Todays news on the EU referendum is strongly influenced by an article written by someone who used to be a close adviser and confidant of David Cameron. The fuss is primarily because Mr Hilton has broken ranks with his old boss. According to Steve Hilton A decision to leave the EU is not without risk, but I believe it is the ideal and idealistic choice for our times. Taking back power from arrogant, unaccountable, hubristic elites and putting it where it belongs. In people’s hands. Just like a previous promise from various people arguing we should leave, that the money currently spent funding the EU will flow directly into the NHS, this concept is entirely without substance or structure. Mr Hilton also suggests my confidence in human nature and the good that will come when individuals, families and neighbourhoods work together without a far-away administrator’s master-plan. This is of course an appealing idea, not dissimilar to the language of the Big Society which Mr Hilton was very much a promoter of. Unfortunately the language of the Big Society was not followed by any substance either. Indeed all that the Tories did was to tie up charities, nominally a key part of enabling society to work more effectively at a local level, in red tape when it comes to campaigning to change the way in which we are governed. They failed to give local Government (closer to the big society than Westminster) any recommendations as to how to release assets and loosen ties of community resources and services.
Hilton goes on to say Tony Blair gave up the opt-out from the Social Chapter negotiated by John Major (a capitulation which meant that, under the system of qualified majority voting, Britain could subsequently be overruled by other European countries on issues such as working conditions and health and safety). This is an indication that Mr Hilton is ignoring the many positive things that being part of the EU offers to employees as well as small businesses. I work for a small business that occasionally gets frustrated with the sort of health and safety and working condition type rules that many commentators blame on the EU. However even when things are frustrating, we know we are working on a level playing field with our competitors, and the need to protect our employees is fundamental to our success as a business.
Mr Hilton appears to suggest that part of the problem with the EU is that he and others do not understand or control it. This is no doubt in contrast to a government structure that he surely does understand, but which are just as opaque to the rest of society. A democracy is based on the notion that the people — or their directly-elected representatives — are able to decide issues for themselves. And yet membership of the EU brings with it constraints on everything from employment law to family policy, all determined through distant, centralised processes we hardly understand, let alone control. You may say: Well, that’s government for you — it always involves compromise. Indeed it does, but at least in a democracy, the compromises are clear and transparent and can be argued over and influenced by the people who are affected by them. Yet no such possibility exists in the grotesquely unaccountable EU.
One of the very positive aspects of the article written by Steve Hilton is that there is some substance and it is not simply a criticism of others. However I cannot find very much in what he has written that I personally can agree with.