Thursday, March 06, 2008

Tory splits on Europe

Cameron has not inherited John Major's problem
Gordon Brown thinks that he's onto a winner over the European Constitution. So toxic has been the legacy of the Maastricht debates, where poor John Major's narrow majority was all but wiped out by the rebellion of a handful of euro-sceptic Tory MPs, that the perception has been implanted that the Tories are hopelessly split on Europe. This is why he is not too bothered by the fuss around the denial of the referendum promised in the main parties' manifestos - he thinks that the entire Europe issue is far more damaging to the Tories than to him.
He's wrong. Listen to his line of attack at PMQs yesterday:
Mr Cameron, he said, should be leading his backbenchers instead of following them, "standing up to the Eurosceptics instead of appeasing them, and moving to the centre of Europe instead of being left at the margins of Europe!"

In other words, Brown still believes that the Tory leadership are being compelled to appease the Euro-sceptic back-benchers in order to avoid John Major's fate. But the truth is that the Tory party are more united on the question of the European Union than any other party - the only difference of opinion is just how sceptic they are. The Tory split was mostly a generational issue, with the pro-Europeans being men like Clarke, Heseltine and John Gummer - important figures in the Major days, but peripheral and isolated now. The new blood that has come in since 1997 has been overwhelmingly Euro-sceptic, and that includes Cameron and Osborne. If this wasn't enough, by making the debate about whether there should be a referendum, Brown ensured that even those Tories that are friendlier towards the EU were onside.

What divisions there are, are now on the Labour benches, and even more so among the Lib Dems. Brown remembers the bitter infighting among the Tories in the 90s, but what he doesn't realise is that one side won.

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1:13 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Brown remembers the bitter infighting among the Tories in the 90s, but what he doesn't realise is that one side won."

Oh, I'm sure he realizes that every day that _he_ walks through the door of 10, Downing Street.



1:52 pm  
Blogger Tim J said...

Fair point...

Equally, that explains why he's desperate for Tory infighting to start again - but the conditions that made it inevitable in the 90s no longer apply. The mood of euro-scepticism has hardened appreciably both in the Tories and, I think, the country

3:21 pm  

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