This isn’t how holidays are supposed to start. Last week’s developments in Washington and the Eurozone and the makings of market meltdown that followed, meant that what should have been a weekend of lightweight, poolside browsing in the West Country became an increasingly anxious study of the verdict of political commentators on both sides of the Atlantic.
You didn’t have to be reading at the more anarchic end of the scale, either, to pick up on a recurrent theme. Politicians are running out of places to hide.
Between one recession just three years old and another now brewing, went the pundits’ thinking, the rhetoric and promises have come to nothing and the dearth of political leaders with the ability to rise above the humdrum by way of clear, inspired thinking, is now unmistakable.
When David Cameron’s latest thoughts on a UK referendum on European Union hit the streets this morning, therefore, it almost felt like those same commentators were wheeling out Exhibit A for the prosecution, so woeful were the Prime Minister’s arguments, issued through his mouthpiece, private secretary Laurence Mann.
“…Mann…issued the controversial justification for ignoring public clamour for a referendum in a leaked letter.
He wrote: ‘We had a referendum on that issue in 1975, which produced a very clear result.
‘There is also one argument, in particular, against holding such a referendum that we find irrefutably powerful, namely that most people in our country want to say neither ‘yes’ to everything from the EU, nor ‘no’ to everything.’”
The first limb of this rebuttal quite frankly beggars belief. Any grown man or woman who has done even the most basic research on this point will know that the trading treaty put to the electorate in 1975 was a world removed from the superstate being tilted at nowadays. If this is the level of political analysis that pertains at 10 Downing Street then we are in the hands of children.
Mann’s second point might carry a little more weight were it not for the fact that the British people find themselves in exactly the same position every four or five years when they come to vote on their next government. It is by no means rare to find people who like a little of what the Lib-Dems offer but only wish it came together with some of what the Tories or Labour offer. We are torn and yet in that context, the first-past-the-post show must go on, apparently. So why is it suddenly such a terminal snag where Europe is concerned?
After all, if the British vote ‘no’, then the Government simply retires to consider a European deal that we might like. A commercial union with political independence that does not bleed us dry, let’s say. It brings this to us and asks us to vote on it. If we again say ‘no’, it has another go, until it finally comes up with a European policy that the majority of us can stomach. And before you denounce this as unfeasible, I would remind you of the nation immediately to our left, that was invited by Brussels to vote and vote again, until it came up with the ‘right’ answer.
What’s sauce for the goose, Prime Minister…
And anyway, why are we only hearing these particular objections to a referendum now? Why haven’t they been wheeled out in the past? Cameron comes across as a man desperately thinking up new lines to draw in the sand, as the force of public opinion forces him to retreat past each of their predecessors. Ah the pesky promises you make in the free and easy days of Opposition; how inconsiderately they come back to haunt you.
I’m just about done with the man after this latest insult to our intelligence. Having tried to reserve judgement in the hope that his ham-fisted arrival on the big stage was more an aberration than a telling insight into how he functions, I am now resigned to being in the clutches of one more second-rate premier who got where he is not through any intrinsic star quality but through a mere knack for smiling and glad-handing longer and less ashamedly than the next man.
Just about the only good thing you can say of this mediocrity is that he isn’t the only one.