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Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Did the British population vote Conservative to reward David Cameron for his qualities as Prime Minister? Or in order to get the referendum regarding the European Union? That is the intriguing question that remains after Cameron’s unexpectedly large victory of last week.

I definitely did not exaggerate when I called last week’s elections in the United Kingdom the most exciting elections in years and I must admit that the final results even surprised me.

The final results of the British Elections
Chart and picture by: Ernst's Economy
Election results, courtesy of
Click to enlarge
Of course, during the British parliamentary elections the country is divided in a large number of regions and the results are set, according to the ‘winner takes all’ principle. This principle means that nobody, but the winner of the elections in that region, gets any of the seats in the British parliament (House of Commons).

And so it could happen that the UKIP received millions of votes from voters throughout the whole UK, but still received only one seat in parliament, due to the fact that the party did not WIN elections, except for one.

Nevertheless, few people would have expected in advance that Labour would be lagging with almost 100 seats less than the Tories. Or that the Liberal Democrats would be nearly annihilated, keeping only 8 seats from their 57 seats, won in the previous elections.

An evenly big surprise is the emergence of the Scottish National Party, whose ubiquitous victory in Scotland yields them no less than 56 seats in parliament, making it the third largest party in the UK. This, in spite of a very limited number of votes overall (in fact, about the same as the UKIP received).

Now that the dust clouds have settled in the United Kingdom, PM David Cameron has all the reasons to be very happy with his unexpectedly large mandate. 

Cameron has an absolute majority in British parliament, which enables him to be responsible for the whole British policy during the next five years, instead of him having to form a coalition government with the LibDems. Now he does not have to soften his desired policy, in order to keep Nick Clegg aboard.

The Labour party has weakened too, with 23 seats less in parliament than in 2010. This means that their opposition in the House of Commons can be overruled much easier by the Tories, as long as David Cameron keeps his own party members aboard during political quarrels and arguments.

Downside of these election results is, however, that David Cameron has definitely a big issue to tackle. In particular, the question whether the British population voted for the Tories out of satisfaction with Cameron’s policies of the past five years? Or for the reason that he proposed that infamous referendum regarding the European Union, as late as 2017?!

It is the same question that almost every adolescent boy in a pub has experienced himself: “Did this girl in the pub like me just for being me of for all the free drinks that I offered her that evening?” Personally, I think that ‘the girl loved Cameron mostly for the free drinks’.

Cameron has probably not been a bad leader at all, but he failed to make a lasting impression on me for his leadership, during the last five years; both regarding European questions as domestically, as far as I’m concerned.

Most of his domestic, political efforts seemed pointed at the preservation of London as arguably the most important financial centre in the world, outside New York City. While that was perhaps a sensible choice for the United Kingdom as a whole and turned London into the financial and commercial services stronghold of the world, it happened at the expense of the other British regions.

In my humble opinion, Cameron did too little to reinforce the competitive power of the rest of the United Kingdom, regarding agricultural and industrial production and supply of commercial services.

The result of his policy was, that while the United Kingdom was a large net exporter of services, due to London, it remained a large net importer of agricultural produce and industrial goods. In other words: when London sneezes, the United Kingdom has caught a cold.

With respect to the East European workers and immigrants that 'flooded' the UK, Cameron seemed to maintain a N.I.M.B.Y. stance (i.e. Not In My BackYard), in which these people were quite often marked as spongers on British society, instead of being an important enabler for the current, British economic success.

On top of that, with respect to the European Union, it seemed that David Cameron had his hand firmly on the ‘chicken switch’ during his first stint as PM: seldomly participating in the plans of either the Euro-zone or the rest of the European Union. And seldomly ready to defend the EU against his own distrusting population, as being an indispensable factor for the economic success of the UK

The political and economic successes were seemingly achieved by Cameron, while his failures could be fully blamed on the European Union. All that Cameron seemingly wanted during the last five years – and in fairness, this is also what Dutch PM Mark Rutte seemed to want deep in his heart – was to water the EU down to an economic free-trade zone; by doing so, he neglected the historical reasons and causes for the formation of the EU in the first place and did not do any justice to the political component of its formation.

And now David Cameron is stuck with his referendum…

He cannot pull it back anymore, as his population gave him probably the mandate for a new government, with this particular referendum in mind. He must obey its outcome in 2017 (or earlier) to not make a complete fool of himself, even if that means that the UK will have to leave the European Union.

And he probably can’t implement the change that he wants within the European Union, while using his referendum as the proverbial stick; that simply did not work during the previous years since he announced the referendum and the chances are dim that this will work in the coming years.

Personally, I don’t see Cameron as an avid defender of the EU. He simply did too little to either reinforce the EU’s structure or to defend it domestically, against all odds. And now he must face the consequences of his indecisive stance.

Carl Bildt, the former Swedish Prime Minister, is much more optimistical about the new strenght of David Cameron. The following snippets from an interview with Bildt were printed in De Volkskrant:

The next 18 to 24 months will probably be decisive for the shape that Europe will get, during the next decades. The UK put the wheels for this process in motion. Re-elected with a sound, but nevertheless unexpected victory, David Cameron should use his broader mandate to propose a package of reforms for the EU that will be attractive for all the member states.

The last years Cameron had to please the fanatical anti-European wing of his Conservative Party, in order to keep his voters away from the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which is in favour of a separation from the EU. Now, that the UKIP became the biggest loser of the recent elections and his own mandate has been reinforced, Cameron can step forward as the pragmatical, but nevertheless dedicated European that he really is.

When Cameron can present a sound agenda for reforms, during the European Council in June, and is prepared to listen to other people, he can put a process in motion from which the whole EU can profit.

During the last years, Cameron spoke – in a series of speeches – about the European agenda for reforms, aimed at the improvement of the competitive power of the EU and the transparency of its institutions. 

When Cameron, with the current Russian resentment and the spreading disorder in the Middle East in mind, will soon speak about the reforms that the EU has to carry through, I hope that he will endorse a more effective foreign and security policy.


A possible British decision to leave the EU would lead to a painful and complicated process of negotiations about a ‘Brexit’ and an agreement about a new kind of future relation. There would be no atractive options at all and the eventual results – in spite of the substantial amount of goodwill of both parties during the negotiations – would leave both the EU and the United Kingdom visibly less strong; also on a global scale.

A British exit could be ‘inspirational’  for similar movements in other countries, with the risk that the already weakened EU would further deteriorate.

Carl Bildt has written an important article here (the whole article is very much worth your while IMHO) and I do agree with some of the points that he makes in it.

However, I disagree with the fact that Carl Bildt puts Cameron on a pedestal, as the latter does not deserve that, in my humble opinion. I don’t see Cameron as the right person to put the wheels for EU change in motion. Personally, I don’t like the future direction for the EU, at which Cameron is aiming.

On top of that I cannot imagine that Cameron will indeed reinforce the foreign and security policies of the EU, like Bildt demands. Such changes could come at the expense of David Cameron losing Britain’s ‘special relation’ with the USA. I think that this point of Bildt was rather naive of him.

And last but not least: I don’t think that it is a healthy development for the EU, when the other countries in the European Union will be blackmailed by the UK, in order to deploy exactly the changes that the British population wants, or else... 

Nevertheless, this is exactly what Cameron achieved with his reckless referendum.

I agree more or less with Bildt that it could have serious consequences for the EU, when the ‘Brexit’ would indeed occur. However, I fear that the consequences can be even worse, when the EU is blackmailed into a direction that the majority of the European population does not desire at all.

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