Jason OMahony - Irish political blogger, Irish politics, EU politics

The British Eurosceptic as maligned victim.

Posted by Jason O on Dec 10, 2011 in British Politics, European Union

Do not ask for whom the bell tolls...

Do not ask for whom the bell tolls...

Listening to British Eurosceptics you can’t help being struck by the sense of victimhood they espouse. In short, the EU is an evil conspiracy that has tricked and manipulated them, and if only they had a proper Eurosceptic leader who could do the honourable thing and take Britain out. It’s a nice narrative, with goodies and baddies and a nice simple EU DeathStar to be blown up by valiant Eurosceptic rebels, freeing Britain at last from the evil empire.

Except it’s not true. Consider, for example, the theory that Britain has never had a proper Eurosceptic prime minister. Cameron has brought them closer to exit than ever before, Brown just glowered at the rest of the EU (remember his surreal refusal to attend the signing of the Lisbon treaty with every other leader, arriving later and walking through a banquet hall filled with half eaten food?), Blair talked the talk but did remarkably little on the EU, choosing instead to use up his brownie points on Iraq, of all things. Major kept Britain out of stuff, as did the blessed Margaret. Callaghan wasn’t there long enough to do anything, and Wilson gave the British people the chance to vote themselves out. You actually have to go all the way back to Ted Heath to find an unashamed pro-European.

On top of all that, there’s the simple fact that Eurosceptics in the Tory party have always chosen to put political ambition ahead of the alleged euroscepticism. Take the famous 81 rebels who voted against Cameron recently. If they really believe that Europe is the huge issue they claim it is amongst the British people, why don’t they, to a man and woman, cross the floor and form a genuine right-wing Eurosceptic party? They can negotiate as a separate party with the remaining Tory party to look for a referendum, after all, this is a hung parliament. Won’t the British people reward them for their courage, and flock to them in droves? They don’t do it, because they are afraid that the British people don’t care as much as they think, and secondly, because the moronic British electoral system would actually go haywire if another significant political party suddenly emerged on the right, splitting the Eurosceptic vote and ironically costing both Tories and rebels their seats.

Whatever way you look at it, you have to recognise that British unhappiness with the EU is primarily a failure of the British political system. After all, the British people voted recently to keep an electoral system which ensures that the country with the largest Eurosceptic population in Europe does not actually have a genuinely Eurosceptic national party in parliament. That is not Brussels’s fault.

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