Cameron: "I'm a very practical Euro-sceptic"
To be Euro-sceptic is to apply one’s mental faculties to matters relating to the European Union: ‘sceptic’ comes from the Greek ‘skeptikos’, meaning to be essentially thoughtful, and all educated people should be sceptical about all matters, for that is how knowledge is acquired. It is not the same a ‘cynical’, with which it appears to have become almost synonymous. Cynicism, in the vernacular (ie not the ancient Greek sect founded by Antisthenes), is the expression of little faith in human sincerity or the distrust of society. Scepticism should be encouraged, especially as it relates to the EU. Cynicism should be discouraged, except where it relates to the EU.
David Cameron’s ‘practical Euro-scepticism’ is epitomised in his response yesterday to the question of an In/Out referendum on the EU. He said: "I don't support an In/Out referendum because I don't think that's the question people want asked about the EU."
Which is curious, firstly because very many Euro-sceptics and Europhiles agree that the matter of democratic legitimacy needs to be resolved urgently, and that a referendum is the only means of doing so; and secondly, because the Prime Minister has instituted an e-petitions website precisely to establish which questions the people want asked. And an In/Out referendum is up there, presently on 25,637 votes. It is, arguably, the biggest question of all, and yet Mr Cameron has scuppered the possibility of a referendum a year before the e-petition deadline, and by so doing he has pre-empted the judgement of the Committee convened to determine which petitions fall and which will reach the House of Commons to be debated.
That’s not very practical.
And neither is it particularly Euro-sceptic.
Cameron’s conservatism, rather like his Anglicanism, is one ‘that grows hotter and colder by moments’. He seeks a politics and a faith which do not polarise by setting one moral philosophy over another, but prefers consensus in accordance with the traditional via media. And so he naturally inclines towards talk of ‘community’, ‘society’, and ‘sticking together as a country’, and he uses Disraeli’s precise ‘One Nation’ phrase in an attempt to shift public perception that the Conservative Party under his leadership is ‘the party of the poor’ and ‘the party of the NHS’ (as the 2010 Manifesto stated). David Cameron’s approach on all matters is moderate, which is consonant with his paternalistic Anglicanism that mutually exclusive propositions and conflicting philosophies can be embraced as part of the ‘broad church’ of conservatism.
And so he expounds the virtues of subsidiarity, localism, decentralisation and ‘bottom-up’ governance. This, he avers, will revive civic pride by initiating ‘a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power: from the state to citizens; from the government to parliament; from Whitehall to communities. From Brussels to Britain; from judges to the people; from bureaucracy to democracy’. But it may simultaneously be observed that he has done more than any Conservative leader since the nineteenth century to centralise the internal workings of his own party: many of the powers which used to be held by local associations are now exercised centrally by a ruling Tory élite.
Practical he may be. But that practicality is geared primarily towards the acquisition, retention and exercise of power. Euro-scepticism is a politico-philosophical attitude which requires conviction, and Mr Cameron doesn’t do conviction, other than to that which produces the via media consensus and holds the extremes in tension. The last thing he wants is for his party to be torn asunder (again) over the vexatious issue of 'Europe'. Practical Euro-scepticism may keep you in office, but ultimately it frustrates the conservative instinct, for the EU is the source of ultimate political sovereignty, and so national power is attained and retained for no perceived purpose.