Tuesday, 9 June 2015
Tory Civil War Breaks Out – Over Europe (What Else?)
They just can’t help themselves, can they? Only weeks after the new majority Tory government was formed, two rebellions by Tory MPs have broken out already. First we had the kicking into the long grass of the government’s manifesto commitment to repeal the Human Rights Act (HRA) and leave the European Convention on Human Rights. Scrapping the HRA is looking to be fraught with legal and political difficulties and has been shelved for now at least, to make way for the main event of this Parliament. The in/out referendum on the UKs membership of the European Union (EU) has taken centre stage.
Yesterday the Prime Minister, David Cameron, performed a U turn on whether government Ministers would be allowed to campaign for Britain’s exit from the EU.
On Sunday he had said at a press conference at the G7 meeting in Germany, that those ministers wishing to campaign for a no vote would need to leave their government posts. The U turn was spun as ‘clarification’ of Cameron’s Sunday comments, but this is fooling no one.
The strength of feeling on the Tory benches in Parliament over Europe spewed out into the open, with various MPs demanding a ‘free vote’ on whether Cameron’s yet to be negotiated reforms of the EU are sufficient for them to campaign to remain in the organisation. All this at what should be the high water mark of the Prime Minister’s authority having defied expectations and pulled off a general election victory for the Tories for the first time in 23 years.
It all started last week, when former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Tory grandee Nigel Lawson, being interviewed on BBC Newsnight, said that any reforms negotiated by Cameron would ‘inconsequential, of no significance at all’.
We look to be heading back to the 1990s when John Major was tormented by Tory MPs (‘the bastards’ as Major referred to them) over the EU Maastricht Treaty. I remember one cabinet Minister saying at the time that the Eurosceptic MPs ‘wouldn’t take yes for an answer’. This is the rub, a significant number of Tory MPs, perhaps over half, and party members, want to leave the EU, and nothing short of that will please them. A group of over 50 Tory MPs has already formed a Conservatives for Britain (CfB) faction to campaign for EU exit. Cameron has a smaller majority than Major and the EU referendum to negotiate, so expect turmoil aplenty in the Tory ranks. A case of Marx’s ‘history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce’, you might not unreasonably think.
Ironically, Cameron warned of ‘chaos’ if Labour, supported by the SNP won the recent general election. Well, we will witness chaos alright as the Tories fight amongst themselves like rats in a sack. I very much doubt that Cameron will remain long as Prime Minister after the referendum vote, where he supports the yes campaign, and which I think will result in us staying in the EU (albeit on worse terms).
Cameron will have his ‘legacy’ and he will leave his successor the job of pulling the party back together again – perhaps with the promise of another referendum? Settle back, and watch the end of the pier show unfold.