Byline: Peter Mandelson
WITH the bank holiday a pleasant memory, the countdown begins to the May elections, including for the European Parliament another chance for Londoners to pass judgment on the parties and their leaders. For most, no doubt, it will be a negative verdict.
So, expect the opposition and the fringe parties to do well. Even if the Government has done some good things, why waste the opportunity to send a message that it needs to do better? Ukip can expect to be a beneficiary of this boot up the backside for the Coalition parties. Nigel Farage and his party of unknowns escape detailed scrutiny because you would need a giant magnifying glass to discover what their policies are and because, for most they are a passing joyride for the protest voter.
This is despite the fact that, for most Londoners, there is a lot to dislike about Ukip. Their attitudes to women and maternity rights belong in the dark ages. They routinely insult gay people. Ukip's London MEP, Gerard Batten, has said that all Muslims should sign up to a "Muslim code of conduct". If anyone could do with a new code it is Batten: his attendance and voting record in the European Parliament are terrible (although, like his Ukip colleagues, he is no slouch when it comes to drawing the allowances and expenses).
Farage likes to present his role in politics as good, clean knockabout fun (although he hates it when he is found out, as he was over his own personal money-making in the European Parliament). But his demand for Britain's total exit from the EU is deathly serious. It points a dagger at our economic interests, no more so than in London. The City of London remains a source of great wealth for Britain. It dominates European financial markets and is the eurozone's largest financial centre. It is being so big in Europe that enables the City to be big in the world. Outside the EU, we would no longer enjoy unfettered access to Europe's financial markets, and much of the City's trade and clients would relocate to continental financial centres because, under current European legislation, you have to be located inside the EU to conduct many financial activities within its borders.
This would be calamitous for jobs, not just in London but in other, smaller financial centres in the UK. The result would be less money in all our pockets and in the Treasury's coffers to pay for the country's health, education and other public services.
So voting for a party that wants Britain out of Europe is no joke. And where finance leads, trade follows.
Those who argue that we would not lose anything by exiting the EU contend that EU regulation delivers little market opening in Europe for British exporters, obstructs our trade with countries outside Europe and ties up our economy in red tape. But the EU has removed the national trade barriers of 28 member states, creating a vast single goods market of 500 million people to which British exporters have free, permanent access. Far from creating barriers to the rest of the world, British exports to the major emerging economies are growing.
And rather than having to accept unbearable regulation, Britain opts to have the least-regulated product markets in the developed world, after another EU member, the Netherlands. …