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Thursday, 17 January 2013

As Douglas Alexander has found out the hard way - getting in first isn't always best

By Nathaniel Mawson

Douglas Alexander Shadow Foreign Secretary in response to David Cameron's proposed speech on Europe decided to hold his own. The Labour MP speaking in Chatham House stated that "ahead of the Prime Minister's speech in the Netherlands tomorrow, I want to explore why he finds himself where he does". However, this hits the ear as a rather jarring statement now that we know the Prime Minister will not be delivering his speech tomorrow because of the events in Algeria. Of course, at the time this was not known but it goes to prove that it's not always best to get in first. 

The speech got off to a rather rocky start "Where I want to start is not with the words of a US diplomat, but a film by a US director." Alexander continued "Because last Friday I attended a screening of Stephen Spielberg’s new film 'Lincoln'." Baring with you so far, Mr Alexander. "It's a great film." The Douglas Alexander Film Blog coming soon.

However, once that awkward, clunky non-sequitur was out of the way the speech ran much more smoothly. "To really understand tomorrow’s speech you need to start from this understanding: that the Prime Minister really is willing to contemplate historic change purely to try and achieve low politics." this view is certainly not just a Labour way of looking at it. There has been much discussion about the real threat UKIP and Euroscepticism pose to the Conservative Party and speculation that a good deal on Europe could win back Eurosceptic support. Or as Alexander puts it  "This speech is about politics much more than it is about policy." perhaps more parliamentary than the speculation but it amounts to much the same where "origins lie in weakness, not in strength."

One line from the speech reads  "a consequence of this failure to modernise, is that he failed to change his party’s approach to Europe." essentially the divisions exist because David Cameron has failed to come face to face with them and though some who are sympathetic to Mr Cameron's planned renegotiations may regard them as exactly that modernising trend to change the Conservative image of Europe - Alexander dismisses this as being purely politically useful as referenced directly here "Many Tory MPs now see UKIP as a dagger pointed at the heart of their electoral prospects."

David Cameron has recently been telling everybody who has been listening about his plans for a European renegotiation. He's been touring the TV studios and appearing in every talk show under the sun like a Hollywood A-lister trying to flog their new film (eventually to be referenced by Alexander - the circle of politics) and indeed he is trying to sell us something. Mr Cameron is trying to sell us an attitude, a European "My Way". However, not all are convinced "For many in his Party, getting David Cameron to commit now to an in/out referendum is not about securing consent. It is about securing exit." Alexander continued by quoting Margaret Thatcher who stated that a White Paper on a referendum was "a licence for Ministers to disagree on central issues but still stay in power."

"The real tragedy of tomorrow’s speech is that David Cameron’s Party won’t let him address the undoubted need for change in the EU in a sensible way." such as getting in first for the sake of it? Genuinely, if one accepts one side or other in this argument we still need to hear it all. Both sides must speak, but they must do so sensibly- no mad claims or assumptions, none of this they'd-do-that or they'd-do-this nonsense. 

What we need is just the facts, just the ideas and just the chance to work out for ourselves which side we support and for that reason it is sad that for now we won't be hearing Mr Cameron speaking on Friday. We however understand the reason for the Prime Minister canceling his speech and our thoughts are with the families of our countrymen who are currently in danger in Algeria .