Tag Archives: 1922 Committee

Cameron faces more problems with the Eurosceptics

David Cameron’s feral Eurosceptic backbenchers are not going away.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph today 102 of them urge the Prime Minister to “opt out” of 130 EU laws, including the European Arrest Warrant, over the next two years. And this is no ordinary letter, signed as it is by the officers of the 1922 Committee – Chairman Graham Brady, Vice-Chairman Charles Walker, Secretary Mark Prichard and Treasurer Brian Brinley together with former Cabinet Ministers John Redwood and Peter Lilley

Crucially, the 102 warn Cameron that if he fails to get these powers back within this timescale, the transfer of powers to Europe will be irreversible.

This sounds to me very much like an ultimatum. The backbenchers apparently want Mr Cameron to use the “opportunity” provided by the Lisbon Treaty to repatriate up to 130 EU rules and regulations on policing. Since the UK opt out is due to end in June 2014, the Eurosceptics see this as their deadline.

Since the Tories have 306 seats in the House of Commons, 102 represents a third of the parliamentary Conservative party. To have such a high proportion of your MPs against you on an issue they believe to be of the utmost importance is not a very comfortable place to be, to put it mildly.

As I have said many times before, repatriation of powers is a policy which cannot be achieved. I can see no reason why 26 EU member states should agree to the demands one country, especially when they do not agree with the demands being made by the UK. What is more, David Cameron has not helped himself in the EU by increasingly marginalising the UK. Taking the Tories out of the centre-right European People’s Party in the European Parliament, and not signing up to the treaty changes in December last year are just the two most significant of Cameron’s actions to have alienated our colleagues in Europe.   

Cameron’s position is made even worse by the fact that many of these Eurosceptic MPs voted for him to be Tory leader because they believed he was one of them.

The Eurosceptics are, of course, merely using the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) as a hook for their own agenda. It would be foolish to claim all is well with the EAW. One of the main complaints concerns proportionality. We know that the UK, and Germany as well, get more warrants than they issue, and nowhere does it state that the warrant must only be used for major crimes. This matter is indeed being investigated and Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship, has acknowledged that the warrant is being misused for low-level crimes.

Having only just got over being castigated for caving in on not opposing the “fiscal compact” countries having access to European Union institutions and the European Court of Justice, David Cameron is facing another onslaught. I’m tempted to wonder how long this war of attrition can go on, especially since the Tories’ Lib-Dem coalition colleagues have a very different, pro-European Union perspective.

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The Tories remain split on Europe

Europe is certainly proving interesting for the Tories at their annual shindig – I hesitate to call their let’s pat ourselves on the back and tell the world how wonderful we are jamboree a conference.

The depth of the Tory problem on Europe is becoming ever clearer. Even arch-Eurosceptic and (former) darling of the unreconstructed Tory right, William Hague, has been forced to state that any fundamental change in Britain’s relations with Europe is not on the cards at the moment.  Quite some change, shown on the Today Programme this morning when it was suggested that the former Tory leader was “put on this planet” to reduce the EU’s influence over Britain.

In order, it seems, to salvage some of his past glory, Hague came out with all the usual anti-EU rhetoric in his speech earlier today. “The EU doesn’t need a single extra bureaucrat. But it does need burdens on businesses lifted,” he proclaimed. “It is now acknowledged that when we said joining the Euro would be a disaster for Britain, we were right.” And, just for good measure: “The EU has more power over our national life than it should have.”

I would be amazed if the grassroots Tories go for this empty rhetoric. As the Guardian’s live blog said: “What’s the good in having a Conservative government if it can’t step away from Europe, they ask?”

David Cameron in his keynote speech to the Tory conference still in progress as I write this blog post, has given us a master class in cowardice. Instead of dealing with the concerns on the EU his Conservative Party members feel so deeply, all we got was a cheap jibe at the EU for issuing a Directive, a small part of which mentioned the potential dangers of people with diabetes driving cars.    

But it goes much further that that. Many of these grassrooters want a referendum on leaving the EU altogether. And it’s not just the jamboree attendees. Mark Pritchard MP, Secretary of the 1922 Committee is demanding a vote on Britain’s membership of the EU while George Eustice MP, a close aide of David Cameron wants a “new relationship” with the European Union.

Splits are never good for political parties. When the governing party is so deeply divided with one particular topic – membership of the European Union – a running sore incapable of healing, it’s very bad news indeed. The Tories will not be able to rely for ever on the Lib-Dems to suppress their internal wrangles.

It’s down to David Cameron to resolve the Tory divisions on Europe. He and William Hague have told the British people there will be no referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU. I suspect many Tory jamboree goers and their local Conservative associations know it is simply not possible to repatriate powers from the EU back to the UK as Cameron et al are trying to claim in order to show they are doing something on Europe. So the Tories remain split – hardly and election winner.

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We should change the way we elect the Labour Leader

It’s time, I think, for some reflections on Labour Party Conference other than talking about my fringe meeting Blogging for Labour. As I’m now back in Brussels wrestling with the harrowing and appalling subject of child pornography on the internet as well and judging a European journalism prize, now seemed as good as any to put my thoughts on paper.

First and foremost, we must unite behind Ed Miliband.  I say this as a committed David supporter, and I would not be telling the whole truth if I said I wasn’t upset that David didn’t make it.  David is, in my opinion, one of the most able, most intellectually capable and most sincere of our MPs.  He was one of the best Foreign Secretaries this country has ever had with a deep understanding of foreign affairs and the international stage. (Since I am posting this blog before David has made a statement on his future, I won’t say any more at present).

Yet, we all have to move on.  The overriding task now is to fight the coalition and win the general election.  It’s not a Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition, it’s a Tory Government. This should be our message.  Those who voted Clegg got Cameron while those who voted Cameron got exactly what it said on the tin.

Having attended almost every Labour Party Conference since 1978, I am far from being one of the new generation. However, I completely agree with Ed that Labour must now look forward. There’s nothing to be gained in harking back to the past, and I for one now hope that all references to the Iraq war are well and truly laid to rest.  Yes, I opposed the war publicly as an MEP. But now, I truly believe it is not only unhelpful but utterly damaging to rake this one over any more.  Both Labour and Great Britain have to move on.

The Conference was more than aware of the awesome nature of the events as they unfolded.  I’ve never seen anything quite like it, a subdued and expectant atmosphere amid the thronging delegates and myriad exhibition stands.

In my conference lifetime, I have been a Party member under seven leaders, including Miliband E – James Callaghan, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Of these, Callaghan and Foot were chosen before the electoral college was introduced and were elected only by MPs.  Kinnock, Smith and Blair faced little serious opposition and Brown was crowned without a contest.  Step up Ed Miliband who won by just over one percent.

It’s been a long 30 years and much has changed.

From the election of the left wing Michael Foot as Labour Leader in 1980 there was a battle royal between the Left, represented initially by Foot but later metamorphosing into the Militant Tendency and other Trotskyite factions (the Hard Left), and the Labour Party’s right wing, ironically during this period led by a number of influential trade unions. The exception among the trade unions was the then largest, the Transport and General Workers’ Union, who held a more left wing position.

Neil Kinnock, himself from the left stable, to his credit moved decisively away from the Foot legacy  as did John Smith his short period as Leader of the Opposition.

Crucially, however, it was not until Tony Blair and New Labour arrived, subsequently winning the 1997 general election, that the Hard Left was seen off as a force to be reckoned with. Although no longer influential, the Left as such never went away.  Moreover, there remained a significant number of Labour Party members who felt New Labour had sold out.

Yet this was nothing compared to the trade unions, who are by and large now to the left of the Party.  The affiliated trade unions, now mainly representing public sector workers, were never really on side with New Labour, and their evolution from right to left is, perhaps, the most interesting aspect of the 2010 Leadership contest.

So where does this leave us?  I have to say, I have difficulty with a system whereby victory can be gained without either a majority of MEPs and MPs or of local Party members.  The electoral college was, ironically, set up in the 1980s to give the right wing unions power on the basis their vote would marginalise the Hard Left. Since we no longer have a Hard Left, merely a Left, the time has, I believe, come to reform the way the ballot is held.  One member one vote would obviously be more democratic.  Even the Tory Party has OMOV for the two candidates selected by the 1922 Committee.

The new generation have to prove themselves.  What better way than reforming the way our Leader is elected to bring our outdated system into line with today’s Labour Party? To take this bold step would be to send a strong signal that things really had changed and that Labour is continuing its modernising agenda.

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