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.