Europe set to become the Irish question for today's MPs

This article was published on the Dale&Co. website

Beware the European Question

30 October 2011

The reverberations from Monday’s debate will echo for the remainder of this parliament. The Conservatives are not just banging on about Europe they have taken every instrument out of the political orchestra and making as much noise as possible. Yesterday Bill Cash, introduced a 10 minute rule bill, calling for the government to put to a referendum any plans to create fiscal union amongst Eurozone member states. It is a marvellous piece of Cash chutzpah that instead of, as usual, complaining that Europe is telling us what to do he is proposing that the UK should dictate to the Eurozone with the threat of a plebiscite in a country that does not even use the currency.

Poor Lord Ashcroft rightly warns on Conservative Home that Europe can lose the Tories the next election. No-one in the Tory end of the Tea Room is listening. The Faragesiste Europhobes are to David Cameron what the Tea Party are to Republican hopes of beating Obama. But the Prime Minister has only himself to blame as he, William Hague and other Tory leaders since John Major, all erected the call for a referendum on Europe into a totem of Tory philosophy. Adam Holloway, a decent, respected, liked MP, was selected and elected because he believed Cameron and Hague and did not realise the referendum and renegotiation promises became inoperative after May 2010.

Luckily David Cameron flies to the Commonwealth conference from Brussels otherwise he would be obliged to make a statement tomorrow. This morning, Yesterday in Parliament mocked the Conservatives for allowing Europe to dominate FCO questions. But, wait, the Commons again debates Europe tomorrow, this time the Council of Europe which has oversight of the European Court of Human Rights. This is nothing to do with the EU but for Tory Europhobes anything with the word Europe in instantly turns them into Mad-Eye Moodys. In the EU, Cameron has allied the Conservatives to what Nick Clegg rightly called “nutters, anti-semites and homopohobes.” Their group, Conservatives for European Reform (CER) is slowly disintegrating. The Latvian Freedom and Fatherland Party has dissolved into another right-wing party which lost most of its seats in the Latvian parliamentary election. The Polish Law and Order Party lost badly in both the parliamentary elections last month and the presidential elections a year ago. The Czech ally of the Tories now faces accusations of serious share-trading fraud against two of its MEPs.

In the Council of Europe, the Conservatives sit with Putin’s hand-picked delegation of Kremlin approved MPs. The former Belgian prime minister, Guy Verhofstadt, and leader of the Liberal Group in the European Parliament argues in the International Herald Tribune this week that the Council of Europe should no longer allow the Russian delegation sit at the Council of Europe as it does not consist of independent MPs.

In short the Tories keep very odd company in Europe. But this will reinforce the growing isolationism that was reflected in Monday’s vote. Cameron has PMQ’s today and while he may seek comfort at the Commonwealth Heads of Government conference most of our Commonwealth friends have many more protectionist barriers against UK exports than is realised.

When Cameron comes back, Europe will haunt his premiership much as Ireland haunted prime ministers in the 19th and early 20th century. And where does Labour stand in all this? Ed Miliband certainly took the right decision on the vote and forced Cameron onto the back foot with his insistence that the prime ministers could not skip off to Australia as the European economic crisis intensified. But an examination of the Labour MPs who spoke in the debate shows that not a single new or younger Labour MP sought to make the case for Europe. Ten Labour MPs spoke against Europe and voted with the Tories and only five – all long-serving Labour MPs with memories of Labour Euroscepticism – spoke up for the official party line. To be sure fewer than 20 Labour MPs voted with the anti-EU Tories and their position is long-held and well-known. But is it worrying that no new Labour voices and none of the 2010 or 2005 intake took part in the debate. This may be due to lack of interest and opinion polls say that 96 per cent of voters do not consider Europe to be an important issue. But Labour ran out of speakers an hour before the debate ended. This should worry the leadership.

Yeats got our Europe debate right when he wrote:
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity”

You have to be in the Commons chamber to feel the intensity of passion amongst Tory MPs – egged on by the EU hating Tory tabloids and Telegraph – which is unlikely to fade away despite Michael Ashcroft’s sensible appeal. The white coats are flapping as never before.