Argument should focus on the particular; not the general—unless it's about the EUby Philip Collins / February 29, 2016 / Leave a comment
Read more: Cameron’s compromise
Rhetoric always carries the shadow of duplicity. The ancient art of persuasion is also an act of chicanery, of false witness. As he began the task of selling his deal on the European Union to the British nation, the Prime Minister embodied both senses of the term. In the parliamentary session after his statement to the House of Commons, Cameron was at his most poised and commanding. The contrast with the leader of the Opposition’s stumbling incoherence was painful to behold. Yet if he is going to prevail, and the “Remain” side is going to win, Cameron’s rhetoric is going to have to change.
There are two problems with the deal that Cameron secured from Brussels. The first is that the details fall a long way short of the exaggerated expectations he foolishly raised. The second is that, dealing as it does with matters of no great relevance to anyone other than obsessed Tory MPs, the deal will be irrelevant to the final outcome of the referendum. As a rule, argument is better when it moves from the general to the particular. The debate on the EU will be the opposite. The case Cameron now has to make is for the principle of the EU, galling as it will be to forget a deal on which he has worked so hard.
In 1975 Harold Wilson knew the contents of the deal before he started to talk about them. The renegotiation itself was rather sotto voce. Though the details are lost to historical memory, Wilson was judged to have dealt cannily. The deal did not feature prominently in the campaign but when it was mentioned it was thought to add lustre to Wilson’s appeal for a “Yes” vote. The same will not be true for Cameron. Though he talks about the deal as granting “special status” to Britain, on each aspect of the…