The prime minister may be taking to heart president Theodore Roosevelt's advice to conduct diplomacy by speaking softly and carrying a big stick. Unnoticed by either his own members of Parliament and let alone the media, is the fact that following the Juncker debacle, Britain has bagged three significant successes over the summer:
1. The 28 member states have all agreed to an EU five-year plan which includes all of the key reforms the PM cited in his January 2013 Bloomberg speech;
2. These reforms have been publicly endorsed by the so-called arch federalist and president elect of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as by Donald Tusk, the newly appointed president of the European Council, the man whose job it is to make sure Europe delivers them;
3. The sanctions regime against Russia and the revival of NATO's mission is in no small measure due to the UK's active engagement with Member States, urging them to think bigger than the purely commercial motives in their relations with the dangerous, revisionist actors flanking the European space.
However, the defection of Douglas Carswell demonstrates that, despite this, pretty much all of the political and media establishment choose to believe that the UK is yet to present its first renegotiation demands and that when they do they will be rejected out of hand.
Furthermore, claims that Eurosceptic Tory MPs will pledge to vote 'No' in an EU referendum even if reforms are secured, represent a desperate failure of communication to the public. Some would go as far as to say that, given the existential importance of the issue and that the public continue to say that they have next to no information about Europe, such a state of affairs is nothing less than an insult to the intelligence of the UK citizens who will ultimately decide the country's fate.
To spell it out, David Cameron's speech asked for:
- Protection for those not in the euro from caucusing by the Eurozone;
- Reduction of complex rules restricting labour markets and excessive regulation restricting business;
- Completing the single market;
- Completing transformative trade deals with the US;
- Dealing with the issue of 'ever closer union';
- Ensuring that power must be able to flow back to Member States, not just away from them
- Ensuring a bigger and more significant role for national parliaments.
All of these issues are now on the agenda. Settling 'the British question', far from ignored and pilloried by the Member States, is regarded as central to the future of the EU and a political priority for the leading players.
So it is bizarre to find that the leaderships of the main political parties find it impossible to sing from the rooftops that the agenda that they are all asking for is now up for grabs in cooperation with, not against, our fellow Member States. The question is why aren't those leaderships, especially the Conservative Party, keen to squash the Douglas Carswells of this world, by saying that the game has already started and that the job now is to make sure these agreed concepts are turned into actual policy?
It is no less bizarre to see organisations like Business for Britain arguing that the UK is a minnow in European affairs, ignored and ganged up on, without any influence. Clearly, their strategy is to talk down the country to reinforce the utterly incorrect stereotype that the UK is a loser not a leader in Europe.
On any view, the UK remains a highly influential member of the European Union. The British Chambers of Commerce survey published only yesterday shows that most UK companies want to see reform: it also shows a clear majority in favour of the UK's continuing membership. Other recent surveys show that even more emphatically. Business wants the UK government and UK MPs and MEPs to put their efforts into delivering that change. For the sake of the country, their own parties and the simple need to keep the public informed, this must be done.