The Consevative party: Europe and the need for unity

May 21, 2013 by

Reading the weekend’s ‘Tories divided over Europe’ headlines, I bet Labour cannot believe their luck. The issue and struggle within the Tory party which led to the Labour landslide in 1997, is back with a vengeance. Two more years of this will create the same conditions for a heavy Tory defeat in 2015.

‘Europe’ is a serious issue and there’s plenty not to like. The single currency looks to be a failure as disparate economies struggle to cope without the ability to devalue currency. Meanwhile the German euro is undervalued. The EU direction is clearly towards fiscal and political union. The love of bureaucracy and regulation is a burden Europe, including Britain, cannot afford in a highly competitive world.

However, our economy is nowhere near as strong as the one Ken Clarke handed over to Labour in 1997. Our global position is now much weaker. However it was our reckless bankers and Labour’s profligacy that has put us in that position, not Europe or immigration.

In deciding our EU future, the only consideration should be, ‘What is in the Nation’s best interests?’. That needs to be an unprejudiced rational decision not an emotional one. Leading EU members want Britain to remain in Europe, as does the President of the United States. Having free access to a market of over 500 million people accounting for 20% of global GDP is not to be thrown away lightly, particularly at a time when the EU is nearing a trade agreement with the USA, giving unfettered access to another 300+ million people.

The right course of action is surely to attempt to change things from within before any referendum, which is exactly what Cameron signalled earlier this year. He did not need the bizarre Queen’s Speech amendment or the current backbench bill. All this has done is alienate those centre ground floating voters essential to any party who wants to win the next General Election. Unfortunately there are too many Tory MPs who are so consumed in internal politicking in the Westminster bubble to see the damage they are doing to the party’s General Election prospects.

UKIP’s showing in recent local elections, in which less than a third of those entitled to vote bothered to do so, has had two effects. Firstly, it has spooked many sensible Tory MPs who unfortunately over-reacted, maybe under pressure from their associations. Left to its own devices, UKIP will implode. Farage is a loose canon (as seen in Scotland last week) leading a party with no credible policies for running the country.

Secondly, it has empowered a mixture of the anti-Europe hardcore and the disaffected Tory MPs. The latter seem happy to use any issue (e.g. gay marriage) to cause problems for the PM. They seem to think that a break up of the coalition and a new leader (who for goodness sake?) pursuing a right wing agenda will deliver an election victory. They are in danger of pushing the party out of power for another decade and delivering an election victory to Labour which it does not deserve and the country cannot afford.

All this at a time when Labour’s vacuous leadership and policies were beginning to come under serious scrutiny! And when there are positive noises regarding the economy. Mervyn King, the outgoing Governor of the Bank of England, in his final economic forecast says there is the groundwork for a ‘modest and sustained’ recovery. Stock-markets remain strong and are said to anticipate the real economy by six months.The party is in danger of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Whilst no lover of Tony Blair, he did recognise the need, on the one hand for inclusiveness and on the other, effective party management. He accommodated the likes of John Prescott in his team but could rely on his loyal lieutenants, such as Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, to deliver the party. David Cameron needs to take a leaf out of Blair’s book, broaden the base of his Cabinet and inner-circle and identify those who can practise the ‘dark arts’ of party management. He needs to act quickly.

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