Tuesday 8 May 2012

Few things give us more cause to rejoice than being left behind

We all surely knew that the non-campaign for elected mayors was running into serious trouble when its supporters started bleating about the dangers of Newcastle being “left behind”.

I have been left behind all my life, from the earliest egg and spoon races at my primary school, and it has never done me any harm. In fact, I rejoice in it.

How many of us wake up in the morning full of regret that we ignored all those powerful politicians and economic gurus who warned us that we would be “left behind” if we did not join the euro? But there the parallel ends.

A lemming: no doubt cursing its luck at being left behind

Elected mayors were a half-baked idea that no one seemed capable of explaining coherently, let alone selling to an electorate that clearly had other issues much closer to its heart.

I await with keen interest a protest march chanting: “What do we want? More highly paid elected politicians! When do we want them? Now!”

The euro, on the other hand, while economically illiterate, is a very well-thought-through cog in that great political project designed to deliver a single European state. And even as the voters of France and Greece reject the parties of austerity, the cheerleaders of the new Europe like Lord Mandelson declare that the only answer to the crisis is – yes, you guessed it – more European integration.

Lord Contra-Indicator of Hartlepool and Foy

As a small-c conservative, I naturally take heart from the great British public’s tendency to reject gratuitous change, whether in the form of a regional assembly, the alternative vote or elected mayors, whenever anyone consults us directly.

I am also conscious, however, that the real victor in last week’s local elections and referenda was the Apathy Party, which kept more than two thirds of potential voters away from the polling stations.

If we don’t like Messrs Cameron and Osborne now, we are surely going to hate them when all the belt-tightening measures they have announced but not enacted actually start to impact on our lives.

It seems implausible that we would turn so soon to the comedy double act of the Two Eds, who were right at the epicentre of the Gordon Brown Fan Club that got us into our current mess in the first place.

Miliband and Balls: Ssshhh, don't mention Gordon

Though memories are remarkably short, as one can judge from the chorus of boos on any discussion programme when Coalition ministers attempt to pin the blame on the huge deficit that Labour ran up.

We cannot register a protest vote with the usual third party, since Nice Nick is enjoying a threesome with those other posh kids, so where does that leave us? With Nigel Farage, Caroline Lucas, George Galloway and Nick Griffin, plus others who would make their policies look like positively mainstream.

In short, pretty much where the Greek people have ended up today. Time will tell whether the net result is to be the collapse of the euro project or the extinction of democracy in Greece and any other country where the electorate has the temerity to challenge the wisdom of the European elite.

My money, I regret to say, is on the latter. But, either way, we face a period of acute economic and political turbulence across the Channel that isn’t going to do any favours for prosperity or stability here.

I would relish a referendum that gave Britain the opportunity to start extricating itself from this European car crash. The result is far from easy to call: our innate conservatism and shortness of memory surely militate against apparently radical action to put the clock back and reclaim our independence.

But when you are perched on the edge of a cliff with a forest fire advancing behind you, there is no easy choice.

Who will give us the chance to vote on something that actually matters? If nothing else, it might help to push the Apathy Party back into the minority where it rightfully belongs.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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