David Cameron was elected Leader of the Conservative Party with a manifesto to modernise, though it would appear from the grassroots rebellion in the shires that a worryingly high percentage of Tory Party members have changed their minds. On issues like equal marriage this clearly has something to do with the high average age profile of the party’s membership, as well as the fact that Conservatives are by nature traditionalists. However, the really extraordinary feature of the past few months has been the slow-motion car-crash over Europe. The way that John Major’s authority was undermined over Maastricht in the 1990s should have served as a warning to Cameron that the EU was a potentially explosive issue yet however well he may have handled some other aspects of government — not least getting a Coalition with the Liberal Democrats swiftly in place after the 2010 general election — the way he has dealt with Europe has been a disaster. He has not only dismayed many of Britain’s EU partners by his posturing, instead of winning allies for necessary reforms; he has also failed to make clear what his government’s position on Britain’s role in the EU should be. One minute he is saying that he thinks EU membership is a good thing on balance, providing some reforms do take place, while the next he is pandering to the Europhobes and threatening to pull out. By throwing the red meat of an in-out referendum promise to his more rabid backbenchers he has only made them hungry for more. And he has given succour to UKIP, encouraging some of his more disaffected party members to defect there, while at the same time lambasting Nigel Farage and Co as clowns. As Leader he should have given clear guidance and then insist that the Party sticks to it — especially Cabinet Ministers, who have collective responsibility for government policy or else must resign their post. Instead, the Tory Eurocar is being steered by a driver who doesn’t after all appear to have passed his driving test.
Posts Tagged ‘Conservative Party’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 20th May, 2013
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 17th December, 2012
Tom Spencer is one of those rare birds: a green, federalist, pro-European Conservative. This meant that things were not always comfortable for him when he was leader of the Tory MEPs in the European Parliament, but in a sense it was as well that he stood down from his seat; he would have been hung, drawn and quartered (metaphorically speaking, of course) by the Party now. Tory MPs at Westminster — including government Ministers, who ought to know better — have been trumpeting the case for Britain’s leaving the EU. At least it was good to see The Economist, as well as the more predictable Observer, recently demonstrating why neither the Norway nor the Switzerland option is feasible for the UK. As guest speaker at the annual Christmas Dinner of the European Movement in London in an Italian restaurant in Bloomsbury this evening, Tom pointed out that Norwegians pay more per capita into the EU budget than Brits do, but have absolutely no say in the formulation of rules and regulations relating to the European single market, by which they must abide. He also declared with the sort of emphatic certainty that is his trademark that there will be an In-Out referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2016 or 2017. And despite the efforts of political personalities such as London’s Mayor Boris Johnson — who Tom described as “highly intelligent, but not very nice” — he believes UK voters will vote to stay in once the case for the benefits of membership — and the perils of pulling out — is firmly put. That is certainly what happened in the 1975 referendum on confirming Britain’s then very young membership of the European Economic Community. At the start of the campaign, opinion polls suggested the voters were 2:1 against staying in, but the actual vote was 2:1 in favour. That was thanks to the efforts of political activists including a then much younger Tom, and heavyweight politicians from all three main national parties. Will the line-up next time be as impressive and as broad church? And will the European Movement — now definitely weaker — be a motor for the referendum campaign, or does a new body, like the one-time “Britain in Europe” need to be created? It’s not too early to be thinking of answers to those questions.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Boris Johnson, Britain in Europe, Conservative Party, EU, European Movement, European Movement in London, Norway, Switzerland, The Economist, The Observer, Tom Spencer | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 5th November, 2012
When people ask me ‘What has the EU ever done for me?’ my answer usually relates to the Single Market, which has given individuals and businesses four basic freedoms of movement throughout the 27 member states, relating to goods, people, services and capital. The EU is now celebrating 20 years of the Single Market, though given the current problems in the eurozone it is not, as Internal Market and Services Commissioner Michel Barnier has said, the right moment for a birthday party. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to take stock of what the Single Market has achieved and what still needs to be done. So in member states across the EU events have been going on bringing together interested parties from government, business and civil society to discuss the Single Market 20 Years On. Today the EU Commission’s London Representation has been hosting a conference subtitled ‘ What’s in It for the UK?’. The star speaker this morning was Lord (Leon) Brittan, a former Vice-President of the Commission and one of the leading pro-Europeans in the parliamentary Conservative Party. Unlike many of his colleagues he sincerely believes that Britain should be at the heart of Europe; indeed, he says Britain will probably join the euro one day, when the eurozone has sorted out its problems and, alas, the UK is experiencing its own. It is worth reminding ourselves that it was a Tory peer and Commissioner, Lord Cockfield, who largely designed the Single Market and persuaded Margaret Thatcher to endorse it. And of course it was another Conservative, Ted Heath, who took Britain into the EU in the first place. The Europhobic headbangers of the Tory right should ponder on that more often. Interestingly, the Chair of the European Parliament’s Internal Markert and Consumer Protection Committee, Malcolm Harbour, is also a British Conservative; he spoke constructively this morning too. But I’ll leave the final word to Leon Brittan who declared that ‘we have to sell the EU of consumers and citizens and that is done through stories’. We pro-Europeans have some very good stories to tell and it would be good to hear more of them out in public discourse.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Conservative Party, EU, EU Commission, euro, European Parliament, European Single Market, eurozone, Leon Brittan, Lord Cockfield, Malcolm Harbour, Margaret Thatcher, Michel Barnier, Ted Heath | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 7th August, 2012
David Cameron needs a parliamentary by-election in a Tory marginal seat like a hole in the head, but that is what Louise Mensch, MP for Corby and East Northamptonshire, has delivered to him. The Conservatives will be hard pressed to hold the seat, which novelist Louise Bagshawe (as she then was) seized from Labour at the 2010 general election. Some fantasists have suggested that London Mayor Boris Johnson should be parachuted in, but that would be a foolish move only a few months after being re-elected Mayor and anyway even he would not be guaranteed to win the seat. For the Coalition government the by-election will be an irritating distraction and will bring unwelcome high-profile scrutiny of its austerity measures from the Labour opposition. So some Conservatives and Liberal Democrats may be tempted to hide their heads in the sand and hope no-one mentions the by-election. Nonetheless we can expect the campaign to be pretty rough, and that’s not only because of the nature of this largely industrial seat. So what about the Liberal Democrats’ chances? In 2010, they polled less than 15% in Corby and the likelihood of doing even that well might seem remote given the Party’s current standing in the opinion polls and the way that Labour is accusing the Liberal Democrats of everything short of eating babies. But it would be a mistake for the LibDems to downplay this by-election. Indeed, it gives them an ideal opportunity for differentiation — to show that even if they are in Coalition with the Conservatives, they have not been absorbed by them. Indeed, on many key issues the two parties’ policies are distinct. Now is the time for the Liberal Democrats to pin their true colours to he mast and rebuild some of their damaged credibility with the electorate, both in the Corby by-election and at their Autumn Conference in Brighton next month.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 7th December, 2011
Ben Patterson, former Tory MEP and EU Parliament official, this evening at Europe House, Westminster, launched his new book, The Conservative Party and Europe (John Harper Publishing, £20), which I will be reviewing elsewhere. The timing could not have been more perfect, nor the author more qualified to remind us all that it was the Conservatives (under Ted Heath) who took Britain into the EU, who under Lord Cockfield’s brilliant guidance helped fashion the Single Market (endorsed by Margaret Thatcher) and who may — yes indeed, may — help take us forward into the next stage of necessary European integration, despite the huffing and puffing of Bill Cash, Daniel Hannon et al. Ken Clarke, who wrote a foreword to Ben’s book, was with us at the launch in spirit, if not in body, as probably would have been Michael Heseltine. Tory Peers who did show their faces (and pinned their Euro-colours to the mast) were Lords (Leon) Brittan and (Richard) Inglewood, the latter giving a short address. Otherwise, the room was filled with numerous LibDems (several of whom had moved from the Conservatives or the SDP, because of their Europhilia). Chatting with Graham Bishop, John Stevens, Stephen Haseler and others, I was delighted to find support for my contention that far from making those in favour of Europe despondent, the current critical situation in the eurozone gives us the ideal opportunity to rally the force of Euro-realism. David Cameron needs to be able to show how many pro-Europeans there are in Britain, so he can be confident enough to tame his Euro-sceptic head-bangers. And Nick Clegg, whose Euro-credentials are impeccable, needs to have the courage to stand up and champion the message from the front. History will bless him if he does.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Ben Patterson, Bill Cash, Conservative Party, Daniel Hannon, David Cameron, EU, Europe House, eurozone, Graham Bishop, John Harper Publishing, John Stevens, Ken Clarke, Leon Brittan, Lord Cockfield, Lord Inglewood, Margaret Thatcher, Michael Heseltine, Nick Clegg, Stephen Haseler, Ted Heath | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th August, 2011
One topic I get my students at SOAS to discuss each year is the familiar proposition that Religion and Politics should never mix. Of course, historically in Britain they often did. Until the emergence of the SDP in the early 1980s, the Church of England was often referred to as the Conservative Party at prayer. And both Methodists and Quakers had a big influence on the old Liberal Party. But secularism has swept Britain over the past 50 years and the fall in church attendance has been mirrored by a distancing of most politicans from overtly religious standpoints. As Alastair Campbell famously said when he was the master of dark arts at 10 Downing Street, “We don’t do God.” — though in the case of Tony Blair himself, that proved to be completely untrue. One cheeky journalist is said to have asked Blair if he prayed with George W Bush. And of course, in the United States, religion and politics most certainly do mix, whether it is in the form of the liberal Christianity of Barack Obama or the disturbing beliefs of the Christian Right and the Christian Zionists, with their hatred of homosexuals, Muslims and many others who aren’t like themselves. Liberals in Britain have comforted themselves with the assumption that we don’t have that sort of Religious Right here in the UK, but recent trends have suggested that may not be the case. Maybe the Religious Right didn’t dare show its head above the parapet before, or simply didn’t get organised. That doesn’t mean it won’t. And if it does, both the secularists and those believers of moderate or even radical political views need to be prepared to rebut any suggestion that the Religious Right has God and morality firmly on their side.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alastair Campbell, Barack Obama, Christian right, Christian Zionists, Church of England, Conservative Party, George W Bush, Liberal Party, Methodists, Quakers, Religious Right, SDP, SOAS, Tony Blair | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 25th April, 2010
The British Conservatives have always considered themselves to be the natural party of government. Those years when the Tories have been out of power are seen as unfortunate interludes during which they have to hunker down and retrench. The 13 years of Blair-Brown rule have been something of an aberration (an assertion Socialists would agree with, for different reasons) and until recently it was almost as if David Cameron was just cruising along, waiting for the Good Ship Tory government to glide gently into dock. No longer. The extraordinary LibDem surge of the past 10 days (no 24-hour wonder this) has indeed provided a sea change in British politics, and the Conservatives are quite clearly ‘all at sea’ about what to do. On the one hand, they have unleashed their media attack-dogs, to try to bring Nick Clegg and his colleagues down. But on the other hand, Cameron (as reported in the Observer today) has not ruled out a possible working relationship with the LibDems, in the (highly likely) event of a hung parliament. He might (triple underlined ‘might’) even consider some sort of electoral reform, so desperate is he to woo Nick Clegg, while simultaneously kneeing him in the groin. The fascinating thing about all this is that electorate — far more savvy than many politicians give it credit for — can see through all this Cameron duplicity. If the Conservatives aren’t careful, they are going to be the biggest losers in this election, not just in seats, but in reputation. And far from being the government, they may not have a voice in government, for a long time to come.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd April, 2010
When Tony Blair was Prime Minister and Alastair Campbell his media advisor, British politics became familiar with US-style ‘spin’: presenting a story in such a way that made it favourable to the government. The climate of New Labour spin led to government advisor Jo Moore’s notorious email after the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington declaring that ’this would be a good day to bury bad news’. The then Conservative Party Chairman, David Davis, rightly protested at the tastelessness of that and called for an official investigation. So it is depressing that some Conservative Party advisors have borrowed another distasteful American political tactic in order to try to win the current British general election: the use of smear against opponents. We saw how the Republican party and its tame media in the US smeared Barack Obama, questioning whether he was really US-born, likening him to both Nazis and Communists, questioning his Christian faith etc. And alas we are now witnessing parts of the Conservative Press in Britain, notably the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph (which ought to know better) adopting similar methods in their smear campaign against Nick Clegg. Be in no doubt: this was a contingency plan, not a knee-jerk reaction, and some Tory party advisors have similar ‘bombshells’ up their sleeve for use during the campaign. When David Cameron appears on the second leaders’ debate tonight, he should disassociate himself from all this. We don’t want US-style smearing in Britsh politics and the media. It isn’t British and it will deeply damage the Conservative Party if the Tories are seen to be tolerating or even encouraging it.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 15th January, 2010
The Yorkshire MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who was expelled from the Conservative Party for opposing David Cameron’s unholy alliance with right-wing parties such as Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) in the European Parliament, is mounting a High Court legal challenge to his expulsion. Mr McMillan-Scott has been excluded from the party for a period of five years — the same punishment Lord (Jeffrey) Archer got after being sent to prison for perjury — despite the fact that he has been a hard-woking Conservative MEP for 25 years. His ‘crime’ was to stand against Michal Kaminski, a leading PiS MEP, for the post of one of the European Parliament’s Vice-Presidents — and winning — thereby putting a spanner in the works of the Conservative Party’s backroom bargaining with their unsavoury continental allies. Mr Kaminski then had to be appeased by the Tories by their agreeing to his becoming the leader of the new right-wing grouping in the Parliament, the European Conservative and Reformist Group (ECR).
Edward McMillan-Scott’s line is that the Tory leadership has lost its way and that he has every right to be within the party to which he remains committed. He has accused David Cameron of having insufficient experience in dealing with European affairs and of making a serious mistake in promising to take the Conservatives out of the European Parliament’s largest political grouping — the centre-right EPP — as part of his domestic leadership campaign. In announcing his High Court action against the Conservative Party, Mr McMillan-Scott told a Daily Telegraph journalist, ‘The party seeks to prevent my candidacy in the next European election merely for taking a stand on matters of personal conscience. This raises very serious ethical, legal and poliical issues.’ It also highilghts how Cameron’s Conservatives are preapred to sacrifice their own stalwarts in their pursuit of miopic europhobia.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Conservative Party, Daily Telegraph, David Cameron, ECR, Edward McMillan-Scott, EPP, European Conservative and Reformist Group, European Parliament, Jeffrey Archer, Law and Justice Party, Michal Kominski, PiS | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 6th December, 2009
David Cameron celebrates four years as Conservative leader today — a record that eclypses those of his three predecessors. Like them, however, he has not yet had the chance to get his hands on the keys of No 10 Downing Street. Moreover, while it is perhaps still more likely that he will be Prime Minister than Gordon Brown this time next year, the prospect of a Tory landslide is diminishing. This is not because Mr Brown and his Ministers have suddenly been performing more brilliantly, but rather because Brand Cameron is failing to convince. He increasingly comes over as Blair Lite and large numbers of people in Britain — including some members of the Conservative Party — are not convinced that is what the country needs right now. I don’t give a fig which school Mr Cameron went to or how posh his shadow Cabinet are. The core of the problem is that we just don’t know what chameleon Cameron really stands for. One minute he is expressing all-inclusive views about the diversity in modern society, the next he is championing traditional family values. Just how sincere and deep is his environmental commitment? And what exactly would be a Cameron government’s engagement with our European Union partners be like, once he has finished trying to appease the Eurosceptics inside his party? So many unanswered questions, which is disconcerting after four years in the spotlight. Which is maybe why Gordon Brown has been looking so much more cheerful lately. I doubt if the Prime Minister has yet consolidated his chances of remaining in office after the general election, but at least it now looks as if David Cameron won’t be carried into 10 Downing Street shoulder-high.