About last night

I found last nights defeat of the government oddly depressing.

I’m not sure why, exactly.

I mean, as a political manoeuvre, it worked precisely as any Labour leader would wish. If I’d been Labour leader, I’d have done exactly what Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander did.

The government was defeated, the tensions between the Liberal democrats and Tories increased, the Tory right were able to inflict a humiliating defeat on the government, which will force the government into an ever-more unsustainable political position as it alternately tries to soothe the backbenches and appeal to the great moderate centre of British politics.It might even lead to the dislodging of David Cameron.

It’s hard to pass up such a chance, especially when the only downside is a bit of hypocritical eye-rolling from people perpetually on the sidelines about opportunism. The alternative would be most of the PLP wondering why on earth we’d chosen to bail out Cameron.

We’ll even get the chance to look statesmanlike later on, when the actual deal comes to the vote, and we can keep Cameron on the hook before agreeing to back the deal at the very last moment ‘in the national interest‘.

No, politically, it’s exactly right.

But the whole thing, from a manufactured controversy over a non-binding amendment, to Euro-sceptic posturing and wedge pushing, to Cameron getting his just desserts for his previous thoughtless Euro-populism, to Labour frontbenchers explaining why voting for the impossible is in no way a betrayal of their pro-europeanism, feels also, well, kind of pathetic, and that feels a like a damning reflection on politics as a whole.

I wrote the other day that one of the hard choices of British politics would likely be an acceptance that fixing our economic crisis would require greater Euro-power, and that this would be better structured, and more in our national interest, if it involved Britain.

I don’t like that prospect, but I hold to that view, even in the light of its huge unpopularity. (It’s a lot easier to say that when you don’t have to persuade voters, of course!).  I suspect most of the Labour front bench feel the same way, quietly. But we’re helping the most ideologically committed people in British politics undermine the chance of such a strategy being workable, mostly because we think we won’t get landed with the bill.

Politicians, of all parties, talk a lot about hard choices and the long term.

Last night, the decision in the House of Commons was a reflection of a politics of easy hits and headlines

I understand that.

I agree with it as a political strategy.

If I were in the Leader’s suite in Norman Shaw South, I’d back the decision we made.

But, in truth,  I don’t like it. Not one bit.

2 Responses to “About last night”

  1. Brian Hughes

    A depressing and pathetic ‘victory’ in my view. The same adjectives could be applied to Ed Balls’s attempts to justify it on the Today programme this morning.

    My enemy’s enemies are my friends is a naively-seductive but dangerous philosophy. Getting into a lobby with a braying bunch of Tory eurosceptics merely to score a couple of Westminster-village points – oh dear. We’re doomed…

  2. Peter Johnson

    What I find pathetic is the decades of deceit by successive UK governments promising a referendum on this European treaty or that European treaty and always failing to deliver on any of them. The excuses have become painfully predictable and tiresome: “Now wouldn’t be the right time”; “It’s not in the national interest”; “This doesn’t constitute an agreement that would warrant a referendum”.

    When added together the following sum leads to an obvious answer: deceit, lies and a failure to deliver basic, democratic standards and values equates to contempt for politicians.

    Our political establishment and those that work for it believe that only they understand how stuff in politics work. Only they really understand the EU, the world economy, the way the world is changing and how the UK needs to position itself to confront and survive the challenge of that change. If you like, it’s a kind of self-regarding; intellectual contempt for a society that it judges doesn’t really understand the ‘real’ world.

    However, Wednesday night’s vote, which included the incredulous about-face by the labour party, is a symptom of an establishment that has run out of excuses and ideas on Europe . They have been found out by the public and don’t know which way to turn. Like the economy, and a host of other problems facing us, the establishment simply hasn’t got any answers except perhaps the wrong ones. It is exhausted; worn out by itself.

    Our politicians could revive some credibility, as well as provide us with an effective remedy to the European argument, by providing this country with the opportunity to vote on it. It is absolutely the right thing to do. Because if it does not, Britain will never be at peace with itself over Europe and will not be able to apply all of its positive energy and focus on securing a successful future for itself in this world, whatever direction we, the people, decide to take it.


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