Malcolm Rifkind has risen, somewhat improbably it must be said, as the leading spokesman for Conservative policy on the refugee crisis (even Conservatives are reluctantly obliged to acknowledge that describing dead bodies as ‘immigrants’ doesn’t wash any more); following David Cameron’s spectacularly crass PR/policy ‘do-nothing’ blunder which has left both his government and Party looking like the same old, unsurprisingly cruel Nasty Party – not to opponents, but to large (‘middle’) swathes of the British people (and noticeably large numbers of mothers and grandmothers, moved to express in social media or broadcast phone-ins real, vitriolic anger against a PM who is acting in THEIR name); which has led to the unedifying spectacle of swarms of Conservative politicians deserting their Government’s rapidly sinking policy on “immigration”: as if it had never existed, or at least was nothing to do with them. The PM’s sole clear announcement in the last week has been to tell us defensively that he is a father; but we knew that, and had already discounted its political value to ‘nil’.
The Conservative Party must be desperate to turn to Rifkind (BBC radio, GMS 4th September) in order to explain – as best I at least can understand his apologetics – the new official Conservative Newspeak waffle; that a U-turn (which may not actually prove to be a U-turn if they can wriggle out of it without doing much) is not actually, eh, a U-turn. I have no idea whether I am right in this interpretation, but since this is about the grotesque convolutions of Conservative Policy, in order to make the callous and obnoxious appear to be common sense, on a policy issue that is a humanitarian crisis of biblical proportions, allow me to be frank; who really cares what the Conservative Party thinks any more?
The problem that the Conservative Party has with an issue that should be focused on a European Union (EU) response to a huge humanitarian crisis has a single, simple cause. The Conservative Party believes the EU is solely a market; a Common Market. It isn’t, it never was, and it cannot be.
The EU cannot respond adequately to such humanitarian issues, which even the most obtuse British politician must see impacts first and most critically on EU states that are not islands offshore Northern Europe, with the problems this immediacy bestows on the states that have to handle at first-hand the vast movements of peoples created by great political crises (and not for the first time in history, for this is European history), without the resources to take EU-executive action. The EU requires to be much more than a mere ‘market’, and most states in the EU recognise this reality. It is not easy to achieve, and is unfortunately made more difficult by the presence of Britain in the EU as a purely obstructive force. Britain resolutely refuses to recognise this need for EU-excutive policy and action, or to participate in creating this EU capacity, but rather doggedly spends all its political capital attempting to undermine such objectives. Britain entered the EU to deconstruct it. We must now recognise that Britain cannot continue to play a leading role in an organisation in which it does not essential believe. It may be that Britain has succeeded; the EU has failed. Nevertheless the price of this cynicism is that nobody in Europe is listening to Britain any more.
The British Government wishes us to concentrate on how much money we invest in support of refugees in centres prepared far, far from Britain and far from Europe. This is unrealistic, and it has garnered less support from the rest of the world than might be expected. Such a policy demands that other states should fully participate with investment, leadership and direct action in carrying out what is effectively and obviously a British-centred policy that at the same time exudes British semi-detachment from the problem. The policy will not succeed because few states will invest in a policy that serves principally the self-interest of Britain.
I am baffled why the Conservatives not only believe the problem is really something for everybody else in Europe, or beyond to solve; but at the same time that everybody else should follow Britain’s policy. If Britain wishes to lead it also requires to take the leading responsibility, and of course this is anathema to the Conservative Government, and indeed is beyond the capacity of Britain to achieve. At the same time Britain will not accept that such major policy issues require a strong, politically focused and EU-centred capacity to form and execute political policy. The EU idea has been undermined by Britain for decades. Britain, the Conservative Party and swarms of Eurosceptics have worked assiduously to ensure that such an EU is not formed.