinking urine.

But Cameron’s and Miliband’s were the important speeches, and for the first time I thought the Leader of the Opposition gave a better speech than the Prime Minister.

Cameron’s “we’re at war” rhetoric was a bit ill-judged, I thought. You know what he’s getting at, but there is something a little alarming about the lack of proportion, the analogy between selling insurance to the Chinese with fighting Nazism. People don’t want to be told to plant potatoes in their garden and rip out their metal railings for the war effort to undercut Guangzhou. They want to be told that we have the happy, shiny, creative graduates to ensure that we go on making money out of speaking English and being cleverer than everyone else.

Even worse is the idea that the war effort requires the tearing up of planning law and the building of substandard houses on the green bits. Although the stuff about ending equality impact assessments was (a) sensible and (b) has been done already.

So to Miliband’s speech. I don’t see the point of doing speeches without a text for the sake of it. But this was better because he knew what he was saying and he said it clearly. He had decided to do something brave and interesting, namely to argue for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union. This may have been “brave” in the Yes, Minister sense, but at least let’s have foolishness if it means a leader sets out a position at odds with public opinion and defends it.

As someone who thinks that the idea of the UK leaving the EU is intellectually respectable and quite possibly right, I have to say that Miliband’s speech was even slightly persuasive (blame Labour for the line breaks):

What about the case for leaving?
I think we need to take that case seriously.
Some will say Britain can stand alone in the world.
Like Norway or Switzerland.
Of course we could do that.
But we would be weaker, not stronger, as a result.
Those in favour of leaving the EU say we could still be part of the single market.
They may be right.
But who would set the rules?
Not us.
It would be those within the European Union.
We would live by rules that we have no say in making ourselves.
Still contributing to the EU Budget, as Norway does, but voiceless and powerless.
Unable to change the terms of trade.
And in or out of the European Union, we will be affected by whether the European economy is growing or not.
The best place for Britain is to be at the table, seeking to shape the economic direction of Europe.
Do we want to be inside the room?
Or do we want to guarantee ourselves a place outside the room?
And then think about the world trade talks.
If we left the EU, be under no illusions, it would be the United States, China, the European Union in the negotiating room.
Literally eating our lunch.

Until that unexpected bathos, he was making a good case. Indeed, the argument is even stronger than that, in that we could not be sure, as Michael Gove apparently is, that the EU would allow us, as it allows the Swiss, tariff-free access to its market.

Miliband is certainly right about one thing: that now, or even soon, is not the time for a referendum. It would be bad for economic confidence and, besides (he did not say), the pro-EU side would probably win, which is why intelligent antis such as Davis don’t want it.

Photographs: AP/Rex

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  • Matt Tysoe

    Terrible, terrible day for democracy.

  • LJB57

    The Telegraph is now run by Femi-nazis!

  • Junius

    ‘But this was better because he knew what he was saying and he said it clearly.’

    You had the advantage of being able to read Ed Miliband’s lips. I listened to your esteemed colleague Steve Richards’ programme on Radio 4 last night, and, fair do’s, it was far from the hagiography I half expected. What struck me most was that Mr Miliband still has a problem with diction. There were times when I could not follow what he was saying.

    I was left little the wiser about what Mr Miliband really thinks. It is all very well hankering after a more organised market economy on the German model, and changing the rules about the way markets work, but there was nothing on how Mr Miliband and his advisers thought this laudable state of affairs might be achieved. The only hard fact thrown up by the programme was that Mr Miliband had managed to insert the phrase ‘one nation’ 46 times into a conference speech lasting 70 minutes.

    However, as everyone was keen to point out, there are two and a half years to go to the general election. Plenty of time to get some real policies formulated.

  • greggf

    “He had decided to do something brave and interesting, namely to argue for Britain’s continued membership of the European Union.”

    Maybe, but he’s too late.
    Britain’s default position is already outside the EZ, with Denmark, Sweden and a few others.
    And the general cant about being at the table will be overtaken and largely irrelevant once the EZ has taken shape. For example; where will the HQ of the EZ be sited? Not Brussels according to the Germans.

    Milliband is right to be brave, because to reverse the current trend of events he has to undo Cameron’s veto, agree to enter the EZ and adopt the Euro!
    Some chance!

  • cping500

    Actually we only have to wait to summer 2014 and the Euro Parliament Elections which will do as a referendum if played right. Before them we ought to have a grown up debate about it.

    Switzerland’s relations with the EU are complex and bilateral and set out here.

    So free trade would be part of the negotiation of exit.

    EEA countries however as far as trade goes automatically follow EU law. They actually have say but no vote.

    see here.

    I recommend a detailed study of this by all politicians and journalists spouting on this. Maybe Mr Gove could commission a compulsory course for the whole population over 18 which must be passed before voting in any referendum

    The UK is part of the EEA by virtue of its membership of the EU. If it left the EU it would have to negotiate to join the EEA.

    When Scotland becomes independent, it probably would be able to join the EEA before the EU.

    Mr Gove is a Scot by birth and presumably this would have to be sorted out in certain circumstances.

  • Albert Cooper

    We are all pissed off with Europe,please let us cut our losses and start again and be FREE

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