Thursday, July 31, 2014

Two steps forward, one step back

Readers will have noticed from the title that I am a little more optimistic than that "great thinker" and vicious political squabbler, V. I. Lenin was in 1904 when he dipped his pen into vitriol and wrote his famous attack on his colleagues in the Russian Social-Democratic Party, One Step Forward, Two Steps Back.

Needless to say, Lenin was never so vehement in his attacks on the Tsarist government or the right-wing parties, once these developed in Russia, as he was when fighting for power and supremacy in his own party.

This is not, however, a posting about Lenin or the Bolsheviks, so everyone can relax, assuming they have got this far.

My sorrowful and, to some extent, angry complaint is about our own so-called Eurosceptic movement, which is, despite many things, both in British and in European politics, being in our favour, in a parlous state.

For once, I am going to keep off the subject of UKIP (mostly) and its spectacular ability to set the debate back by a couple of decades just as we were beginning to make headway with more people than ever before saying that they did not think leaving the EU would be a catastrophe for any part of the country or its economy. At which point, along came UKIP and produced its latest version of "Euroscepticism" as a protectionist, statist and, yes, I am sorry to say xenophobic idea. (I hope nobody bothers to tell me that UKIP's policy is controlled immigration as they have neither explained what they mean by that nor bothered to voice it in their election pamphlets in May.)

After that extensive throat clearing let me get on to the main theme of this posting, which was brought to my mind by a conversation I had with an intelligent, politically astute and well-meaning friend who entered the Eurosceptic political scene considerably later than I did for reasons of age. Said friend explained to me that she (doesn't narrow it very much) had not yet reached the position of being a withdrawalist from the EU despite having worked with people who are for the last few years. First, she wanted to explore all the possibilities of reform and other long-term plans.

I did not groan but pointed out soberly that I have learnt very clearly in the years I have been involved that the idea of an adequate reform of the EU in the direction we (and, supposedly, the Conservative Party) would like to see it is moonshine while long-term planning is pointless as long as we remain part of the European project.

Ah yes, came the reply but we have to arrive at that conclusion in our own way not simply rely on what people tell us. My response continued to be sober and firm: the country cannot afford to wait while each new generation goes through the process of learning from its mistakes of expecting some kind of a reform and being disappointed over and over again.

The conversation moved on to other subjects but it stayed with me. That is really the problem: for some reason the notion that people should learn from previous mistakes and build on previous achievements is not popular with Eurosceptics who, like particularly inept teachers in primary schools (and I have seen a few), assume that everyone must re-invent the wheel over and over again. Then they (and the parents of the children unlucky enough to be in those schools) wonder why there is no progress.

Actually, I am wrong. The teachers do not care about lack of progress but, more importantly from our point of view, the constantly new generation of Eurosceptics who keep re-inventing the wheel and insist that it is right and proper that they should do so, believe that each time there is progress being made. Unfortunately that progress is only to the same point we had reached before or just a little bit beyond it instead of the sort of large steps forward that we ought to be making by this time and in this particular atmosphere.

Given that the new generation of wheel re-inventers are those who populate the various Eurosceptic organizations and, above all, the well funded campaigns for a referendum, which, let me repeat for the umpteenth time, we shall lose unless we move forward in our arguments a little faster, my unhappy summary stands: two steps forward, one step back. That's true for the time being but it may all get worse.


  1. History tells us that we do not learn from history. In other words we rarely learn from our mistakes. To paraphrase someone more learned than I but unfortunately I forget who. We do not even learn at least not very quickly from the mistakes of others in the present.

  2. There is a further element. The entire political class and media, led by state radio and tv, has spent decades telling us that withdrawal is “isolationist” and “risky”, and the preserve of extremist parties. But with things seeming at the same time to be going so badly wrong with the project, the logical suggestion by those who want to stay in at all costs (the entire political class etc) is to talk about ‘reforms’, however much they know these cannot be achieved.

    It is like the moment in that film Alien, when they had the opportunity to kill the Alien but its protector, posing as a friend to the humans, shouted “No”. He was in essence giving as his reason to the astronauts: “Don’t kill it, we can reform it”. And of course the natural tendency when faced with authority in this kind of situation is to demur and compromise, as your friend does.

    She and her predecessors can see the alien and know it is not friendly. But she trusts “that nice Mr Cameron” or “Mr Major” or whoever it has been down the years. “They are really on our side, you can tell”.

    And the interesting point about this is that you hear a lot from the political class and media about reforming the EU but nothing is ever really proposed in a concrete fashion which lists out very specific reforms and then gives a line in the sand to say: “if these reforms, clearly measureable, are not achieved, then we will have to leave”. Recent ‘targets’ set by the Prime Minister are imprecise and allow interpretation by those setting them to claim victory at practically any time of their own choosing. “Game set and match for Britain”. Much of what is said is vague and open to interpretation. It is just like all those other ‘re-negotiations’ – eg in the mid 70s and with the hapless Major government over Maastricht.

    But people like your friend would not be so inclined to make these mistakes were it not for the degree to which they have been intentionally misled for half a century as to what the EU really means, and the covert nature in which advances have been made and the degree to which critics have been dismissed contemptuously by most commentators and effectively silenced through marginalisation.

    As a result, the alien can carry on getting quietly bigger in the spaceship until it is, er, a little more difficult to deal with. Our successive Prime Ministers acting as the sly Antony Hopkins character, robot disguised as human, ushering forth the end result while affecting to be ‘on our side and one of us’.

    And of course when the alien starts going around battering everyone and chewing up the pet cat, your friend and her successors will still be wittering on about ‘working with our partners for reform…avoiding the extremist ground…we seem to be making some progress,” and even possibly suggesting that said alien's bad behaviour might indeed be our fault.

  3. Excellent post as usual and very welcome. But I fear Mr.Cameron is so entranced by the EU that we will get no sense out of him or his "government". He will just push the re-negotiation meme until removed from office.

    1. My post was not about Mr Cameron but about the eurosceptic community, so-called, who seem to be going round and round the same track.