David Cameron’s S.P.A.

John Rentoul

spa 300x159 David Camerons S.P.A.I was the one of very few people who watched Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday and who dissented from the proposition that Ed Miliband whipped David Cameron’s sorry pink ass, to judge by the reaction on the popular microblogging social network, Twitter. Well, read Hansard and make up your own mind:

Edward Miliband (Doncaster North) (Lab): When the Prime Minister first became leader of the Conservative party, he said that its biggest problem was that it spent far too much of its time “banging on” about Europe. Is he glad those days are over?

The Prime Minister: Even the leader of the Labour party should accept that a massive change is taking place in Europe: a change that is being driven by the changes in the eurozone. Frankly, the country, and political parties in this country, face a choice. Do we look at the changes, see what we can do to maximise Britain’s national interest, and consult the public about that, or do we sit back, do nothing, and tell the public to go hang? I know where I stand; I know where this party stands—and that is in the national interest.

Edward Miliband: Let us hope we can find out today where the Prime Minister does stand. I suppose I should congratulate him on one thing—deciding on the date of his speech. Well done. Another example of the Rolls-Royce operation of No. 10 Downing street.

In advance of his speech, what is the Prime Minister’s answer, which investors need to know, to this question: will Britain be in the European Union in five years’ time?

The Prime Minister: On important decisions, may I first of all congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on an important decision that he has made this week—to keep the shadow Chancellor in place until 2015. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] Rarely do we see so much cross-party support.

My view is that Britain is better off in the European Union, but it is right for us to see the changes taking place in Europe, and to ensure that we argue for the changes that Britain needs, so that we have a better relationship between Britain and Europe, a better organised European Union, and the full-hearted consent of the British people. Those are the choices that we are making. What are his choices?

Edward Miliband: Maybe we are making a bit of progress. In October 2011, as I am sure the Prime Minister will remember, he and I walked shoulder to shoulder through the Lobby against the 81 Conservative Members who voted for an in/out referendum. You might call it two parties working together in the national interest. At the time, the Foreign Secretary—I think he is on his way to Australia to get as far away from the Prime Minister’s speech as possible—said that the reason for our vote was that an in/out referendum

“would create additional economic uncertainty in this country at a difficult economic time”.

Was the Foreign Secretary right?

The Prime Minister: Yes, he was entirely right. It is interesting that the Leader of the Opposition only wants to talk about process, because he dare not debate the substance. I do not think it would be right for Britain to have an in/out referendum today, because we would be giving the British people a false choice. Millions of people in this country, myself included, want Britain to stay in the European Union, but they believe that there are chances to negotiate a better relationship. Throughout Europe, countries are looking at forthcoming treaty change and thinking, “What can I do to maximise my national interest?” That is what the Germans will do. That is what the Spanish will do. That is what the British should do. Let us get on to the substance and give up the feeble jokes.

Edward Miliband: First of all, I thought the jokes were pretty good. But I am talking about the substance. The Prime Minister’s position appears to be this: an in/out referendum now would be destabilising, but promising one in five years’ time is just fine for the country. Let us see if that is his position, because what does it mean? It means five years of businesses seeing a “Closed for Business” sign hanging around Britain. What did Lord Heseltine say—[Interruption.] I know that Conservative Members want to jeer Lord Heseltine, one of the few mainstream voices in the Conservative party. He said:

“To commit to a referendum about a negotiation that hasn’t begun on a timescale you cannot predict, on an outcome that’s unknown…seems to me like an unnecessary gamble.”

Is he not right?

The Prime Minister: It is absolutely no secret that, when it comes to Europe, there are disagreements between myself and Michael Heseltine. Michael, for whom I have a huge amount of time, was one of the leading voices for Britain joining the single currency. I am delighted that we have not joined, and we should not join—under my prime ministership, we will never join the single currency—and that is also the view of millions of businesses up and down this country. What business wants in Europe is what I want in Europe: for us to be part of Europe, but a more flexible Europe, a more competitive Europe, a Europe that can take on the challenge of the global race and the rise of nations in the south and the east.

Let me put it to the right hon. Gentleman again. When change is taking place in Europe and when the single currency is driving change, is it not in Britain’s national interest to argue for changes which will make the European Union more competitive and flexible, and which will strengthen and sort out the relationship between Britain and the European Union, and then to ask the British people for their consent?

That is our approach. Apart from coming up with what he considers to be very amusing jokes, what is the right hon. Gentleman’s approach?

Edward Miliband: The biggest change that we need in Europe is a move from austerity to growth and jobs, but the Prime Minister has absolutely nothing to say about that. This is the reality: the reason the Prime Minister is changing his mind has nothing to do with the national interest. It is because he has lost control of his party. He thinks that his problems on Europe will end on Friday, but they are only just beginning. Can he confirm that he is now giving the green light to Conservative Cabinet Ministers to campaign on different positions—on whether they are for or against being in the European Union?

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman tries to make the point that Europe should somehow be moving away from the policy of deficit reduction. He is completely isolated in Europe. Not one single Government—not even socialists in Europe—believe in pushing up borrowing and borrowing more. That is the simple truth. What is in Britain’s interests is to seek a fresh settlement in Europe that is more flexible and more competitive. That is in our interests, and that is what we will seek.

Let me ask the right hon. Gentleman this: does he not understand that what has happened over the last decade—during which a Labour Government signed treaty after treaty, gave away power after power, saw more centralisation after more centralisation, and never consulted the British people—is what has made this problem such a big problem in the first place?

Edward Miliband: The whole House, and the country, will have heard that the Prime Minister did not answer the question about whether he had given the green light to his Cabinet—to his Conservative Cabinet colleagues—for some of them to campaign for being in the European Union and others to campaign for getting out of it. That is the reality of the position, and of the weakness of this Prime Minister. At a time when 1 million young people are out of work and businesses are going to the wall, what is the Prime Minister doing? He has spent six months preparing a speech to create five years of uncertainty for Britain. When it comes to Europe, it is the same old Tories: a divided party, and a weak Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman has absolutely nothing to say about the important issue of Britain’s relationship with Europe. What is his view? [Interruption.]

There will be a very simple choice at the next election. If you want to stay out of the single currency, you vote Conservative; if you want to join the single currency, you vote Labour. If you want to take power back to Britain, you vote Conservative; if you want to give power to Brussels, you vote Labour. That is the truth. What we see from the right hon. Gentleman’s position is that he wants absolutely no change in the relationship between Britain and Europe, and that he does not believe that the British people should be given a choice.

To summarise the consensus view: Ed Miliband triumphed by saying that Labour wants to stay in EU come what may; he thinks Europe policy should be guided by Lord Heseltine, who advocated adopting the euro; he doesn’t want to consult the people; and he thinks, “I’m a really good comedian, me.”

As Tony Blair said at the Helsinki EU summit in 1999: “If we are isolated and we are in the right, then that’s the correct position.”

Fortunately, normal service was resumed in reaction to Miliband’s interview on the Today programme this morning, which everyone agrees was useless.

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  • JohnJustice

    The main job of the Opposition at this stage of the parliament is to discomfort the government and Miliband did this admirably yesterday.. The main job of the Today programme at any stage of a parliament is to discomfort those they are interviewing and they did this admirably with regard to Miliband, who should have been better prepared.

  • EU Brainwashing

    The Prime
    Minister said “I do not think it would be right for Britain to have an
    in/out referendum today, because we would be giving the British people a
    false choice.”

    I do not understand what he means by ‘a false choice’. The choice for ‘
    in or out ‘ is genuine enough for me.

    I have lost all faith in the process of ‘government’. I consider it to
    be a sham supported only by false logic, weak rhetoric and an utterly
    pliant media.

    I do not believe the true interests of the people living on these
    islands are represented by this or any other government likely to
    emerge. I believe the mantra to dissolve nation states into a soviet of
    pan-continental unions and onward towards an eventual global
    ‘governance’ union is the only one allowed any traction and that
    movement in that direction is inextricable – imposable to resist.

  • Junius

    Why am I on pre-mod? Is it for quoting the blogger’s inappropriate language in my comment?

    Can it be any wonder that virtual tumbleweed blows through the Indy blogs?

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