“Literally eating our lunch”
Today 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.
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?
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/RexTagged in: david cameron, ed miliband, europe, euroscepticism
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