Lawson’s tragedy is to be the next in line to try and out-UKIP UKIP

Labour Party

Now that UKIP looks like the protest party of choice, the anti-EU bandwagon is predictably growing apace.

The Tory knee-jerk reaction to UKIP’s gains makes interesting viewing for those of us not directly in the firing line. With 60% of UKIP’s local election support coming from ex-Tory voters and only 7% ex-Labour, according to ex-MP and electoral reform campaigner Martin Linton, it’s the Conservatives who should be (and clearly are) truly worried.    

Hence the intervention in today’s Times by Nigel Lawson, Margaret Thatcher’s Chancellor for six years and a Tory grandee of considerable standing. In common with most of the Conservatives who have spoken out in the UKIP debate, Lawson has decided he doesn’t like the EU. Maybe this is just the prevailing fashion in Tory circles, maybe these anti-EU Conservatives really believe the way to tackle Farage etc is to fight UKIP on their own territory by being more UKIP than UKIP.

The Tories are clearly running scared. Flawed logic, in this instance, the way to combat UKIP is to provide a Tory version of more of the same, is often a response to such fear. The Tories now have it in spades. They didn’t win the 2010 general election and they are now very firmly on course to fail again in 2015.  

 I think it’s rather sad that Lord Lawson has joined the anti-EU cheerleaders, not least because his main arguments are nonsense. Lawson “strongly” suspects there would be a “positive economic advantage to the UK in leaving the single market”, claiming you do not have to be in the single market to export to the European Union. Lawson strategically omits to say that the EU single market helps to bring down barriers, create more jobs and increase overall prosperity in the EU.  It’s also worth noting that he was Chancellor of the Exchequer when the UK signed up to the Single European Act in 1986.

Predictably Lawson also claimed that withdrawing from the EU would save the City of London from a “frenzy of regulatory activism”. It is really quite extraordinary how Tories defend bankers and by definition the huge bonuses which have done so much harm to the financial industry. The main reason they object to EU regulations is that it will hit the bankers where it really hurts – in their pockets.

The noble lord is, however, right on one matter, namely that any repatriation of powers secured by David Cameron will be inconsequential. He can at least see that clearly.

The answer is not to withdraw from the EU all together, as Tories scared of UKIP and, of course, UKIP themselves maintain. That would be madness, a huge national fit of pique cutting off a very large nose to spite a face not yet out of joint. The UK would lose the valuable and irreplaceable European single market and we would no longer be part of cross border initiatives to cut crime and improve the environment, to name but two major areas where EU action is very beneficial.

The answer is to get fully stuck in and reform the EU from within, not by attempting to repatriate powers in the teeth of opposition from nearly all the other member states, but by playing a constructive and active role at the top table. The huge waste that is the Strasbourg seat of the European Parliament would be a good place to start followed by a concerted effort on the Common Agricultural Policy where the latest round of reform has failed to deliver anything very meaningful. There is much to do. It’s just a huge shame that Prime Minister Cameron is so involved in batting off his own backbenchers that he can’t see the wood for the trees, let alone act in a responsible and statesmanlike fashion.