Tory defectors boost Eurosceptics
29/01/2007

For some time there has been a dearth of fresh ideas about how the cause of euroscepticism might be advanced. Sometimes it seemed that all that was possible was the repetition of familiar arguments. The decision of Lords Pearson and Willoughby de Broke to leave the Conservative Party in order to join UKIP - and UKIP’s assurance that it will not put up candidates in constituencies where there are incumbent MPs with proven track records of euroscepticism - has opened up welcome new possibilities. Quite suddenly, the pack-ice which confined the eurosceptic leadership to base camp shows signs of crumbling, making possible new channels of advance. Over several years we have urged UKIP to adopt the course it has now taken, arguing that this would prove to be in the party’s own interest as well as that of the country. Ignoring the view of party purists who still entertain the dream of Britain’s salvation being achieved as a result of a UKIP majority in the House of Commons, its new leader has struck a sensible deal with the two former Tory peers whereby robust eurosceptic MPs will not find themselves in competition with UKIP at the next general election. It is an arrangement which suggests a degree of maturity in the party’s decision-making processes that has not always been apparent. Providing ultimate aims and values are not forgotten, serious politics, even of the conviction variety, require tactical compromises. In stressing the party’s readiness to work with like-minded individuals and organisations regardless of party allegiance, party leader Nigel Farage’s letter to MPs struck exactly the right tone and marks a new phase in the party’s history. The deal gives UKIP an important foothold in Westminster; this should help weaken the impression that it is run from Brussels, a curious posture for a party that wishes to entirely remove the influence of Brussels on our national politics. Already the new approach has yielded important dividends: there are signs that the principled defection of the two Tory peers will be followed by others from the Upper House, important Tory backers are threatening to switch financial support to UKIP and David Cameron has been forced to adopt a more robust eurosceptic rhetoric. Indeed, the Tory leader has even felt impelled to assure readers of the Daily Telegraph that despite appearances to the contrary he is a ‘true Tory’. Still more extraordinary he has been impelled to use the ‘ sovereignty’ word in public. Tory eurosceptics will no doubt want to press him on how national sovereignty can be recovered when most of our laws are made in Brussels and when an unelected bureaucracy retains the exclusive right to initiate new legislation; it is time for them to up the ante. Cameron’s assurance that the Party will “continue to oppose a constitution that transfers power away from the nation states” is more likely to increase eurosceptic anxieties than to assuage them. It is a formulation that suggests that Cameron might very well be willing to go along with a revised constitutional text; this kind of linguistic slipperiness only serves to heighten the present dissatisfaction with big party politics. The current pressure being applied to Tory MPs thinking of signing up to the Better Off Out Campaign is a further sign that the Party leadership has belatedly recognised problems of its own making. For the time being there may be no new signatories from the ranks of the Tory MPs, but eurosceptic MPs with small majorities may well come to the opinion that it is better to face the fury of the whips than to contemplate their own political demise - and consequently opt for the protection that signing up to the BOO declaration may bring. They have until June to make up their minds; they will have only themselves to blame if they lose their seats because they cannot bring themselves to display the courage of their convictions. Presently, the Tory whips are warning MPs “not to dance to the tune of another party”; this is disingenuous. The BOO campaign, which claims one Labour signatory, has been organised by the Freedom Association (which deserves much credit), not UKIP, and the six Tory signatories gave their backing for the campaign before Nigel Farage gave his. UKIP has wisely chosen to join the dance but it did not call this particular tune. The defection of Tim Congdon, who helped define Thatcherite economic policy in the seventies and eighties is in a way a more serious threat to Cameron since his critique of the current Tory policy is more comprehensive than that of Pearson and Willoughby Broke. His readiness to switch to UKIP will make it much harder for the Tories to dismiss the party as a bunch of nuts and extremists - especially if Congdon ends up playing a major role in writing UKIP’s economic policy. It has been extremely foolish of the Tory leadership to respond to his criticisms in terms of personal disparagement. It is not simply that when it comes to straight thinking Congdon is more than a match for the likes of Matthew d’Ancona (see Sunday Telegraph 14th January), but that the think-tanks which the Thatcherite side has drawn on in the past for ideas and intellectual firepower are largely staffed by people who fully share Congdon’s disquiet about the direction of Tory policy. At present only the desire to avoid getting their organisations involved in party political wrangles prevents them from following his example. The Cameron camp, which prides itself on its professional approach to party strategy, also has some serious strategic thinking to do. If, after the next election it again finds itself in opposition - and does so largely as the result of UKIP intervention, - the stage will be set for a degree of blood-letting that will make previous Tory bust-ups look like love-ins and possibly for a political re-alignment. In such circumstances many Tories are likely to conclude that they were persuaded to sell their souls for the sake of a rebranding exercise that was disastrously misconceived; they are unlikely to blame themselves for this. There will be many battles for eurosceptics to fight in the coming year. But we conclude that thanks to the principled political manoeuvring by Lords Pearson and Willoughby de Broke and shrewd political leadership by Nigel Farage, 2007 could prove the year in which considerable strides are made towards the political prize that most of our readers value before all others: the withdrawal of Britain from the EU and the beginnings of a relationship with it that better reflects our national interests.

 
 
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