Thursday, January 01, 2015

It’s not the Tories who left for UKIP who are the danger, it’s those that didn’t


We've seen some nasty political movements over the years. The "Militant Tendency" who very nearly successful in taking over the Labour Party for example. They were "entryists" - the tactic being to infiltrate Labour at Constituency level and gain influence and power from the bottom up. They succeeded, under the gruesome Trotskyist Derek Hatton, in Liverpool and only tough talking and a ban introduced when Neil Kinnock was Labour leader finally killed them off after more than twenty years of trouble-making.

The Conservative Right is a militant tendency and they are far more numerous and more of a threat than Labour's one ever was. UKIP is, of course, a breakaway movement formed by those who saw entryism as having failed. Nigel Farage and his merry band are far nastier about their erstwhile friends at the top of the Tory Party than they are about Labour. This is the classic renegade response - a bit like the turncoat Anglicans who left and became Roman Catholics and became far stricter adherents to Catholism than many they joined. 

But the political mainstream doesn't really need to worry that much about UKIP, irritant though they are. Far more potentially damaging are those who sympathise with the paranoid anti-Europeanism of the kippers, but prefer to pursue this within the Conservative ranks. (There are other issues than the European Union which bother this Tendency, immigration for one. But essentially these are the hardcore Europhobes we are talking about.) The Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative Party has been with us a long time, of course. Ask John Major. In office the realities of the modern world cut in and Tory Cabinets tend to try and work with our European partners rather than undermine them. David Cameron had to do this in Coalition with the fervently pro Europe LibDems. But what if the Tories get a working majority after this year's General Election?

David Cameron likes power - he jumped through hoops to get it in his Coaltion agreement with the LibDems. If he does return to Number 10 with some sort of majority he will find that the Europhobes begin to try and call the tunes much more aggressively. There are a lot of them in the Parliamentary party and plenty in senior positions as well. Without any need to rely upon LibDem votes (if that is how the numbers work out) an EU "In/Out" referendum will happen. This will be a farce. There is little enthusiasm among our European partners to divert their attention from the serious matters in hand (not least the continuing struggles of the Euro). Britain already has preferred status (the Thatcher opt-outs) and is not a member of the Euro. There is little scope for reducing the UK's budget contribution, at least not as a consequence of some bilateral negotiation. And the idea that we could agree special treatment in respect of the free movement of labour across the Union is fanciful. Change will come and Britain can be an important agent of change if we acknowledge that it is a Union of 28 nations, of which we are one, rather than some Brussels-driven monster!

So any renegotiation of the terms of Britain's membership of the EU pre-referendum can be no more than window-dressing. There may be a tacit agreement to dress something up as significant, but in truth it won't be. For David  Cameron that will be a serious challenge. The case for Britain to remain a member of the EU is, and will be, overwhelming. But try and sell that to the Europhobic militant tendency of the Tory Right! They'll see thorough it immediately. So either they will persuade the power hungry Prime Minister that the Government should recommend leaving the Union in the referendum (not impossible). Or (more likely) the Government will rather lukewarmly recommend staying in. Then the British people will decide - influenced strongly by the vagueries of the political climate at that time. We saw with the 45% "Yes" vote in the Scottish independence referendum how short-term concerns about the current quality of Westminster governance almost broke up our nation!

The Tory Right is a real and present danger. They are strong numerically, have powerful friends in the media and have that single-minded fervour that characterises "them that always thinks they're right"! They are a party within a party, as the Militant Tendency once was for Labour, but much more of a threat to the body politic and the established status quo than that lot ever was. Can Cameron defeat them? I'm not sure that he can. Which means that Eurorealists like me, who want Britain to stay in the EU and work with our partners to improve it, have only one course of action in the General Election. To vote tactically, at Constituency level, for the candidate who can best help deny Cameron a working majority in Parliament. 


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