Friday, October 29, 2010

Coalition spins it hard over the EU Budget

Following on from the previous post about calls for David Cameron to apologise for misleading the House, it appears that what we have here is one of those classic examples in politics where what has not been specifically said is assumed to mean either X or Y, depending on your political viewpoint.

Let's deal with the facts first though. It is absolutely 100% true that Labour MEP did not vote in favour of the 6% EU budget rise that was passed in the European Parliament by 546 to 88. Labour MEPs joined their Tory and Lib Dem counterpart as part of the 88 against.

Clear cut huh? Now let's move into the wonderful world of the grey where politicians and their words really live.

You see, there were a couple of utterly pointless amendments tabled on the budget. I say pointless because given the majority with which the 6% rise was passed they had no chance of actually succeeding.

Firstly there was an amendment that the Labour MEPs were supporting, which included a €1bn cut in agriculture subsidies. Then there was another amendment which was calling for a freeze of the EU budget at 2010 levels, effectively a cut over time given inflation. This is what the Labour MEPs voted against.

So here we have the wonderful grey area. Cameron said that Labour MEPs had been voting for "higher budgets". By voting against a freeze, it can be inferred that they're in favour of "higher budgets" which is what the Tory Spin Press Office was pushing hard yesterday.

Of course, such an argument is tenuous, but then so are most arguments in politics, and we've have quite a week of tenuous stuff, what with Labour people (and Boris??) acting as if housing benefit changes are equivalent to the Serbs forcing Kosovans to leave or be slaughtered and dumped in mass graves.

Cameron does of course have wiggle room as a result of his carefully chosen words, but it doesn't take a genius to figure out that the implication was that Labour MEPs had voted in favour of the 6% increase in the EU budget that went through the EP.

The Tories may of course suggest such an implication was not there at all, but it is not helped by the Cheif Secertary to Treasury, Danny Alexander, also saying in the Commons yesterday
"I have to say he’d have a bit more credibility on controlling the public finances if his colleagues in the European Parliament hadn’t just voted for the 6 per cent rise in the European budget."
Pretty clear cut too huh? He's gone even further than Cameron and made the specific charge that the Labour MEPs voted for something that they actually didn't.... or did he?

What happens to Danny Alexander's words if we move ourselves into the grey area to which politics resides? Well he said "colleagues" he didn't say "Labour MEPs". Are Labour MPs "colleagues" in the European Parliament just Labour MEPs or are they all the MEPs in the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats group that Labour belong?

All looks very, monkey see, monkey do, politics is, as politics does to me. Cameron and Alexander are both off the hook thanks to tenuous at best, downright deceitful at worst arguments. I wouldn't be surprised if the pointless amendment was tabled souly for the purpose of providing the domestic politicians something to throw at Labour.

The bottom line as it were is that the three main British political parties in the European Parliament voted against the 6% rise in the EU budget, but not having a dividing line doesn't make particularly interesting copy now does it? Much better to spin it.

Note: Danny Alexander quote via Cathy Newman's FactCheck blog. See also

No comments: