Elites

Much of political and social history can be read in terms of the tensions between elites and those they have presumed to govern. Elites have always defended their privileges against demands for accountability, relevance and democratic control. In many cases, their position is defensible. Elites — experts in technology, law, military affairs, planning — are often best placed to guide and lead decision-making. But in modern democracies, people demand that they are also accountable for those decisions.

The European Union is a fundamentally elitist construct. It was designed to eliminate democratic accountability from ‘Member States’ and substitute government by an unaccountable, bureaucratic, technocratic elite. As we have argued before, in practical terms the results have not been wholly bad. But it has destroyed the ability of European peoples to call their rulers to account, and so robbed the EU of the fundamental compact of government by consent.

It is not just a question of political elites. Leading figures in business, finance, academia, the arts and culture are queuing up to tell us that leaving the EU would be wrong. The near-unanimity of the position being adopted by elites of all types should itself give the undecided grounds for scepticism.

Leaving the European Union should be supported by British citizens from across the political spectrum — as our original entry was opposed. For those on the left, leaving would offer the restoration of democracy, accountability to the people and the opportunity to re-energise the progressive agenda. For those on the right, leaving the EU would restore tradition, independence, self-governance and the common law, which have always been the British defences against the abuse of power. All the rest is special pleading.

Benefit trap

David Cameron seems to be painting himself into a corner. His desire to restrict the in-work benefits available to European migrants is inherently discriminatory: it would not apply to UK citizens. It runs counter to the European treaties. In recent weeks, a procession of eurocrats and politicians has lined up to denounce these proposals. Cameron knows they cannot be accepted as currently presented. Yet they are in effect the only concrete proposals in his (non-existent) “demands”. What is going on?

In our view, insufficient attention has been paid to the domestic political context. Cameron and —¬†especially — George Osborne want to restrict the availability of in-work benefits to UK citizens. It is part of their agenda to move towards a lower-benefits, higher-wage economy. Their first attempt to reform tax credits was defeated by the House of Lords. But the introduction of Universal Credit will provide cover for a progressive limitation of in-work benefits for Britons and European migrants alike.

The way is open for another “hard-won” compromise. Cameron will get his desired benefit changes; the “colleagues” will pronounce themselves reluctantly convinced that sacred EU principles are respected; we shall be expected to applaud and acquiesce. Perhaps.