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Ignoring the 'fruitcakes' is no longer an option.

Byline: David James WHAT'S IN THE NEWS david.james@walesonline.co.uk

Not for the first time, the irrepressible Conservative MP for Monmouth had it spot on.

Accused, in that traditional way of politicians discussing important matters of state, of being a "fruitcake", David TC Davies launched a defence of fruitcakes.

He told his fellow MPs: "It was the fruitcakes who warned against the euro 10 years ago. We were all accused of being fruitcakes then. The fruitcakes were right...

"Fruitcake is a cheap and reliable source of energy, I'm for fruitcakes, I'm proud to be a fruitcake, long may fruitcakes continue."

And with that glorious off-the-cuff quip, suddenly the reason for the debate over Europe that is gripping Westminster made sense.

Thinking that Mr Davies, with his Union Jack cufflinks and strident Eurosceptic, pro-nuclear, climate-change-questioning views, is a fruitcake doesn't mean he doesn't matter.

For centuries, British politics has been filled with people who were viewed with bafflement by more mainstream cookies.

The fruitcakes have held forth on issues from votes for women to the legalisation of hard drugs, and nuclear disarmament.

Sometimes, they have been proved right; sometimes they haven't. But it doesn't mean the digestives, Rich Tea biscuits and more conventional crackers can just call them fruitcakes and hope they will go away.

To most of the non-Euro-obsessed commentators and politicians in Westminster, for whom the idea of leaving the EU is just a bit of a silly irrelevance, David Cameron's pledge of a Bill in this Parliament on holding an in-out referendum in 2017 is baffling.

It won't get the Parliamentary time it needs, they say, so it's pointless; it suggests he is both nakedly political and a weak leader.

Gallons of newspaper ink, hours of radio and TV time and endless pages of internet commentary have been expended discussing whether Mr Cameron's move is a political booby trap for Labour, a capitulation to Tory backbenchers or just a huge strategic blunder.

Yet perhaps it is just belated recognition from Mr Cameron, who in 2006 famously called Ukip members fruitcakes then saw them humiliate the Tories in England's recent local elections, that calling someone a fruitcake and hoping they will go away is not a clever political strategy - especially when many of your own party share the same views.

There are apparently a lot of people, fruitcakes or not, who want to talk about Europe.

Taking them seriously and giving them their debate may just be the only way for the PM to deal with it.

In highlighting the political pointlessness of calling someone a fruitcake, Mr Davies has explained a great deal.

The worry is that he may find the debate doesn't reveal the proud, united country of which his cufflinks suggest he dreams.

Since Europe was last directly put to the people of the UK in 1975, much has changed. We've had devolution, mass immigration, EU expansion and a crisis in the eurozone.

It may be that the debate is dominated by people like Boris Johnson, who put reasoned arguments that both understand the starting point of the Eurosceptics and argue that the benefits to leaving the EU are unlikely to outweigh the negative effect of leaving it.

Or it may be that the debate, as Wales' First Minister Carwyn Jones has suggested it might, starts to expose fractures in the UK.

There is a quote that sums up this fear from the historian Norman Davies, someone who has far less faith in the solidity of the UK than the MP who shares his surname.

In an interview with the FT, he said: "Historical change is like an avalanche. The starting point is a snow-covered mountainside that looks solid. All the changes take place under the surface and are rather invisible. But something is coming. What it is is impossible to say."

Professor Davies, a lauded historian who has held posts at top universities across the world, may be out on a wing among historians with his expectation that Scotland will at some point leave the UK. His critics may even see him as a fruitcake - albeit one world-renowned for his scholarship.

His recent booked Vanished Kingdoms is a lengthy, detailed justification, with examples from throughout European history, of his belief that a powerful history is no guarantee of any kind of future at all.

"Students of history need to be reminded of the transience of power," he wrote, adding, "sooner or later all things come to an end."

Mr Davies the politician may be right that fruitcakes do get it right. But he and the other Mr Davies can't both be right.

CAPTION(S):

| Monmouth Tory MP David Davies' Twitter picture... 'Fruitcake: a reliable and low cost energy source. Bring it on'
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 16, 2013
Words:789
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