I almost feel sorry for our Prime Minister. After all the brave words and heightened expectations, he finally sets out his demands for his renegotiation. And they prove to be a damp squib. He has laboured mightily, and brought forth a mouse.
But then, to complete his humiliation, and despite his poverty of ambition, and the trivial nature of his requests, he is told by the powers that be in the EU — by Juncker, and Tusk, and especially by Angela Merkel — that his requests are unacceptable. Really the only substantive request (the others are fundamentally cosmetic) is for a restriction on migrants’ welfare benefits.
The objective is to limit immigration, but the measure requested is totally inadequate. We must control our borders. We ourselves must decide who enters our country and who does not. A nation is practically defined as a territory that controls its borders. Fiddling with welfare benefits is not enough. But Cameron can’t have it anyway.
In desperation he has floated the idea (and horrified the Brussels establishment) by suggesting that if he gets nothing, he may have to campaign to leave the EU. One Brussels diplomat likened his behaviour to that of Violet Elizabeth Bott in the “Just William” stories — “I’ll scweam and scweam till I’m sick — I can, you know!”.
My first thought was that this was just a negotiating ploy. But really, if (as now seems likely) Cameron comes back with nothing — not even waving a piece of paper saying “Peace in our Time”, or “Game, set and match” — where can he go to hide? He can hardly say “My renegotiation came to nothing, but I still want you to vote to stay in an unreformed EU”. Maybe he would do the only decent and honourable thing, and recommend an OUT vote. But don’t hold your breath.
The Oldham by-election
Let’s be honest: the Oldham result was a disappointment. I don’t think we had seriously expected to win the seat, but many of us thought we would come close, and would dramatically cut the Labour majority. We had an excellent candidate in John Bickley, who deserved a better outcome, and we ran what many in the party regard as perhaps our most professional by election campaign to date.
I think all of our MEPs went to Oldham to help in the campaign, and most contributed to the funding.
At the same time, Labour moderates were talking up the risk Labour faced, in a clear attempt to destabilise Jeremy Corbyn. One speculated on a three-figure Labour majority. This ploy back-fired. By lowering Labour expectations, they made the actual outcome look like an endorsements of Corbyn by the electorate.
So what happened? There have been many questions about the postal votes in the constituency. Tellers reported box after box filled almost exclusively with Labour votes. I understand that Labour on the day scarcely bothered with tellers at polling stations — I suspect they were confident they had a strong enough lead in postal votes before the polls even opened.
Where does that leave the parties? Labour delighted in the short run, but with Corbyn seemingly endorsed, piling up problems for voting in May. UKIP with more realistic expectations in such very hard-core Labour seats. The Tories quietly pleased that Jeremy Corbyn (whom they regard as their ace-in-the-hole) looks like surviving a little longer. Oh, and the Lib-Dems and the Greens crying into their beer and lamenting their lost deposits.
There’s something very satisfying about the Greens losing their deposit in the middle of the Paris COP21 climate conference.