The Eurosceptic prophecy fulfils itself

Cameron has traded influence in the European Union for a brief respite from rebellion in his party,

David Cameron really didn't have much of a choice in the end. As it became clear that he simply wasn't going to get the concessions he needed – "safeguarding" Britain's interests in the single market; blocking aspects of European financial services reform – he couldn't sign up to a new EU deal. Trying to force such a treaty through parliament would be immensely painful and damaging to the Prime Minister. Besides, Ireland and the Netherlands have constitutional obligations to hold referendums on new EU treaties. It would be very difficult for Cameron to refuse to consult his citizens if the Dutch and Irish were being asked.

So he said "no". What does this mean? The eurozone members and six others – a eurozone-plus – aim to proceed with their own pact to stabilise the single currency and pursue fiscal integration. Technically, it is very difficult for them to use EU institutions to enforce their deal (which is why Germany, in particular, would have preferred a full 27-member EU treaty, and why markets will question whether the euro has in fact been saved).

There will now be a lot of wrangling over what competences this new inner European core has to enact economic reforms that affect the outer tier. Britain's problem is that the outer tier is tiny: the UK and Hungary, possibly Sweden and the Czech Republic. Legally they have a strong case to prevent the eurozone-plus group from building a new institutional architecture from existing EU bodies – the Commission, the Court, the Parliament etc.

But in practice the inner core is big enough to form a majority in the Council – the assembly of heads of government where real EU decisions are made – to the near-permanent exclusion of Britain. This is the "caucusing" effect that the Foreign Office has been worried about – a situation in which the eurozone gang arrives at summits with a pre-agreed position and presents it to the outer tier as a fait accompli. When the reality of that new balance of power becomes clear, Hungary and the other naysayers might well decide their long-term interests are better served by eventually joining the inner circle, leaving the UK completely isolated.*

In other words, Cameron has blocked a treaty that he judges might have damaged UK interests, thereby creating a new settlement in the EU that could permanently tilt future negotiations against Britain. That in turn means hardline Tory sceptics will have good grounds to say that our relationship with the EU has been fundamentally altered and, inevitably, that there should be a referendum.

As I wrote yesterday, the Tories bank concessions on Europe and then come back for more. Last night Cameron made a very big concession indeed – he removed Britain from the next phase of the European project.

Sceptics should be pleased and, as my colleague Samira Shackle has noted this morning, some of them are. Then they will find, as they always do, that pushing for separation leads to diplomatic isolation, which reinforces their suspicion that the whole thing is a conspiracy against Britain. The prophecy fulfils itself. So they will insist that Cameron now set about the business of "repatriating" powers from Brussels, which, of course, he is much less able to do, having isolated the UK and antagonised fellow EU leaders. And when Cameron cannot then secure adequate "repatriation" – and nothing short of divorce is adequate for some Tory backbenchers – the calls for a referendum will sound out louder than ever.

The Prime Minister's non-deal in Brussels last night has bought him just a brief a moment of respite from rebellion in his own party. For that, he has accepted a downgrading of UK diplomatic relations with our major trading partners, leading us to the outermost margin of the EU and ever closer to the exit.

*Update: Indeed, Hungary sensed which way the wind was blowing pretty quickly and has now lined up with the non-UK consensus. It is still possible, of course, that Cameron is gambling that this emergency alliance of the rest of Europe will not last. National parliaments will have to be brought on side, some countries will expect referendums on a new euro pact and, crucially, since last night's deal doesn't appear to have actually resolved the structural flaws in the design of the single currency it might well fail to ease the market pressure driving the euro members apart. If it becomes clear that smaller states have signed up for something that gives Germany and France all of the power with no economic security in return there is bound to be a significant nationalist backlash in many countries. The whole thing could unravel, in which case the hardline British eurosceptics' ambition of getting out altogether would be realised even sooner.

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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Why hasn’t British Asian entertainment built on the Goodness Gracious Me golden age?

It is 20 years since the original radio series of Goodness Gracious Me aired. Over two decades, the UK media portrayal of Asians hasn’t used its success to evolve.

Save for a handful of special one-off episodes, Goodness Gracious Me hasn’t occupied a primetime TV slot for nearly two decades. Yet still it remains the measuring stick for British Asian comedy.

The sketch show, which transitioned seamlessly from radio to screen (it started as a BBC Radio 4 series in 1996), has stood the test of time and is as much a staple of modern British Asian culture as Tupperware or turning up an hour late.

What Goodness Gracious Me did so expertly was to take a set of serious issues facing first, second and now, I suppose, third generation migrants, and turn them on their heads. 

In making light of the pressures of academic expectation or family drama, Goodness Gracious Me wasn’t playing down the poignancy of such concerns; it was raising awareness and combatting their uglier side with humour.

It offered resonance and reassurance in equal measure; it was ok to have an embarrassing uncle who insisted he could get you anything much cheaper, including a new kidney, because other people like you did too.

That Goodness Gracious Me was broadcast on a mainstream channel was also a victory for minorities; it made us feel integrated and, perhaps more importantly, accepted. Against the backdrop of Brexit, what wouldn’t we give for that treatment now?

Really, though, the jewel in Goodness Gracious Me’s crown was its willingness to recognise diversity within diversity. It is a relic of a departed era when discourse on TV around Asians was different, when the broad church of that term was truly represented, rather than reduced to one catchall perception of British Muslims.

Goodness Gracious Me offered insight into the experiences and idiosyncrasies – religious or otherwise – of Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Sri Lankans and even English people. It’s what made it so accessible and, in answering why subsequent programmes have failed to reach similar heights, this is a good starting point.

Without the flexible sketch format, the modern Asian sitcom Citizen Khan has struggled to cover multiple topics, and, by being specifically about a Muslim family, it leaves many non-Muslim Asians wondering: where’s ours?

I hasten to add that I feel plenty of sympathy for the British Muslim community, hounded by tabloid headlines that attack their faith, but it would be disingenuous to suggest that non-Muslim Asians are sitting pretty in 2016 and don’t need a similar level of support in terms of positive public perception.

The current volume of British Asian media products is fairly good. The BBC has its dedicated network, The Good Immigrant essay collection was one of the outstanding reads of the year, and we still have champions of comedy in Romesh Ranganathan and Nish Kumar.

But I think ultimately it comes down to the broadness of appeal, rather than the quantity of products. Goodness Gracious Me was not only able to engage the full spectrum of British Asia; it transcended its target audience and was on terrestrial TV.

The British Asian media on offer now is up against it, released as the country’s attitude towards foreigners completes a full circle back to the same suspicion my grandfather encountered in the Sixties.

Fewer outlets are willing to explore the stretch of what it means to be Asian, either by denying it due consideration in mainstream shows or by peddling their own monolithic observations. The BBC Asian Network, for example, is laudable in its existence, but does little to engage the young Asians who aren’t into techno spliced with Bhangra.

The mainstream representations of Asians in Western film and television that are commissioned, meanwhile, are irritatingly limited and sometimes inaccurate. In an article for the Guardian last year, Sara Abassi lamented the disproportionate appetite for “gritty post-9/11 films about conservative Pakistani families”, and that the researchers of American series Homeland failed to realise that the national language of Pakistan isn’t Arabic.

When I interviewed the actor Himesh Patel for the No Country for Brown Men podcast, he suggested that the answer to re-establishing Asians in mainstream media, both here and in America, was three-fold. The first challenge to overcome was for outlets to acknowledge that not all Asians fit the same religious or cultural profile; the second was to be open to placing Asians in non-Asian specific products to better reflect their presence in society.

Patel, who is best known for his portrayal of Tamwar Masood in the soap opera EastEnders, made his third recommendation based on this role. He felt that characters should be written with only their personality in mind, making the ethnicity of the actor who plays them incidental. Tamwar’s awkwardness but underlying kindness, Patel said, was what defined him – not his skin colour.

Goodness Gracious Me, though a primarily Asian show and a comedy at that, actually taught some salient lessons about representation. It succeeded in providing a window into a multiplicity of cultures, but at the same time wasn’t a total slave to the politics of identity – several of the 100-plus characters needn’t have been Asian at all. It was reflexive to the times we lived in and a perfect advertisement for empathy. That is why we still talk about it today.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.