One of the after-effects of euromeltdown very few people have bent their minds to as yet (least of all the Government) is how it could very likely change the spectrum of political groupinghere in the UK.
Just as with the issue of immigration before it, our position as a Nation on EU membership has been very much led by real people on the ground, and totally denied by those in the hermetically sealed silence of Westminster. The main Opposition Party no longer even discusses the EU, but rather accepts it as a fact of life that will be with us in perpetuity. As its ideas on how to run things coincide almost entirely with the eurocrats, I suppose this is understandable. Yet a sizeable proportion of Labour’s supporters not only have doubts about EU membership: 2 in five of them would leave right now.
The Government is still at the stage of accepting our role in it, and maybe trying to renegotiate a few bits about child-minding, anti-fattist legislation, and other burning issues of the hour. Yet 56% of Tory voters told the ICM Poll last month that they’d throw out the EU tomorrow, and overall a staggering 7 in 10 want, at the very least, a clear Referendum that asks In or Out?
This post will now, very briefly, go a bit wonkish. What these figures mean is this: if, in a General Election, the Conservatives persuaded just one anti-EU Labour voter in ten to switch on the promise of a Referendum, they would romp home to victory. In fact, to make a clear, binding and immediate commitment to a simple yes/no vote would also take LibDem votes, and very probably drag in some cynical, older and poor citizens who currently don’t vote at all…beyond the odd, half-hearted BNP protest.
Over the last ten years, those who are totally committed to leaving the EU without even a referendum has leapt from 13% to just over a third. So it would be flying in the face of reality to imagine that, as things become even worse across the Channel, the figure wanting a quick exit won’t simply climb and climb: of course it will.
Once it becomes clear that a combination of increased IMF firepower and Brussels stealth taxes will be levied here in Britain (even though we aren’t in the eurozone), perhaps half the electorate will begin to wonder what the point of even a Referendum is. With trade in the EU from here shrinking as the slump takes hold – and more opinion polls showing 60-70% of UK voters keen to leave immediately – the issue could rapidly become not if or even when, but how….and how quickly.
Several senior Tories (some of them only mildly eurosceptic) have been eyeing this trend with a mixture of concern and interest. Above all, what they remark upon is how oblivious Camerlot is to the consequences.
The Party that ought to gain massively from this growing mood is UKIP. Polls at the weekend did indeed show it at level-pegging with the Liberal Democrats. But without some serious players joining their ranks – including at least one major Tory defection – UKIP could be very easily and quickly wiped out by a Conservative Party lurching towards full-on anti-EU, secessionist views.
But that’s the interesting bit: because it isn’t going to happen. The political, judicial and bureaucratic Estabishment of 2011 Britain have far too much to lose by leaving the European Union. One only has to watch Hague’s body language to confirm this: he isn’t interested in arguing with Europe, he hardly ever goes there, and he would much prefer to be in the US or the Middle East. Oliver Letwin admits in private that he could not conceive of any circumstances in which he’d support quitting the EU. Clegg, Mandelson, half the senior civil service, much of the Labour Party, and pretty much everyone in the Foreign Office sees EU membership not only as a given: their pay and pension arrangements are such that exiting the Union would seriously damage their retirement wealth. David Cameron has an idee fixe in his head that UKIP is all about racist Little Englanders: he has a naive, younger person’s belief that not being pro-Europe is somehow non-U.
A lot of this, I’m sure, stems from the gauche oafishness of UKIP’s nevertheless well-liked and well-armed leader Nigel Farage. He has been known to talk about ‘nig-nog votes’ before now, and a mutual friend did hear him say quite clearly during the Bercow election last year that his goal was to ‘steal the anti-nigger council house yobs off Labour’. Cameron himself dismissed Farage’s Party as ‘BNP Lite’, but probably nearer the truth is that UKIP has an appeal for many as a form of ‘no-nonsense radicalism’: chuck out the illegals, stop the inflow, string up the bankers, and even – dare I say it after yesterday’s Clarkson nonsense – shoot some public sector workers.
To be honest, I doubt very much if anyone could win an election on that basis. But an appeal based on rejecting jargon, bollocks, fantasy forecasting, feigned pc – and clearing out the sort of privilege evident now throughout society – could have an enormous appeal to real people of all ages and ethnicities in this overcrowded island. As you’ve probably noticed, we’re back at Radical Realism again.
This broader appeal won’t be managed by Farage himself – who might make an excellent Minister of Sport, but certainly isn’t made from Prime Ministerial cloth. He is going to need some Tory bigwigs in his camp…and maybe the odd Labour defector too.
The word has been around for some time now that Farage is highly adept at rooting out anyone in the Party capable of making him look lightweight. But the passing of the years (with no Commons presence to show for it) is gradually changing his mind. I recently learned from somebody close to his circle that he’s beginning to realise he must steal from the Tory senior ranks – and hope for more to follow. He has also been promoting some bright strategists from within.
An enormous catch for the UKIP leader would be Liam Fox. The two men get on when they meet, and rumours of the former Defence Minister’s unhappiness in the current Tory setup are too frequent to be dismissed as mere smoke. They share a burning (and entirely genuine) desire to restore the values of Britain, they are both searingly honest as individuals. They also have contrasting skills. Whether Fox can restore his image after the mauling he got from the Left over Adam Werritty remains to be seen, but he deserves to play a role in our public life: he is amusing, jolly, and far brighter than the vaguely gay booby he was made out to be during the tabloid topping of him in October.
John Redwood remains something of an enigma. Although clearly a maverick inside the Tory Party – he is EU rather than euro sceptical these days – he writes an excellent daily blog that often makes irrefutable points about what a mess Camerlot is making of things. Clearly, he isn’t Nigel Farage’s speed – but every Party needs a rainbow of personalities to function well. This is what he’s written this morning at his site:
‘The EU sells a lot more to us than we sell to them. They would not wish to risk that.
Whatever we do on renegotiation and membership, Germany will want to sell us her BMWs and France her wine.
If the rest of the EU did get protectionist with us, we could take them to the WTO and demand international action. Or we could propose a supertax on imported wine and imported cars here in the UK in retaliation.
[The europhiles] say we need to be fully in the EU to influence the rules that affect our business. The question is how much influence can we have, when we seem unable to resist a torrent of new rules which we neither asked for nor need. It feels like we take the rough with the rough, and end up worse off.’
I agree with every word of that. And it woul be hard to put a rice paper between the opinion, and that of Nigel Farage.
But most intriguing of all is the short-trousered draper’s son himself, George Osborne. Peter Oborne’s piece of yesterday in the Telegraph laid out very well something of which I wasn’t really aware: that as well as being Chancellor, Osborne is also a more or less fulltime coach and advisor to the Prime Minister. Many people continue to assume, therefore, that they’re thoroughly loyal to each other. I don’t think this is true.
Cameron is privately bitter about the fact that he has taken all the flak about Andy Coulson, whereas Osborne’s role in introducing them – and actively promoting the Newscorp boss’s cause – has been largely missed. During last winter, the Chancellor engaged in some seriously unpleasant briefing against his friend. What made the action worse was that it was always George Osborne who insisted “we need Murdoch”. Cameron’s close strategic adviser Steve Hilton equally vociferously insisted that Camerlot didn’t need him – and Dave was, until around late 2007, of the same opinion.
Equally, during Cameron’s wobbly period in the May 2010 election, the then Shadow Chancellor became irritated by the blandness of the Tory campaign. On two separate occasions, he gave out a tougher tone of voice on cuts and the EU than Cameron wanted. In private, George Osborne thinks that, with more spine at the time, the Conservatives could’ve won outright. I tend to agree with him.
Another key factor in their failure to do so was UKIP’s showing in several marginal constituencies. As Mr Cameron is not good at sums, this too has failed to make an impression on his forward-planning. But turning the earlier figures in this piece on their head, the facts look very bad indeed for the Tories: the ‘natural’ Labour heartland having been expanded beyond all recognition by social engineering after 1997, were the Tory Party to go into a General Election pro-EU, with UKIP scoring high in the polls, it could not possibly win. The result, in fact, would be either an even closer dead-heat than last time, or another Labour Government.
George Osborne is renowned for playing the long game, and looking at least four or five chess-moves ahead. He would be quite capable of working out that, in the likely case of catastrophic economic events destabilising the UK Party system, he would need to hitch himself to another wagon…or accept that his chances of being Prime Minister had probably gone forever. And he is far too ambitious to accept anything of the kind.
There are many strong arguments against a realignment of right-wing politics in Britain, not least of which are (a) it could very easily let Labour back in and (b) it would only be a halfway house towards breaking the Establishment stranglehold on our ability to progress as a nation. Also, ‘fourth’ Parties have a terrible track record here: from Randolph Churchill onwards, they have always turned into duds.
But these are unique times. A Government from all sides of the House – standing for a Britain keen and confident enough to have a go at making its way in the new World – would have a very real appeal….and all the more so if heavy political hitters joined the Party. Imagine somebody like Frank Field joining in, for instance – and David Davies. Even the principled, Grammar School supporting Tory MP Graham Brady. A grouping like that would start an avalanche of MPs moving over to the cause.
Musings like these would’be been thought naive even during the 2008 crisis. But the LibDem surge during the last election showed (apart from just how easily the electorate can be conned by an empty suit) how rapidly things might change….. if there was something geneuinely worthwhile on offer, from a grouping that looked committed to delivering it – rather than simply talking a good game.
Dont write off any possibility when the EU implodes. As the Buddhists say, “All things must pass, everything is in transition, nothing lasts forever”.