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Monday, December 12, 2005

Swansong of the Tory Europhiles

The most memorable part of this outburst by arch-Tory Europhile, Ken Clarke, is its complete lack of impact on his party. Some might say that the reason for this is that Ken is a busted flush and no longer taken seriously by the membership. More likely however is that the charge of Euroscepticism Ken levels against the new Tory leader is now the mainstream view of both the Party's membership and their Parliamentary Party and that there is nobody left to rally to the pro-European banner.

The splits that characterised the collapse of the Conservatives as a party of Government from 1992 onwards have been resolved by a mass exodus of pro-Europeans from the party. Those that remain are keeping their head down, whilst Tory MEPs find themselves fighting a losing battle against the new status quo.

Whether this makes the Tories more electable is a question that can only be resolved in due course. What it does do is to present a clearer choice to the electorate whilst it may force Labour to be clearer about their intentions. What it also does is to make it more difficult for Cameron to run to the centre. Many of the Tory votes he wishes to reclaim abandoned the party precisely because of their growing Euro-scepticism. Many ended up voting for New Labour, a sizeable number opted for the Liberal Democrats.

It is possible that Cameron has limited his pronouncements on Europe to the one policy of splitting with the European People's Party precisely for that reason. However, he will find it difficult to continue to sit on the fence on this matter or even to deal with Europe on an issue by issue basis. He needs to clarify his approach if he wants to make progress. His problem is that in doing so he will either alienate a large number of his MPs and party members or that portion of the electorate he needs to persuade to vote for him if he is to win.

That is the real test of his leadership. It is also a test of how badly the Tories want to be back in government. Whatever happens, past experience indicate that even the most power-hungry Tory can only hold his or her nose for so long. It is possible that the re-shaping of the Conservative Party will founder on this issue yet again.
Comments:
It also does raise a question on Cameron's judgement. There is no pressing practical need to have a fight with his MEPs right now. Hints and nudges would do for some months while opposition as shunted onto branches.
 
This story is also covered here: http://nottinghell.blogspot.com
 
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