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Cameron’s Europe Speech: What Happens Next?

Last Updated: Friday, January 25th, 2013

Since David Cameron may not be Prime Minister after 2015, it is worth shifting our gaze to what the consequences of his Europe speech may be before the next election rather than after it.  Conservative MPs and party member gave his speech an enthusiastic reception – even, in some cases, a rapturous one.  But will the mood of Goodwill To One Man – Cameron – last, and if so, for how long? How will whatever happens next relate to the electoral timetable, with that election now scarcely more than two years away?

Answering the question means putting the Conservative Euro-sceptic tribe under a magnifying glass.  I am excluding as I do the web of think-tanks, campaigning organisations, journalists and blogs – such as, say, the Bruges Group, the People’s Pledge, Christopher Booker and our own ConservativeHome – that are, to one degree or another, firmly in the Euro-sceptic camp.  I want to concentrate instead on the Parliamentary Party, which divides into three camps: the Outers; the Euro-enthusiasts – and the supporters of renegotiation.

The Outers number somewhere between 50 and 100 Conservative MPs: since there is no definitive record, it is very hard to be sure.  However, such backbenchers as Philip Davies, Philip Hollobone and David Nuttall are prominent supporters of Better Off Out.  The intellectual cutting edge, however, is provided by three old friends: Douglas Carswell, Mark Reckless, and Carswell’s co-author Daniel Hannan, the MEP and Daily Telegraph blogger.  Their main aim was to get an In/Out referendum.  In this, they have succeeded.  They have come round to the idea that the referendum may take place in several years, rather than as soon as possible, and that Cameron will advance a renegotiation plan.  But they are not, on the whole, much interested in any repatriation of powers short of “Common Market or Out”.

The Euro-enthusiasts are a smaller number, but it is not true to claim that they consist entirely of an older generation of Tory MPs, such as Ken Clarke.  Robert Buckland, who organised a pro-EU letter of backbench colleagues – and claimed the support of about 25 others – was first elected in 2010.  So was Laura Sandys, another leading Euro-enthusiast.  Like the Outers, they are not especially interested in renegotiation.  One of their number, the veteran MEP James Elles, complains on his blog today that any referendum will only give voters the choice of a renegotiated settlement or not: the suggestion is that he would prefer the status quo.  However, their instinct is to be as supportive of the Prime Minister as possible.  Many of their number, such as the Damian Green, a long-time Euro-enthusiast, are Government Ministers.

This leaves nearly everyone else – in other words, the great mass of the Parliamentary Party, as overwhelmingly pro-renegotiation.  However, renegotiation is very much a moveable feast.  At the one end lies “Common market or Out”.  At the other might lie a modest renegotiation package, relating perhaps to safeguards for the City of London, the end of the Working Time Directive (in Britain, at least), and the repatriation of some social and employment legislation.  Such provisions would echo the opt-outs which John Major gained at Maastricht, but which Tony Blair later abandoned.  It’s fair to say that most Tory MPs lean towards the “Common Market or Out” end of the scale.  For example, the manifesto of the Fresh Start Group lists no fewer than eleven areas in which power should return to Britain.

To understand how Cameron will deal with this strong support for a major repatriation of powers from within his party, it’s worth considering, first, the timetable and, second, content.

On the timetable, he will be able to point to both the Government’s own review of EU competences – how its powers affect Britain – and the party’s own policy review.  The former, crucially, is not being published all once: it will be issued in sections, and this process will continue well into 2014.  The Conservative manifesto, of course, will not be issued until the start of the 2015 election campaign in May 2015 (assuming that the Government lasts until then).

On the content, Cameron’s speech itself offered hints.  He insisted that he wants “completing the single market to be our driving mission”, and warned against the Norwegian and Swiss models.  And although he said that “nothing must be off the table”, he mentioned specifically only the environment, social affairs and crime, before ticking off a list of Government achievements – the proposed banking union rules, preparing for the return of some home affairs and justice powers and (he claimed) reforming fishing policy.

Cameron is acutely aware is that he has to balance a trade-off.  The more maximalist his demands, the more he will please his own party: the minimalist they are, the more he will please his EU neighbours.  I expect that his tactic will be to say something as follows to all comers: “Look, we’ve got a referendum pledge.  And we’ve got an electoral timetable.  I want to look at your proposals in the light of the Government review.  Once that’s done, we can start drafting the manifesto.  Great to see you.  Mind the door on the way out.”

His hope is that the nearer an election approaches, the less willing his party will be to rock the boat.  However, he will remember that some Conservative candidates, including Ministers, departed from the party line during the 1997 election campaign to come out against Britain joining the single currency.  The relationship between some Euro-sceptic MPs and fighting the EU is rather like that between an addict and his fix: they just have to get their hit.  That an election campaign is not a good time to do so won’t deter some of them a jot – as Cameron knows as well as anyone.

By Paul Goodman


HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Claire Foges (The author of David Cameron’s EU speech): Antiseptic oratory “Just as George Bush is famous for employing the great American abstractions – liberty, justice, equality, independence – to his advantage, so Cameron should be bold enough to use our own great British abstractions – duty, honour, fairness, steadfastness – to communicate the essence of Conservatism and why Britain needs it now. It was a speech that won David Cameron the leadership. It will be speech that wins him – us – the next election. He must be bold enough to challenge the orthodoxy of antiseptic oratory; to stand in the public arena unclothed by political cliché; to trust in the imagination and intelligence of the British people. He must be brave enough to speak with the safety catch off.” Read more: http://is.gd/eHSaNc

Roger Scruton: Border control must be at the heart of any EU renegotiations All these things result from a global change that was not foreseen by the founders of the European Union, and which the EU institutions cannot possibly address – which is the mass migration from places devastated by brutal forms of government to the anglosphere, and to Britain in particular. Unless controlled, this mass migration will quickly destroy our country’s remaining cultural and economic assets. But the treaties forbid us to take action, and meanwhile our government sits tinkering with irrelevant details. If there is to be a renegotiation of our EU membership, should it not have this matter as it’s primarily purpose – namely, to restore to our Parliament the capacity to legislate, in those matters on which our national survival depends? Read more: http://is.gd/OnzVxU

Lord Ashcroft: So we’ve got a Europe policy – now all we need is a Tory government “For most voters, including those who will need to vote Conservative for the first time if we are to have any hope of a majority, Europe barely registers on their list of concerns. The principal benefit of our referendum policy is not that it gives our campaign a headline; it is that it allows us to put the issue to rest and move the conversation on to what the voters want to discuss. Europe is important and we have a clear view about it. That does not mean we should allow it to top our agenda, or look as though it does. Few things would please Ed Miliband more. Tories must remember that we can only get what we want once we win an election. The more we talk about changing our relationship with Europe, the less likely it is to happen.” Read more: http://is.gd/V0HwRH

Greg Clark MP: It’s not all about ‘shirkers’ and ‘strivers’ – we must be the party of ordinary working people “But – whisper it quietly – not everyone is, nor wants to be, a striver. What many people want from life is not a relentless struggle for advancement, but a reasonable working day, in which they can do a good job, but still have time for friends and family.

Not being a striver doesn’t make you a shirker – it’s simply a matter of working to live, not living to work….We must be the party of ordinary working people. The party of people who want a decent job to support themselves and their families; the security of a home of their own where they can be stable and settled; reliable back-up from well-run, caring public services; and enough money left in their pay packets to afford a car, a holiday, savings for a rainy day and a reasonable pension in retirement.” Read more: http://is.gd/nDWil0

Tim Montgomerie: Let’s acknowledge that Cameron has moved towards the Conservative Mainstream in recent months Five shifts stand out to me: 1) Right/Left balance: The appointment of Chris Grayling, Owen Paterson and Theresa Villiers to the Cabinet. The appointment of Lynton Crosby to co-ordinate the party’s general election campaign:What he will bring to the operation is the order, structure and focus that was missing from last time’s disorganised Tory campaign. Steps towards a strivers’ manifesto: Of equal importance to the decision to appoint Mr Crosby was the decision to recruit Neil O’Brien, who will work alongside George Osborne and play a central role in drafting the party’s next manifesto. Grant Shapps’ decision to target so many marginal Lib Dem seats. Since Grant Shapps became party chairman we’ve realised what ConHQ has been missing since Sayeeda Warsi replaced Eric Pickles. The decision to oppose Leveson. While the press must sign up to the Leveson principles Cameron has stood against some in his own party and most of popular opinion and resisted statutory regulation. Read more: http://is.gd/mfiGVc

Richard Pater: Who will be in Israel’s Next Government? “In all likelihood, Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Israel Beteinu party will win next Tuesday’s election and be asked to form the next government….However, Likud-Beteinu may not have it all their way. This is because the vote could be closer than most of the opinion polls have been predicting, as around 18% (21 seats out of 120) are still undecided. The Prime Minister has two broad choices – to remain with his ‘natural partners’: the ultra –orthodox parties and the pro-settler right wing.  Or to veer to the left, and peel off one or two centrist parties to give the government more balance.  He could of course choose a third option by blurring the above distinction and accommodate competing interests in the same government.  On top of the consternation of the parties is an added layer of intrigue; who will take the most important jobs within the Cabinet?” Read more: http://is.gd/jEdHaE

Peter Hoskin: What the Tory modernisers did next “Broadly speaking, the authors of the Bright Blue pamphlet come from what Tim Montgomerie calls the “Soho modernising” wing of the party: that which congregated around people such as Mr Portillo and Francis Maude, and prioritised concerns such as gay marriage, diversity and the environment. This Tim distinguishes from the Easterhouse tradition, which included himself, and which wanted the party to concentrate on tackling poverty. But, reading the pamphlet, it’s clear how the two groups are now meeting somewhere in the middle. This is most apparent in David Skelton’s essay, which promotes the cause of “blue collar modernisation”…In the end, this is quite some cause for optimism: the various modernising tendencies are coming together, a deep intellectual gene pool for the Conservative Party’s future. Read more: http://is.gd/28L2qy

By Paul Goodman

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