Wednesday, February 03, 2016
Cameron's problem is less the EU and more a hostile media
David Cameron undertook a considerable gamble when he promised to try and get some reform of the EU in Britain's interests, in order to then pursue a referendum on continued membership. Both elements of the same strategy, they were designed to lance the most lethal boil on the Tory body politic, Europe.
The country at large is not particularly bothered about Europe. It's there, we're members, it's probably corrupt like most political institutions but hey, what can you do. That's the broad line of thought - if any exists - that the majority probably have towards Europe. It is completely at odds with the Tory world's utter obsession with the project. The Telegraph's usually reliable sketch writer, Michael Deacon, tries to have a pop at Cameron's new deal by picking out its most obscure element and sarcastically suggesting it'll be the talk of the pubs (“Oh, well that changes everything. If Cameron’s won a declaration on the subsidiarity implementation mechanism and a burden reduction implementation mechanism, I’m definitely voting to stay in.")
But the joke is surely on him, and the legion of other vein bursting commentators in today's papers. People aren't talking about anything to do with Europe, subsidiarity implementation mechanism or otherwise. This has always been about a Tory war in which the Prime Minister commands much the more depleted army.
Mr. Cameron has probably done as well - or better - as any leader of a single country within a large regional organisation could hope. One Belgian MEP quickly ran through the gains Cameron had made on the Today programme, and it would be difficult to suggest that nothing has happened as a result of his intensive lobbying.
Whatever the Prime Minister has secured, he must always have known that it would be roundly and vigorously criticised by the die-hard Euro-scpetic establishment. Herein will lie his most significant and dangerous battle. Not in Brussels, amongst well-meaning diplomats and fellow politicos who are seeking some sort of helpful compromise that can keep Britain inside the EU. It will be out in the newspapers of Britain. Mr. Cameron will follow in John Major's footsteps in unleashing the full fury of the print press on him. A glance at today's front pages gives you the general gist, and that's before you open up to read the splenetic outpourings of a legion of sclerotic right-wing iconoclasts.
British press owners are relentlessly anti-Europe for relentlessly commercial reasons. With barely a single British taxpayer among this largely foreign domiciled elite, they can all see that a Britain freed from the market regulating restrictions of the EU is a country in which their commercial interests can thrive and survive with far less intrusive inspection than if she stays in. It's good for their business to come out, even if that might not be the case for British business at large. A Murdoch or a Barclay would much rather deal with the looser UK system than the prying eyes of EU commissioners.
The happy press owners are thus keen to give full leeway to their EU-hating writers, editors and pontificators. This will be Cameron's battle. He may be Prime Minister, but in this war he and his small band of supporters are going to be very much the David to the British media's mighty Goliath. Every single news item about Europe, every apparently objective report on Cameron's negotiations and deals, will have to be read through the all-pervading anti-EU filter. It will be a war of attrition - which started years ago - and the surprise will be if, at the end of the referendum process, the British people remain inured to their newspapers' injunctions and vote to stay in. If they do, it will be one of the biggest blows to the power of the press ever struck. The EU is almost a bystander.