Cameron and his ruling élite
There is an observation on David Cameron in the Daily Mail from one of his political colleagues. It is nothing new, but in the context of the impending Commons vote on an In/Out referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, it is revealing of his instinct. Mark Pritchard, secretary of the 1922 Committee, warned that it 'would be dangerous for the "political elite" to be seen to be blocking public demand for a referendum again'.
Before he came to power, David Cameron linked the ubiquity of ‘one-size-fits-all solutions (which) are dispensed from the centre’ with ‘demoralisation and democratic disengagement’. He called for a ‘radical decentralisation’ which does not constitute ‘some romantic attachment to the past’, but one which is designed to 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. Unless Mr Cameron manages to overcome his Bullingdon urges, he will lead the Conservative Party to yet another period of intractable division over 'Europe'.
How on earth can there ever be 'a massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power' without a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU? How can control of our destiny shift '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’ wiithout a significant realignment of what is often referred to as our 'relationship with Europe'? Churchill had it about right: ‘We have our own dream and our own task. We are with Europe but not of it. We are linked but not combined. We are interested and associated but not absorbed.’
Unless we are to end our inexorable absorption, either the EU's foundational precept of 'ever closer union' must be abandoned, or we must leave. The former is not a remote possibilty, so the latter is the only course open to us. Since EEC accession was ratified by a referendum in 1975, a national plebescite would need to precede our departure. Whether or not such a vote could be won when the Outers would be ranged against all three main political parties and the power of the Establishment is unknown: it would be a huge risk. And yet... and yet... as we have been absorbed by increment, perhaps our sovereignty and liberty must be regained by degrees - of which the first must be a symbolic victory in next week's EU referendum question.