There are only two sides to the EU debate: those that believe that the EU is beyond saving and want out, and those that believe that the EU is worth saving and want in. For the sake of simplicity we’ll call these camps anti-EU and pro-EU. All three of the major parties in British politics are pro-EU in that they all agree that the EU needs reform, but is a good thing for Britain. Sure they bicker about individual items of legislation, and for political convenience it is in their favour to appear more or less in favour of the EU depending upon what slice of the electorate they’re canvassing, but in terms of the grand EU debate, they are all on the same side. Only Farage sits on the other.
So it seems strange that the political establishment can’t win this in a slam dunk. Surely the combined weight of the conservative party, the labour party, and the liberal democrats should be enough to explain to the electorate precisely why an imperfect EU is better than a non-existent one. The Nick Clegg v Nigel Farage debate was a perfect opportunity for the pro-Eu camp to unify, and yet the opposite happened. Today David Cameron appeared on television calling Nick Clegg an extremist, the Labour party have been distancing themselves as far as possible from the subject lest negative fallout stains their trousers, and even the Green party – a party whose objectives are solely dependent upon the EU and global cooperation – couldn’t resist the opportunity to resort to petty politics and opportunism. If our political parties cannot unite when presented with such a basic proposition, is it any wonder that demagogues like Farage triumph?
We see this time and again with the liberal left. The AV referendum was lost because rather than unite to improve an outdated electoral system, the Labour party used it as an opportunity to steal votes from the Lib Dems. I’ll say this for the conservatives, they know how to pull together for the bigger picture, the left simply cannot get past its own factional squabbling.
Take this party political broadcast by the Green party in response to the debate. The Greens have an almost identical outlook on Europe as the Lib Dems, but to gain political advantage they paint them as the very non-existent caricature dreamt up by the daily mail: a sycophantic slave to faceless EU bureaucrats. Pro-EU camps should be arguing that this stereotype doesn’t exist, that it is a paranoid fantasy, but the Greens have cynically promoted it, betraying their own cause. It is yet another sad sign of the continued decline of a once promising party.
Cooperating is a virtue in politics, but Britain is yet to break out of its juvenile mentality and realise this. If we don’t soon change, Farage, may well win by default.