BBC Radio 4 last night featured quite an interesting debate about 'euroscepticism' across the political spectrum, and in the Conservative party in particular. The main point was that while euroscepticism remains a broad concept, it has settled into more recognisable forms. In the context of the Labour party, this has resulted in hostility towards the free movement of labour and capital within the EU, which we explored in greater detail here. For the Tories, this has evolved away from what might be described as a fixation with sovereignty in the abstract sense towards a more practical critique of Brussels’ tendency for wasteful spending and over-regulation, which resonate better with the man and woman on the street.
However, what really caught our attention is the notion that, apparently, many Tory MPs are shy about criticising the EU too openly. The programme even featured a couple of contributions from MPs who only spoke on the condition of anonymity, with actors reading out their comments, which led presenter Ed Stourton to compare them to persecuted dissidents in an authoritarian regime. Really? It's probably true to a certain extent - as described by one of the anonymous MPs - that UK outright withrawal is “the love that dare not speak its name" too openly in certain Tory quarters. But seriously, it really isn't that difficult to find Tory MPs who will go on record to have a go at the EU, or to call for re-negotiating.
It felt a bit, well, fabricated.
Ed Stourton did make some astute observations, however, when summing up the programme:
In formal terms Britain will have a veto over any changes which need to be agreed by the full EU rather than just the Eurozone members. And in diplomatic terms Britain often has more clout than at first appears; it is just too big a player for other members of the EU to ignore altogether.The fact is that the dabate is evolving on to one of how to secure UK influence and safeguards against unwarranted intrusions into the Single Market or financial services, for example, should the eurozone integrate further and start acting as a block. The UK would be in a strong political and moral position to ask for safeguards and/or powers back, should eurozone leaders change the basic rules of EU integration.
A shame over a 30 minute programme, although touching on it briefly, the BBC didn't devote more time to looking at how the evolving situation in Europe is changing the parameters of the UK debate.