• Facebook
  • Facebook
  • Facebook
  • Facebook

Search This Blog

Visit our new website.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Is the Tory Party becoming its own worst enemy in Europe?

Our Director Mats Persson writes on his Telegraph blog:
Many commentators have rightly noted that infighting over the EU and immigration could cost the Conservatives the 2015 general election. There's a second dimension to this, however: by tearing itself apart, ironically, the Tory Party also risks becoming a greater obstacle to the new settlement in Europe (that a vast majority of its MPs want) than anyone in Paris or Brussels.

Make no mistake: if that In/Out EU referendum comes in 2017, the Tory Party will – as Virginians say – split like a Baptist Church. I reckon there are about 30 Tory MPs who are “out no matter what”, 20 who are “in at any cost” and the rest are “swing voters” who would probably prefer to stay in a heavily reformed EU. Most Tory MPs will make up their minds based on what deal David Cameron can get in Europe.

Remember though, it’s not unusual for parties to split over Europe – particularly if referenda are involved. In part, this is a sign of a functioning democracy. In the 2003 Swedish referendum on the Euro, the governing Social Democrats were deeply split, with Ministers from the same government even campaigning on different sides. The French socialists were infamously divided over the European Constitution and in the 1975 EU referendum in the UK, Labour was all over the place.

Cameron yesterday again fought off a Tory EU rebellion, with two amendments to the Immigration Bill being backed by significant numbers of MPs. Dominic Raab’s amendment in particular – limiting the grounds on which foreign criminals can appeal deportation – encapsulated the ongoing clash between European "rule of law" (in this case the ECHR, not the EU) and Parliamentary democracy. It would be odd for the Tories not to discuss this, and it was a fully legitimate amendment.

However, there clearly comes a point when the Tory Party can become its own worst enemy in Europe. It's one thing for the Tories to split when that referendum comes, another to rob itself of the very opportunity to test the limits of EU reform ahead of the vote.

There's a vicious circle at play here. The UK media never seems to get tired of Tory split stories. It only takes a handful of vocal backbench MPs to create a “Tory rebellion” headline. English being the lingua franca, European politicians and commentators read the UK press, drawing the conclusion that, this is really all about a party talking to itself about itself. The many good reform ideas coming out of the UK are dismissed as a matter of “domestic politics” – an image happily (sometimes dishonestly) conveyed by a whole host of special interests, including those who have invested personal prestige in the EU project and seek to maintain the status quo. Cameron, meanwhile, is seen as an unreliable partner not in control at home. This perception is then fed back to the UK press, as a sign that Cameron is “isolated”, in turn hardening backbench opinion.

How to avoid this? Backbenchers need to be aware that every split – manufactured or real – reverberates far beyond the UK’s borders, often working against their ultimate objective. When the UK presents a united front, it often wins in Europe. Secondly, as I’ve argued before, Cameron just has to stop jumping from headline to headline. He’s giving his European partners whiplash. Finally, European commentators and politicians themselves need to be more intellectually honest. Surely, beyond the headlines, they must understand that the UK’s Europe debate is multi-faceted. Don’t use the Tories as an excuse not to engage on substance in the crucial debate about how to reform Europe.


Anonymous said...

This will continue to split the Conservatives until we have a referendum but the bigger problem is the damage that it is doing to the trust in Westminster (which is already at a all time low).
Because the momentum is growing outside of Westminster for a referendum and the more that the Lib-Dems and labor resist the call for a referendum the more it just reinforces people's perceptions that the MP's are professional politicians who are shallow and opportunistic and untrustworthy.
Personally I'm not sure i know enough to make my mind up one way or another but one one thing i do know is that i would like a grown up reasoned debate about it, not all the scaremongering and panic that we keep getting from one side or the other when they start thinking that they are losing the argument

Rik said...

'...the more that the Lib-Dems and labor resist the call for a referendum the more it just reinforces people's perceptions that the MP's are professional politicians who are shallow and opportunistic and untrustworthy."

That should be the centre piece of Tory strategy on this issue.
Seen the polls probably close to 80% of the electorate want a referendum. Hereof are roughly 20%that want it for 'pure democracy' reasons. They want an In, but want the people to decide on it as well.
In other words even more than half of LibDem and Labour voters want a referendum. And anyway the people simply dislike the 'dog and pony show' they got recently presented by the Lords. And of which Mr Ed is clearly the face (the one people see as where the buck stops). Just look in the US on the wider subject of House approval and the reasons thereof. There are probably more people in the US that like to bomb Congres than want to bomb Syria. Likely not a joke (very serious problem there).

This is point on which the Conservatives can score and score big.
Certainly as it is combined with Political games (mainly from Labour side and undecisiveness (also Labour) and having basically no realistic policy of their own (vague LibDems and FlipFlop Labour).
It also 'spotlights' exactly the weak points (for labour's leader). Summarized: simply doesnot have a clue.

The problem is that everytime the Tories can score towards that part of the electorate (centre) some Anti-Euro Taliban or Mr hague Fs that up and catches the headlines with some other related news that make the Tories look bad iso good.

At the end of the day it is pure and simple Taliban behaviour from them. Wanting to force their minority opinion on the large majority. In in an enviroment where it is not going to happen.

The Tories need 2 things to win next election. A big slice of the IP side. But also a substantial part of the 'middle voter'.
Cameron on this imho has found the perfect compromise with the reneg strategy. It is seen the political platform anyway the max achievable and is simply by far the best alternative for that group of voters.
By being a credible democrat and a better manager he will appeal to the middle group. Who as earlier mentioned like their demoicracy and hate those backroom opportunistic stuff (which labour is now advertising as one of its main points.

Rik said...


2 This kind of thing can be divided into 4 stages:

It is fine to have extreme (in the context of the subject) ideas and defend them in discussion, but there comes a time when, if you have no outright majority, you have to negotiate and likely at the end compromise.
Cameron clearly is on top of that. These MPs are clearly not. They keep digging their heels in the sand and will not move an inch.
Result at the end of the day they will effectively not be included in much of the play and the compromise solution moves to the middle of the rest. Which is further away from them than a compromise including them, would have been. Plus doing business on other issues becomes more complicated.
Next to making it more unlikley that their best (real life ally 'Dave') gets reelected. Basically the same sort of problem only more structural.

3. Overall it is half as bad. It makes Cameron's position in some aspects better and in others worse.
Better in the future negotiations as it was mentioned in nearly all Continental media. People and politicians need to really understand that there is a problem in the making with the UK electorate. Likely necessary for them to move.
It profiles the Tories as the main Euro-sceptic force. IP is more sceptic of course but simply has no MPs to back that up.
However it also makes them look like a bunch of divided idiots (the bad).
What makes it worse is that this look very structural and is likely to repeat itself regularly.

3. Btw it is clear that even the drama queen part of electorate can understand the concept of compromise. At least most of them.
Wilders had very little problems explaining to his voters (who are very similar to IPs and potential IPs that he had to compromise heavily to become part of the last Dutch government. Assuming that the UK voter is about as intelligent/stupid as the Dutch ones, hard to see that without a few voter-Talibans this will not be possible in the UK.
Also an excellent opportunity to bring up that at this moment the
3rd way of reneg is by far the most popular of the 3 current options (in-now, Out-now, reneg+ referendum in 2017).

There is no majority, certainly not in parliament and also seen the polls electorally for a direct Out. The polls that show a small majority for a direct Out simply donot give the choice between all possible options. They only ask In or Out. About the same as asking who will win the EPL: Stoke, Sunderland or Fulham. Nice to know but nothing to do with reality as the only realsitc candidates are City, Chealsea and Arsenal.

Realistic is the issue. at some point you will have to compromise if you are a majority to achieve anything. And if you do not you likley end up with only birds high up in the sky.

Rik said...

On Strategy and changing it.

First of all one has to realise that a reneg is a very complicated process. A process And complicated.
It is not sit around the table for a cup of coffee do some horesetrading shake hands and voila a deal. Simply a long term process as there are so many parties/players/stakeholders involved.
Complicated as there are many conflicts of interest between the stakeholders (which by themselves still are not fully cleared up. Which is necessary as the outcome needs a proper platform to be longer term viable). The enormous number of topics which are interwoven on top of it, complicates it further.
Furthermore the issue or some of the sub-issues are highly emotional for some of the players (like immigration).

Looking around say at the national immigration discussion is is clear is such a discussion is not properly managed it usually ends nowhere. Simply nothing really substantial happens. Again immigration is a good example. Reorganising the 'entitlement state'.
Osborne is hardly a softie in that respect, still because of political pressure from all sorts of angles he is hugely limited in doing things. With not the right backing you get nowhere is a lesson to be learned from that.
I strongly believe that if you donot get a proper agenda the thing will end up in: 'a lot of conversation but very little action' (freely quoting 'The King').

The other sides (very plural) also doesnot have a clue.
So you need to start a whole process. Inventory; communication of need of reneg; discussion; political pressure; inventory of positions horsetrading often in at least 2 stages, execution and communication with your backers, getting official approval, signing off.
Lot of things and one step determines the other.
Parallel plays a national circus with elections, leadershipcontests etc..

Why backbenchers moving all over the place like now are )next to the national electoral damage) such a disaster is that they make this process even more complicated and furthermore from your own side even more unpredictable.
And with that it makes it much more likely that this will become an 'immigration like dossier'. Lot of conversation, hardly any action and a lot of emotional shouting between the parties.

Cameron has clearly taken a basic strategy that is supported by a majority. No other strategy is that at this point.
He faces furthermore problems simply caused by the fact that his party doesnot have a majority.
Doubling the complications by all sort of continuous backfighting makes it simply way more likely to end in nothing.
Anyway at this stage there are 2 alternatives left on the table:
-continue this process (which might end in a Out outcome in a referendum); or
-mess it up (and achieve nothing only that people you your pricipal point and find you an irritating ass most likely.
There is now no In or Out issue on the table. Later it might get again with a referendum or if the EU thinks it is wise to keep blocking reforms.

In that respect the Out-fanatics should look at the polls when they became pretty irritating for everybody else about a year ago.
They now have the sympathy of most of the elctorate on this issue. Which is rather unusual. People like Wilders or LePen are faced with alot of sceptism from the side of what is basically the large majority.
Probably has to do with the person Farange (simply unlike Wilders a very likeable fellow) and the issue under discussion.
However this big advantage can also easily be lost when this Talibanesque behaviour continues.
And a big advantage it is. general public support for a referendum has likely been as important for Cameron to propose it as the rise of IP. He simply needs both to win the next election (return of part of the IP-deserters And a substantial part of the middle groups. And his reelection guarantees a referendum. And even a close call for the enxt one will likely move Labour.

Rik said...


If the IPs F-up Cameron's negotiation it could easily turn all against them. People are simply unlikely to vote for people who in their eyes caused much of the mess and didnot take their earlier preferred alternative serious but did all to mess it up (like these backbenchers are doing). Of course the Zapatista will keep their own (nucleus) support but that is in no way enough to win a referendum. They now get a substantial part that vote for them because they see the traditional parties as incompetent and untrustworthy. So much that they simply go for an unknown like the IP even when this simply doesnot look pretty competent as well. Mess the central dossier up which is IPs foundation and this people will run away also from IP. You keep some hardliners but they are nowhere enough to get MPs in the british system. IPs rise puts pressure on the whole political machine. The moment they tank that part of influence will be gone. Simply will become an irrelevant fruitcake party on one of the extremes of society.

Not even to mention the fact that it reduces the chance of a referendum. By simply make a camron relection more unlikely and releaves the present pressure on Labour.

In a nutshell: there should be only one captain on this ship. By playing and acting as a second one like now is happening the ship is much more likely to end up on the rocks (in the not Whisky way) than safe in the harbour. And Cameron is the one wearing that cap and furthermore the one that would be voted captain anyway if there would be elections on that.

The reneg circus has started. And when the ship has left the hardour it is very difficult to change course. And this is world's biggest oiltanker.
But the one leading should be able to present himself credibily
He went for a bit to friendly aka Haguy) and has adressed that now it is more Osborny.
Cameron should get a platform at home for the strategy. He achieved that in percentages at least. Main problem are these backbenchers that are moving all over the place.

Anyway the ones leading the process are in the by far best position to judge what has to be done to achieve the objectives.
Not that they are perfect. Imho it is eg right to be highly critical on say Hague's inventory as it simply sucks in any possible way. But when one starts with 'constructive engagement' approach you cannot change that 20% along the way into hard confrontation. You ruin most of your earlier work. And it will be even more difficult if not impossible to reverse that again.
Cameron can see them in the eyes and can adjust we simply have to guess on often poor information and play the Monday morning quarterback. He simply needs some room to act and not being in the middle of a homefront monkeyhill.

So critism on how the present overall strategy should further develop is fine, but starting the whole process from scratch is not.
Which doesnot mean that when there is a gamechanging event major adjustments should be made to the strategy. But the gamechanger should come from 'events' like the worldeconomy or the other side not at random from the people who are supposed to back him, like now.

In en even smaller nutshell:
Give the boy a chance. It is the by far best realistic alternative for 'Outers' anyway.

Anonymous said...

@ Rik said...
At the end of the day nobody really trusts Cameron to hold a referendum in 2017 because we have been here before with the Lisbon Treaty.
Cameron broke his promise by the use of a "get out of jail card" i say that because he was pretty certain that by the time he was P.M that the Lisbon Treaty would have been ratified what his mistake was just like Blair he emphasize the one piece of information he wanted everyone to hear with Blair it was "WMD's in 45 mins" with Cameron it was "cast iron guarantee"in both cases they thought that by the use of spin and half truths they could get their own way but no it came back to bite them in the ass and then we have Clegg and the lib-dems who it has been pointed out went in to the last election saying in their manifesto committed to an in/out referendum a position which they now seem to have pulled back from or the fact that Brown broke his promise on a referendum so all 3 main political parties one way or another have lied or just used spin or both.
But most of all what people would like is some honesty for a change and this is why the Tories are having a big problem with Ukip because people look at Ukip and think yes a lot of what they say makes sense so what the hell all the others lie anyway so let's give them a go