The Mid-Atlantic Blog

January 30, 2006

The Mainstream On Europe

Here we go again.

Newsnight covers the Cameron speech briefly, and with mild scepticism. More on this speech, and Norman Tebbit's in a long post tomorrow...

However, we then move on to look at the visit of William Hague to begin the process of EPP withdrawal.

Now, let's be very clear about this. The centre ground of British political opinion is not currently represented by any of the mainstream parties on this issue. Voters are more sceptical of the goals, processes and ambitions of the EU than the politicians, with the MEPs even more off to the fringe than the rest of the political culture. A very simple Google turns up this YouGov poll, for example: there are many more.

Let's also note that the culture of control and ethics in the EU institutions isn't quite what you might want... to the extent that a Google of "EU Corruption" gives you over 6.8 million hits. Non-audited accounts, whistleblowers suspended, very odd expenses practices, and so on.

It is entirely fair, then, to suggest that withdrawal from the EPP and the establishment of an anti-federalist group is a reasonable move towards the political centre, well in tune with the general approach of (to pick one phrase almost at random from Cameron's speech) "the battle to replace short term bureaucratic fixes with long term sustainable solutions".

In fact, it's quite an interesting story: the new generation against the old, out-of-date view of mid-20th century statist approaches - the generation of Hannan, Gove, Villiers and Cameron against the old guard of Patten, Heath, Hurd, Ken and Heseltine.

To be fair to him, Michael Crick's package did a fair job of looking at the issues in the round, covering some of the problems, but also identifying the opportunities, and letting Roger Helmer make his case.

Kirsty Wark, though, is still unable to grasp this new reality. The old stuff comes out all over again: "reopening old wounds", "Tory splits", "lurch to the right", ably assisted from Brussels by Edward McMillan-Scott. They take turns to biff poor Dan Hannan (who holds his end up pretty well. It's probably quite tough to hold a straight face when you're actually accused of wanting to sit in the same grouping as Le Pen and his cronies).

Let's put this very simply (because I know that people from the BBC do regularly search the web for comments on their show thanks to the site logs, so will be reading this). All of the news over the last few years makes it clear that the Europhiles are certainly now (and in fact always were) a small rump within the Conservative Party. They had significant influence, in no small part because of the oxygen they were given on this issue by a BBC that agreed with them. Their views have failed amongst the membership of the Party, and have failed to get support from the people of Britain as a whole. Their views have failed across Europe, especially in the new accession countries. Worst, their views have failed the people of the UK and Europe, economically and politically. It is not radical, dangerous, or fringe thinking to suggest this.

One cause for optimism, however. Cameron is going to win this issue. Clear blue water is going to open up, exposing the true divide between people and politicians. The facts of life, as I quote Mrs Thatcher saying regularly, are conservative. An EU reshaped and remade for the next 50 years can be a powerful force for good, and for positive change in the world. This move away from the EPP gives the UK a distinctive voice, and will allow us to make the case for the type of EU that we actually want.

And the Tory Party will eventually be represented in Brussels by people with views in the mainstream of British politics on the future shape and structure of Europe. Not by Edward McMillan-Scott.

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