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But as a Speech?

23rd January 2013

My piece for The Commentator on the PM's UK/EU speech as a speech:

... Those sentences, like the opening blather about the origins of the European Union, are intended to send a strong signal to other European capitals:

You won't get a better UK Conservative leader than me who has a good chance of knocking over British Euroscepticism for a good while to come, so if I were you I'd start looking hard for some serious moves in my direction.

Listening to the speech on the radio, I could easily tell that the Prime Minister was reading it out. His speechwriters do him few favours, serving up too much predictable phrasing and rhythm amidst trite speech-by-numbers rhetoric and listy structure. These effects can combine to make him sound curiously artificial and intellectually thin.

Plus, by using teleprompter technology, the Prime Minister denies himself any opportunity to be spontaneous, thereby stripping out most of the possibilities for making a speech come across as an intelligent conversation with the audience rather than an over-scripted lecture.

Still, that's modern politics, where issues of language get put through the strainer of anonymous focus groups. They lose spontaneity and sparkle, and so lack emotional content.

Bottom line? Scope for improvement on style, but the strong substance went well beyond what we all expected a few weeks or even days ago.

Rarely has a Prime Minister's speech achieved so much immediate impact and analysis.He's done something right.

Now what?

Once the dust settles, the UK will need to start outlining in general but non-trivial terms the sort of things it needs to put a recommendation for Yes/In to UK voters in a few years' time. Items on the list might include:

-   rebooting the European Parliament to include MPs from national Parliaments

-   a number of key competences returned to consensus, not qualified majority voting

-   some firm treaty language to reinforce 'subsidiarity' and to make these changes ECJ-proof and competence-creep-proof

-   abandoning some annoying Directives or giving the UK/others a formal opt-out

-   reforms to improve budgetary discipline/transparency and oppress corruption in huge EU programmes

-   reforms to extend the Single Market

-   treaty changes that guarantee that certain key national interests for states outside the Eurozone can not be overridden without their express consent

-   more good stuff like that

Most of these changes should be acceptable to most member states as a price well worth paying to get UK popular endorsement of its EU membership for the next three decades or so. Naturally they'll start out (as is already happening) by moaning about à la carte cherry-picking or whatever. Plus they'll fret about going through the whole misery of renegotiating a new treaty.

Yet none of these things is really so bad. There is a lot to be said for having a new treaty anyway, to define a stable relationship for EZ and non-EZ states. And if London knows that it will get a solid (enough) outcome from the whole process, the UK does not need to mount a rearguard action to throttle lots of it. Good grief, we might even be positive and constructive.

All of which said, even if D Cameron wins such a package, how do we all vote in any referendum? Does the fact that he likes it serve to reassure the rest of us that it is acceptable? Will the clamorous Eurosceptics persuade us that the concessions he has won are more or less rubbish?

Enough to keep me in happy punditry for a while. Which, after all, is the main thing.

 

 

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