No, Mr. Cameron – This Is Not “Your Referendum”

As far as David Cameron is concerned, the coming EU referendum is nothing more than his personal plaything, an event to be moved about and manipulated as he pleases in order to achieve the “right” result

One throwaway line in the prime minister’s speech to the World Economic Forum in Davos yesterday captured at a stroke the sheer arrogance and duplicity behind the government’s approach to the EU referendum.

From the Independent’s summary of the speech:

David Cameron has told an audience at Davos that he would walk away from a Brussels summit in February if an agreement can not be reached on the UK’s EU Referendum.

“I want to put that to people in a referendum and campaign to keep people in the European Union. If there’s a good deal, we’ll take it. But if there’s not a good deal, I’m not going to hurry, I can hold my referendum any time until 2017,” Cameron said.

“My referendum”. Not Britain’s referendum. Not the public’s referendum. His referendum. David Cameron’s personal referendum.

Strangely, that might actually be the most honest thing that David Cameron has ever said on the subject of Europe and the coming EU referendum. Because given the fact that this cosmetic “renegotiation” has been taking place behind closed doors, with no formal demands and without any input from the British people themselves, the only fingerprints to be found on the whole rotten affair are indeed those of David Cameron and his ministers.

It is becoming increasingly clear to me (not that there was every any doubt) that this referendum will not be a fair fight – in fact, that it will be about as far away from a fair fight as it is possible to be. Just as Russia holding elections does not make that country a democracy, so the fact that the British people are being offered a Remain/Leave vote on the EU question does not mean that the outcome will be in any way legitimate.

It is possible to go through the rote motions of democracy, but do so without observing the spirit of democracy. And when that happens, neither side has cause for happiness with the outcome. If the Remain side win the referendum, their victory will be hollow, having been won on the back of a campaign built on fearmongering, outright deception and tactical manoeuvring by the government. And if (as currently seems probable) the Leave side loses the referendum, the issue will be far from settled. Many Leave campaigners, having been so blatantly cheated, will continue to rail against the European Union and do everything possible to raise awareness of its flaws and undermine the creaking structure from within. I certainly will.

The continued speculation over when exactly “David Cameron’s referendum” will take place is tedious and dispiriting. It should not be considered naive to hope for a prime minister – a leader – who sets out to do the work of the people, representing them and fighting for their priorities and interests in an honest, transparent manner. But in David Cameron we have a prime minister who gives every appearance of negotiating with the British people (or at least manipulating them) on behalf of the European Union, rather than the other way around.

All of this takes place between David Cameron’s repeated assurances to the European media that he feels “deeply European” from the “bottom of his heart” – either forgetting that in the year 2016 it is not possible to say something while abroad without it instantly filtering back home, or simply no longer caring about enraging eurosceptics by flaunting his own passionately pro-EU position.

Fine. Be that as it may. David Cameron was never a eurosceptic or a supporter of the Brexit cause, and at this point nobody expects anything else from him. But having so obviously sought to stack the deck in order to achieve his desired outcome from the referendum, the prime minister has no right to expect us to shut up and accept a future “Remain” vote when he has interfered with the process and undermined democracy at every turn.

David Cameron - European Union

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Saving The World, From A Swiss Fortress

The wait is finally over.

 

What do Bono, Eric Schmidt, Matt Damon, Jamie Dimon and David Cameron all have in common?

No, U2 are not auditioning for a new band member. The answer is even more thrilling – the World Economic Forum 2014 is convening for their annual gathering in Davos, Switzerland. The tired, the poor and the huddled masses can rest easy because these luminaries, together with Benjamin Netanyahu, the CEO of Wal-Mart and the King and Queen of Belgium have arrived in full pomp and splendour, to do…whatever it is exactly that they do there every year.

From the WEF homepage:

Profound political, economic, social and, above all, technological forces are transforming our lives, communities and institutions. Rapidly crossing geographic, gender and generational boundaries, they are shifting power from traditional hierarchies to networked heterarchies. Yet the international community remains focused on crisis rather than strategically driven in the face of the trends, drivers and opportunities pushing global, regional and industry transformation.

“The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business” is therefore the thematic focus of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2014. Our aim is to develop the insights, initiatives and actions necessary to respond to current and emerging challenges.

If this sounds to you like something you might hear in a second-tier business school lecture or the opening paragraphs of a particularly bad Tom Friedman column, you would be forgiven your mistake. It’s the year 2014 and our moral, intellectual and financial betters have apparently only just come to the realisation that technological forces are transforming our lives, communities and institutions.

Thank goodness for the sagacity of these wise men (and they still mostly are men), who alone among us have perceived that some kind of shift has taken place in our national economies and personal behavioural patterns since the internet and these fancy cell phones popped into being. It is astounding to witness how some of the brightest, busiest and most successful businesspeople, politicians and artists can sit and listen to so much meaningless garbage, and then come back a year later under the powerful spell of collective amnesia to do it all over again.

And seriously – “networked heterarchies”? All outward evidence suggests that there is but one solitary networked heterarchy that has gained and consolidated power in recent years, and that is the one currently booked into a Swiss convention centre to discuss just how wonderful networked heterarchies are, and to divide up the spoils of another bumper year.

In sessions with meaningless titles such as “The New Digital Context”, the world will be put to rights in Davos 2014 – and any outstanding items from the Bilderberg 2013 agenda will no doubt followed up and neatly resolved by those people privileged to be invited to both.

Here’s Klaus Schwab (what better name could there be for the leader of such an event?), the Founder and Executive Chairman of the WEF, welcoming the distinguished delegates to the annual shindig. And yes, he does have a symphony orchestra on the stage behind him. Pity them.

 

At least Schwab has the decency to admit at around the 1 minute 20 second mark that the whole affair is really about providing an opportunity for the global super-elite to relax, do business deals and network. He puts it somewhat more prettily than this, but the meaning is quite clear. This alpine convocation is like a gold-plated version of LinkedIn, with extra snow.

Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice also traveled to Davos, and read aloud a message from Pope Francis. Given the Pope’s well known thoughts about conspicuous displays of wealth and false displays of public piety, one must wonder whether poor Cardinal Turkson found himself having to ditch his prepared remarks and speak extemporaneously for fear of being run out of town for speaking truth to power.

On a personal level, I just don’t quite get it. For most of my career I have worked as a management consultant and project manager. But when I went on vacation, I left my work and all the trappings of my professional life behind at home. I didn’t walk the streets of Paris or the hills of the Lake District pretending to still be running IT projects or anything else to do with my line of work. And so if the shining people in Davos wants to have a good shindig in snowy Switzerland, I would have a lot more respect for them if they would just say so, and spend their time skiing rather than propagating the farcical myth that they are bringing their unique professional skills to bear on the problems of the world.

And yet every year we go through this worn-out pretense that the greatest minds of our generation are sequestering themselves in the mountains to hatch new plans to save the world, when really we all know they are there to slap themselves on the back for another successful year, drink glühwein and try to avoid being isolated in a corner and engaged in interminable, pious conversation by Gordon Brown.

So I have a proposal. Let’s test the mettle of these great, good and benevolent people who claim to care so much for us small folk. Let’s hold the World Economic Forum 2015 somewhere different, somewhere cheaper, calculate the difference in cost and give that sum of money to a front-line charity picked at random from a hat.

Let’s hold the World Economic Forum 2015 in my hometown of Harlow, Essex.

Superb transport links. Al Gore and Bono can hop on the 501 bus from Stansted Airport and stay at the new Holiday Inn Express.
Superb transport links. Al Gore and Bono can hop on the 501 bus from Stansted Airport and stay at the new Holiday Inn Express.

 

Marissa Mayer, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg can network and negotiate new business deals at this conveniently located Wetherspoons pub.
Marissa Mayer, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg can network and negotiate new business deals at this conveniently located Wetherspoons pub.

 

Concrete jungle where dreams are made, oh, there's nothing you can't do.
Concrete jungle where dreams are made, oh, there’s nothing you can’t do.

 

I’ll see you there!