It is totally pointless for Nick Clegg to express his "disappointment" about the result of the summit. He is part of this government and he is jointly responsible for all its actions. This is at his door too. If he could not ensure that he, as the leader of the minority party in the coalition, had a veto on the veto, then his coalition seems to have failed at a critical point. The very fact that Timothy Kirkhope, the leader of the Conservative MEPs, feels he has to say "We are still a full member of the European Union and will remain so" indicates how in his mind, and that of many others, we are actually on the way out.
It does seem that withdrawal from the EU is what the British people want:
52 per cent of people agree that the euro crisis is an ideal opportunity for Britain to leave the EU altogether.The British media has convinced British people of the absurd idea that, in the words of Nigel Farrage,
[Europe has] decided to head off on the Titanic towards economic and democratic disaster and we are now in a life boat.There has been a massive failure of pro-European leadership in the UK over a long period. It would be hard for youngsters growing up now to understand how it was that the Conservative Party originally took Britain into the EU. Edward Heath's Conservative party was pro-European, but since then the party has become by imperceptible steps more and more anti-European, to the point where nobody notices the fact that David Cameron, regarded as being somewhere in the centre or on the left of his party, is by far the most anti-European leader we have had, not excluding Margaret Thatcher. Cameron made his direction plain even before he became PM, by withdrawing his MEPs from the European People's Party, the main centre-right group in the parliament, and aligning them with various odd far right elements instead. This was a harbinger of the situation we now find ourselves in: on a course heading further and further into the fringes of Europe.
In the last few years no-one in the British political mainstream, to my knowledge, not even the most pro-European, has been arguing that the UK would be better off in the eurozone – which it clearly would have been, particularly had it joined when the zone started. The European argument in Britain has been lost by default. We are abandoning ship. Many agree that ship is The Titanic. But it is not, this belief is mere insular schadenfreude. We are casting ourselves adrift in an open boat while the mother ship sails away with renewed purpose. For the idea that the euro or the EU will fail is absurd to nearly everybody in the rest of Europe. The economic ills of the eurozone counties are no greater, less in many cases, than those of the UK.
The UK has become ridiculously dependent on the financial services industry, and that industry has benefited enormously from the free market in capital. The argument that resulted in the veto revolves around a proposed tax on financial transactions in the EU, 75% of which occur in the City of London. Cameron therefore argued that the UK would be disproportionately affected, which is true. Other leaders argued, however, that any exception for the UK, any difference in the taxes on transactions between different states, would undermine the single market, which is also true. Hence stalemate.
The problem at bottom is therefore the unbalanced character of the UK economy, not anything being done in Europe. The problem is the collapse of British manufacturing. We do not have enough to export any more, we have to import too much, and the stuff we have to import, particularly oil and metals, is becoming much more expensive, hence a huge budget deficit. Blaming this on the American mortgage market of several years ago, or the banks, or the overspending of the Greeks, is bizarre blame-shifting.
Another problem has been the failure to start to put the UK economy on a more environmentally-sustainable basis. The Germans introduced their tough environmental and recycling laws two decades ago, and everybody in the UK at that time said these would bankrupt them, and would bankrupt us if we followed suit. Well, who is bankrupt now? But this is still the view of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer, who views UK and European environmental regulations as a brake on growth, and who feels that sustainability and wealth-creation are opposing desires which need to be "balanced". Hence, for example, this government's new planning proposals, which drive a coach and horses through the whole concept of publicly-controlled planning for the benefit of all, in favour of a market free-for-all.
The German government has genuinely promoted cycling, as the UK's has not. The Germans also introduced (eminently sensible) legislation requiring all bikes to be sold with lights (a idea always resisted by the UK cycle trade). Result: the Germans have developed an industry manufacturing high-quality bike lighting, and we buy all our bike lights from them (or the Netherlands, or Taiwan). OK, this is very small beer on the scale of the motor industry, or most other areas of the economy. But it is an example of the interrelations between environmental policy, industry and economic success in a world trying trying to establish more sustainable economies.
The drift of the UK away from the EU matters to a blog mostly concerned with cycling, this one, because with it goes, most probably, a psychological drift away from more collective, egalitarian and pro-environmental transport solutions, and a drift back towards the exclusive influence of the English-speaking world, the USA, Canada and Australia, with their emphasis on the right to use a car everywhere and for everything. In practice, a political drift away from Europe is likely to make UK transport campaigners' jobs even harder.
One tangential result of all this, however, which has probably not occurred to the Conservative and UKIP europhobes, is that their campaign is also pushing the United Kingdom apart. For the Celtic nations are not in agreement with the English about wanting to sever ties with Europe. The current UK may break away, but this greatly increases the chances of the other parts of the UK breaking away from England, in order to remain as full members of the EU. An independence referendum is on the cards in Scotland in 2014 or 2015, and the SNP wants to make an independent Scotland part of the Nordic group of countries, economically and politically tied to Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
So in seeking to preserve that which they most want to protect, an independent and strong United Kingdom, the anti-Europeans may themselves actually drive its destruction. And then where will England be?