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Angry Lib Dems Will Get Their Revenge But Perhaps Not On Europe

Last Updated: Friday, December 16th, 2011

Cameron got his best ever reception at the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers on Wednesday night. They thumped their desks with a passion that they’d never done before and I mean ‘never’. The warmth with which Cameron was received by the ’22 was by all accounts unique during his leadership. Receiving the applause he apparently looked a mix of embarrassed and delighted.

Cameron’s happy circumstances after a difficult few months for his leadership reflected, of course, his ‘veto’ at last week’s EU summit. If anyone had retained any doubts about the importance of Europe to Conservative MPs and activists, this week should have dispelled them.

In a piece for ConservativeHome (http://conho.me/vLmg8R) Lord Ashcroft poured cold water on the idea that Europe should be a campaign issue for the Conservatives. The actual result of the Feltham and Heston by-election was certainly very close to the opinion poll that he conducted BEFORE the veto was exercised. “I trust,” he wrote, “the Conservatives know better than to conclude from the past week that Europe as a theme should be pushed up the campaigning agenda.”

I nonetheless think the veto is good politics. Putting aside this week’s bounce in the headline opinion polls Cameron needed to unite the Conservative family. The extent of rebelliousness of backbench MPs was becoming dangerous and voters hate divided parties. The veto has also caused the centre right newspapers to give Cameron the best coverage he has enjoyed for a very long time. If this lasts and carries over in to those newspapers’ coverage of other policy areas that will be very good for the party. I think it will. Rightly or wrongly Europe matters a lot to Fleet Street’s editors and columnists and they are likely to look more kindly on the Tory leader now – as long as he doesn’t disembowel the veto.

Europe may score low down the league table of voters’ priorities but last week’s veto wasn’t just about the issue of Europe. Cameron looked strong and decisive to voters and his personal ratings have risen across the board as a result (http://twitpic.com/7tj38u). This, my sources, say has most delighted the PM’s advisers.

What has worried those same advisers is the angry reaction of the Liberal Democrats and the fact that they are getting angrier rather than calmer as the days have passed. The Lib Dems are again feeling ‘done over’ by the Tories.  The mood resembles the AV vote period, I’m told. The Coalition won’t end. At 10% or so in the opinion polls the Lib Dems would be wiped out if they forced an election. The EU policy won’t be reversed. Tory MPs (and interestingly an assertive William Hague) won’t allow it. The big fallout is a new suspicion inside the Government. The ‘payback’ will come on other issues. Liberal Democrats will be less agreeable to Conservative requests for bolder growth measures, for example, or more radical public service reform. Meetings scheduled for this week and next week on the reform agenda have been postponed because the Tories know that the Lib Dems are in ‘angry mode’.

By Tim Montgomerie

  

HIGHLIGHTS OF THE WEEK FROM CONSERVATIVEHOME

Cameron’s focus on troubled families: “The focus on 120,000 troubled families also has echoes of Michael Howard’s approach to crime in the 1990s. Mr Howard concluded that a disproportionate percentage of crimes were committed by a very small number of people and if they were incarcerated crime would fall. He was right. It did. Nearly twenty years later David Cameron has decided that a similar focus on the 120,000 families will counter the anti-social behaviour problems that plague many communities.” More via http://conho.me/sui9RW

Pessimism about fiscal union: “The PIIGS are like a sick man who is being asked to compete in a race.  The summit’s prescription is a strict diet (austerity) without vitamin pills (fiscal transfers – in other words, hard-working German family businessmen paying higher taxes to subsidise moonlighting Greek civil servants).  The doctor in charge will no longer be directly accountable to the patient: the budgets of national governments are to be vetted by the EU institutions.  This plan must now be forced through the parliaments of Europe.  The result will be protest and riot – and, potentially, the overthrow of governments and perhaps democracies: after all, the technocrats are already in charge of Greece and Italy.” More via http://conho.me/rstWfO

Euroscepticism needs a ‘Business for Britain’ campaign: “Better Off Out, the People’s Pledge, the Daily Express campaign against the EU, the Euro-sceptic press consensus that stretches from the Murdoch papers to the Daily Mail, the fabulous writing of Daniel Hannan – all these have helped to set the intellectual fashion on the EU during the last few years, and their push against it has been more or less unopposed outside the liberal redoubts of the BBC and the Guardian… There are signs in the wake of the summit that this is beginning to change.  Coughing noises have emerged from the offices of the CBIBBC journalists sympathetic to the EU are already taking soundingsThe Financial Times has reported that opinion in the City is divided.  This is a reminder that business has moved on since 1975.  During the late 1990s, Business for Sterling played a crucial part in helping to mobilise opinion against the Euro.  It needs a successor with all-party support – with the kind of backing that Rodney Leach was able to mobilise and the sort of campaigning that Nick Herbert and others were able to provide.  It also needs a name.  My suggestion for starters is Business for Britain.” More via http://conho.me/ub1jVT

Over-borrowing has corrupted capitalism, says Jesse Norman MP: “the enormous burst of borrowing over the last decade.  Between 1960 and 2000 the loans made by banks consistently averaged about twenty times their shareholder capital. After 2000, it rose to a barely believable 50 times capital in 2007-8.  This fed through into huge consumer borrowing, an explosion of excessive pay and the waste of the Private Finance Initiative, among other things.” More via http://conho.me/t0x2go

Restoring faith in A-levels, as recommended by Liz Truss MP: “The fundamental mistake was to recast the market with schools as the consumer not universities. When universities set the exams up to assess entrants, high standards were the currency. Now that schools and education bureaucrats have the whip hand, a race to the bottom will always be the prevailing force.” More via http://conho.me/tJl9hZ

Saving the High Street: “After thirty years in which soulless out of town sites have sucked the heart out of our towns and cities, do we really need any more? Just as the National Planning Framework should include a clear presumption against green belt urban sprawl and in favour of brownfield and urban neighbourhood regeneration, so our town planning rules should work in favour of improving our high streets rather than leaving them to rot.” More via http://conho.me/sSW1SM

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