THE battle between the Government and Labour came down to Europe: and in between the quips and little jokes (that were actually, genuinely amusing for once) was some serious substance, and there are a number of issues that can be drawn out.
There’s two issues contained within the European saga. One, is the obvious question, should we continue our membership of the EU? The second, often side-lined, is whether or not the British people should be offered a referendum. Many people, divided on the first question, unite behind the second question. Ed Miliband’s criticism of Cameron today came down to the following: Cameron’s position is that a referendum now would be wrong, because it is a “false choice”, but setting a referendum in five years, as Cameron wishes, just creates years of uncertainty for businesses who don’t know if they’re coming or going and is damaging to our economy. There’s something to be said for what Miliband is saying. From the perspective of businesses, this just prolongs their lack of knowledge of the future, makes it difficult to have business plans that cover the next years, and will undoubtedly have an impact on our economy.
But, Miliband – with his question – proves himself an enemy of the people. The British people had a referendum to join a free market in Europe. Huge changes have since occurred with our relationship with Europe, and the original consent given by British people can no longer be considered to endorse the current state of affairs. When a Government makes changes that vastly impact the ability of a single voter to affect policy for their country, this must be with the voter’s consent. It undermines what little integrity democracy has to allow the electorate’s say in their national affairs to be degraded or removed, without soliciting them first. Therefore, despite the variations of answers that arise from Question 1, the answer to Question 2 is more consistent: yes to a referendum. Miliband doesn’t trust the population to vote as per his desires. He wants us to be part of the European Union, and where he thinks the people may not support him, he wants to deny us our vote to express ourselves. Cameron, for all his flaws, recognised that he needs to “ask for consent” to remain part of the European Union; he just wants time to renegotiate our position so that we might have a true choice, and we’re clear as to what gains Europe can offer us going forward. I support his position. There’s no point offering a referendum on what we have now, what we could have, and out – we don’t want what we have now, and we don’t know what we could have, and so we’d end up with an outcome that we may not desire. Cameron’s position is right, from a democratic position, from a libertarian position, compared to Miliband’s. For this reason, he won the spat today.
Interestingly, knowing the election is set for a given date has altered the language. Cameron presented the case that in terms of voting for Labour versus voting for the Conservatives. Vote Tory to repatriate powers, then to have a vote on whether we like that? Yes, please.
Speaking on women, Cameron maintained that his policies were beneficial to women, helping women out with healthcare costs, creating a single tier pension system to allow women more chance of getting the full pension. His argument is weak. Childcare costs for a two-year-old cost 5% of the average wage in Sweden, 9% in Germany, but a staggering 25% of the average wage in the UK. Whatever paltry offers he has for women, he should recognise this: 25% of the average wage is unsustainable, and for many families, unaffordable.* Perhaps they should be looking into why childcare costs are so high here, and seeing if there are any lessons to be learned, rather than throwing money at the problem. The burden of paying for this will only get greater, and they cannot commit to keeping up indefinitely. Don’t paper over the cracks: do the job properly. A paper on the topic, with definitive and fully-costed policies to arise consequently would, without a doubt, be a much better investment of public money.
Cameron won on Europe, not because he’s right to say we should stay in, but because he’s right to say that WE should be allowed a say. That’s why he won today. His pro-women agenda needs to be more vehemently attacked: he’s getting away with doing very little. Things like fathers being able to take leave upon birth of a child won’t come into play until 2016. That’s three years of women still having to be told how much time they have to take off to ensure their husband or partner is eligible to take the rest. There’s no excuse for this. Up the heat on regulation preventing women from getting on in the workplace and with their own life goals generally, and Labour are sure to win that particular debate – if they’ve got the strength of conviction to carry it through.