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Cunctator Cameron

Last Updated: Friday, June 20th, 2014

One version of events about David Cameron’s attempt to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker becoming the next President of the European Commission is that he expected Angela Merkel to help him to block Juncker’s candidacy.  He would then have been able to claim victory – demonstrating to UKIP-sympathetic and other Eurosceptic voters that he is both willing and able to fight and win in Europe, as he did when exercising Britain’s veto over treaty change in 2011.

Now that the Prime Minister looks unlikely to succeed, his friends are pointing to various silver linings that cheer up this dark cloud (or so they claim).  Some say that if he fails to block Juncker he is more likely to succeed in gaining an important EU Commission post for Britain as a trade-off – such as the one responsible for the single market.  Others, that such a dismal appointment will strengthen Cameron’s hand in arguing for reform.  Others still claim that he will benefit simply from picking a European fight, regardless of whether he wins or loses.  And some put more than one of these arguments – sometimes, all three.

The truth is that attempting to pin down the degree to which Cameron’s anti-Juncker campaign will cut through to those surly voters – if at all and even if he succeeds – is rather like the old game of trying to pin the tail on the donkey: one is hunting about in the dark.  It is possible to be a bit clearer about its effect on Conservative MPs.  Perhaps 50 of them follow the EU issue closely.  Somewhere between a fifth and a third of them, were an In/Out referendum to take place today, would vote to leave.  All of them want EU renegotiation or reform to some degree, and it is most unlikely that a single one of them supports Juncker’s candidacy.

My take is that while they will be cheered if it falls at the final hurdle, those who take a close interest in the Europe are looking on Cameron’s Juncker gambit with a mordant eye.  They will have read Douglas Carswell, their colleague, and Peter Oborne, the Conservative journalist, arguing that the EU is a discredited institution, that Juncker’s candidacy is therefore right for it, and that Cameron is wasting his time.  They will also be mindful of the comparison drawn by Charles Moore, Margaret Thatcher’s biographer and a former Daily Telegraph editor, between Cameron’s tilt against Juncker and John Major’s against Jean-Luc Dehane.

Over 20 years ago, Major, when Prime Minister, blocked Dehane from the Presidency because of his federalist sympathies – only for the post to go to Jacques Santer, whose views were almost indistinguishable.  The argument that if Juncker is vetoed the post will simply go to another EU insider will cut a lot of ice among these backbenchers.  None the less, there is an important difference between Major’s position and Cameron’s.  By this stage in his premiership, it was all over for the former.  The latter has a fighting chance of returning to Westminster after next spring’s election as the leader of the largest party once again.

This distinction casts a fascinating light on how Cameron has played the Europe issue – one that has played havoc with Tory unity since Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech almost 30 years ago – and its successes and failures.  Essentially, he has pushed by feeling within his party and fear of UKIP into a renegotiation, the content of which is uncertain; the success of which is also so; the outcome of which is so, too – and which therefore casts into doubt his strong inclination to return from it (if he returns to Downing Street and the renegotiation takes place) recommending a Yes vote.  This is not a sturdy strategic position.

Furthermore, the contents of his proposed renegotiation package, indistinct as they are, clearly won’t take the shape that much of his Party wants.  A significant proportion of it hankers after membership of the Single Market and not much else – “the free trade that the British people voted for in 1975″, as some of them put it.  The outlines of Cameron’s proposed package are: support for the single market; a “red card” for national parliaments; an end to the aim of “ever-closer union”; protection for the City of London; restrictions on in-work benefits for EU migrants; curbs on free movement for new EU entrant countries.

This is rather a long way short of ring-fencing Britain from the reach of the EU institutions other than for single market purposes.  No wonder Cameron’s pro-renegotiation backbench critics, including some outspoken MPs from intakes that entered the Commons before 2010, have kept indicating that the package isn’t enough, and that the Parliamentary Party is poised to demand more.  There was a rumpus at the start of the year about an alleged letter co-ordinated by Bernard Jenkin, the Eurosceptic Chairman of the Public Administration Committee, calling on Cameron to give the Commons authority to block new EU laws.

Whatever one thinks about the arguments concerned, one point stands out.  The moment of reckoning for Cameron has not arrived.  Some said it would take place after the Euro-elections.  It was then rumoured that a revolt would take place after the Newark by-election.  But the Parliamentary Conservative Party has been very quiet since it took place, largely because it is the first one to have been won by the Tories since the late 1980s.  Labour came third in that by-election.  It failed to top the polls in those Euro-elections.  Conservative MPs in marginal seats are starting to believe that they may well be re-elected next May.

A very long time ago – centuries before the formation of what is the oldest party political party in the world, the Tories – the Second Punic War was fought.  During it, Fabius Maximus, a Roman general, found his forces outnumbered by the enemy.  His means of dealing with the problem was not to engage it in battle at all: instead, he chipped away at its supply lines.  For this, he won the nickname “Cunctator” – the delayer.  Cameron’s way of tackling the strong Eurosceptic wing of his Party has been similar.  When in a corner, give a little ground.  Gradually build up your position, and avoid confrontation.  When in doubt, delay.

Cameron’s Eurosceptic critics now have a decision to make.  Do they push for more before the next election?  Or do they put off the move until after it, when Cameron has perhaps returned to the Commons as the leader of the largest single party?  For both him and for them, this is a war of manoeuvre.

By Paul Goodman

 

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Lord Ashcroft: A big lesson from the Blue-Yellow marginals – don’t assume uniform swing
“The results amount to an effective 3.5 per cent swing from the Lib Dems to the Tories since 2010. This would be enough for the Conservatives to unseat 15 Lib Dem MPs if this were to happen across the board next May. But one big lesson from this research is not to assume any kind of uniform swing where the Lib Dems are concerned. The swing to the Tories was as high as nine per cent in Newton Abbot, but in the Lib Dem-held seats of Cheadle, Eastleigh and Sutton & Cheam the swing was in the other direction. There was also no straightforward regional pattern. Though swings were generally less favourable to the Tories in urban and suburban seats, in Cornwall they ranged from 2.5 per cent (St Ives) to eight per cent (Truro & Falmouth). The swing to the Conservatives in Wells (three per cent) was less than half than in neighbouring Somerton & Frome (7.5 per cent).” Read more: http://bit.ly/1njEEGj

Peter Franklin: There’s good news on bovine TB – but the farm lobby won’t like it
“It turns out that we can successfully control the spread of bovine TB by controlling the movement of bovines – as opposed to taking pot-shots at passing badgers. Who knew? However, one can hardly dispute the fact that badgers and other wild animal populations harbour the disease. So, as long as we also test for bovine TB in cattle and restrict the movement of at-risk herds, culling can’t hurt, can it? Perhaps it can. According to research published in the journal PNAS: “even small-scale badger culling might increase rather than reduce the spread of bovine tuberculosis”. Of course, if you wipe them all out, this wouldn’t be a problem. But as the pilots have shown, complete culling is very hard to achieve. One might wonder why the Government is still determined to press ahead with such an unpopular, ineffective and potentially counter-productive policy. The answer, as always in these matters, is pressure from the farm lobby – which would never countenance a complex but correct plan of action, when there’s a simple but wrong solution to be had instead.” Read more: http://bit.ly/T9wSXJ

Paul Goodman: Do we really want Liberty?
“Liberty.  That’s the theme of the conference being held tomorrow by the Centre for Policy Studies, being held to commemorate the 40th anniversary of its foundation by Margaret Thatcher and Sir Keith Joseph…But there are solid reasons for the decline of the language of liberty in modern politics.  What Margaret Thatcher championed was not so much liberty, the abstraction, than freedom, the British particular: Parliamentary government, the rule of law, our unwritten constitution, the established church – in other words, that paradox, “ordered liberty”, the product of history, culture and inheritance. It was common property in 1975. But much has changed since. Lynton Crosby prefers to stress what a Conservative Government could do to make you more secure, not more free. You can maintain that he is misreading the signs of the times.  But it may be significant that the new challenger to Cameron’s right – UKIP – hasn’t yet made freedom its battle-cry. During the 1970s, the language of liberty became compelling.  But 1975 was a long time ago, in the age before globalisation.  Crosby’s punt on security looks better suited to the spirit of the age.” Read more: http://bit.ly/1pbD9yh

Rehman Chishti MP: We shouldn’t work with Iran in Iraq until or unless it gives up terror
“Co-operation with Iran over Iraq, which the West is now considering, could exasperate an already precarious situation.  It is the foreign policy equivalent of pouring water onto an electric fire: it’s as likely to hurt you as to put out the flames. Let us not forget that Iran has been fully engaged in Iraq since the fall and capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003, and has trained and supplied militias in Iraq that were used to attack American soldiers.  Its goal was to create a weak, decentralised Iraq that could not pose a threat to Iran. Recently, it has been a strong ally to the Iraq Prime Minister’s, Nouri al-Maliki, Shiite-led government and his pursuit of sectarian policies. I questioned the UK’s support for Iran in Parliament yesterday.  During his statement, I asked the Foreign Secretary how the international community could engage Iran to help resolve the situation in Iraq when Iran is aiding terrorism in Lebanon, supporting Hamas and corroborating with the horrific regime of President Assad in Syria.” Read more: http://bit.ly/1jxRpvB

Nick De Bois MP: To cut crime, we must stamp out the carrying of knives
“The Conservative manifesto of 2010, upon which all Tory MPs were elected, was spot on. It stated: “We have to send a serious, unambiguous message that carrying a knife is totally unacceptable, so we will make it clear that anyone convicted of a knife crime can expect to face a prison sentence.” I’m afraid to say that this serious, unambiguous message has so far not been sent out. Over 2,500 of those caught in possession of a knife last year were aged 10 to 17. If we need any more convincing about the weak message being sent out about carrying a knife, then we need to look no further if thousands of children don’t regard it as serious. That’s why my amendments also permit mandatory Detention and Training Orders for 16 to 18-year-olds.” Read more: http://bit.ly/1oNk3B5

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