Politics, Principles and getting elected  


June 2014

This week, we have seen a prime minister acting out of principle, apparently. He has opposed the appointment of Jean-Claude Juncker as the President of the Commission of the European Union. This was not just for immediate political gain within his party, but because he says that Mr Juncker will take Europe in the wrong direction. He has been a part of the European clique of federalists who have wanted to diminish the identity and importance of individual nations and transfer that power to the centre – to Brussels. It seems that David Cameron sees Mr Juncker as wanting to be a powerful supra-national President, rather than a civil servant helping to serve the individual nations by ensuring that Brussels has the minimum of power needed to enable the EU to act as a successful trading bloc.

We now find that the last European elections were fought differently in different countries. In many of the more pro-European countries, the party groupings campaigned on an integrated platform consisting of their policies and the name of the man whom they would want as President of the Commission. For the parties belonging to the EPP (European People's Party). Mr Juncker was their man. Indeed in places such as Germany, there were debates between Mr Juncker and Martin Schultz, the person proposed by the next largest grouping, the Socialists.

All of this has arisen, because the Lisbon Treaty required the Council of Ministers, when proposing someone as President for the next 5 year term, to 'take into account' the results of the elections to the European Parliament. Obviously from our standpoint in Britain, that would mean installing a less federalist President in view of the success of UKIP, Le Front National and other anti-European parties in other countries. The Council of Ministers, however, decided that what the Lisbon treaty meant was that they should appoint a President supported by the largest group in the European Parliament. Hence Jean-Claude Juncker. So then, this was going on while all the time the electorate here were sublimely unaware of the reality of the situation; unaware of the Presidential nature of the campaign elsewhere and so the overt politicisation of the Commission – what is supposed to be the civil service. It gives new meaning to being 'semi-detached' Europeans. But it also gave Dave something to fight about which made him look like a man of principle, even if he was in a minority of two.

In the meantime, Ed Milliband has not been having an easy time. When he was elected, we were told that he was in thrall to the Unions because it was their votes which had given the leadership to him. How far this is true is uncertain, but he is now being criticised by his own chief policy adviser, John Cruddas. Apparently his group of thinkers have come up with an integrated approach to policy for the next election, only to have it ignored in favour of cherry-picking a few ideas which have found favour with the focus-groups. From this we may deduce that although John Cruddas has come up with some policies which tick all the boxes of socialist principles, unsurprisingly Ed is more concerned with getting elected next year. We can expect therefore that he will concentrate on the crowd-pleasing, if unworkable, policies of limiting energy prices and introducing rent controls, whilst pointing out the astonishing fact that people's standard of living has fallen over the last few years – 'the cost of living crisis.' - in the aftermath of the biggest financial crash we have seen in generations.

When I ask myself what apart from the insults being traded are the differences of substance between the parties, I am a little uncertain. They all claim to want to limit public spending and are all against more power going to Brussels. They are all now against profligate spending on state benefits to the undeserving and want to see a thriving National Health Service, although they would all do this differently. If you were to ask me however what any of the parties actually stood for deep down, I would find it difficult to say. We are principle light.

Now, in a sense, as I have argued before, this is a very good thing for us as electors. We may get a government, perhaps another coalition, which will have to concentrate on being an efficient administration rather than trying to promote dubious and untested principles We may be preserved from the minority agendas promoted by activists in all of the political parties - whether Europe-bashing, privatising everything in sight or handing out tax-payers money to people who can't be bothered to make the effort to fend for themselves.

The problem is, however, that in the absence of clear differences of principle between the parties - what they really stand for if they could ever bring themselves to be honest with us - it is difficult for us to choose between them. If they all blend into one another then, as an electorate, we become apathetic. And apathy brings low turnouts and low turnouts exaggerate the effect of the more extreme parties, who say what they stand for in vivid colours and so stand out from the beige of mainstream politics. I suppose that ultimately it will be Dave v Ed with UKIP and Nick Clegg chipping in from the sidelines. We will have no idea what any government will do as it will follow negotiations between potential coalition partners. And so we will go to the polls in ever-decreasing numbers to cast our dispirited ballots. Or perhaps a miracle will happen and they'll start talking to us instead of their PR consultants...



Home      A Point of View     Philosophy     Who am I?      Links     Photos of Annecy