Some time before the unpleasantness at the Eurozone Club, I warned that the EU’s slow implosion would change the face of British politics. As we can see from Nick Clegg’s anger at not being invited to the Franco-German wedding, the process is already beginning.
This morning’s IoS was the first to reveal Nick’s private feelings, which were then made entirely public on the Marr Show a few hours later. These events demonstrate what I’m on about: the Brussels self-inflicted mess is going to revolutionise this country’s political landscape.
Let’s look first off at some of Clegg’s really rather silly comments. Britain, he averred, had been rendered “an irrelevant pigmy”. The imputation of this remark is that Britain has no identity or appeal in the world beyond its EU membership. Not only is this bollocks of an almost 24 carat quality, it is also guaranteed to alienate every person proud to be British in these isles. What the members of Nick’s Bubble Entourage perpetually fail to grasp is that patriotism (in the sense of admiration for the UK’s ways and potential) is alive and well among a whole range of ages and ethnicities beyond the Guardian’s tiny readership. His ‘porg’ observation pretty well ensured that UKIP will now overtake the LibDems as the third Party of our politics.
Now let’s survey the immediate history. Just 48 hours ago, prominent LibDem Ming Campbell also went on live television to say that Cameron had done exactly the right thing. I don’t concur with that view, but it was offered – and I have no doubt Clegg was aware of it. A mere 24 hours before that, Nick the Daily Napper was also presumably awake for his own public assertion that, as far as the EU is concerned, he and Dave walk in perfect military step, hand in glove, joined at the hip and with barely a rice paper between them. That’s a three-legged race many of us would love to watch, but this morning’s toys/pram affair on the Marr Show was an excellent second best. At a stroke, the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed that he is a powerless, inept, irrelevant and naively misled figure whose position and importance in the Coalition must, henceforth, surely decline dramatically.
Andrew Marr (no admirer of Clegg, and something of a Leftie-Groupie on the whole) had an absolute field-day at the LibDem leader’s expense. If you doubt this, go to the #Marr space on Twitter, and read the tweets that poured in after Nick’s performance. Comments were running 12-1 against him. In fact, not only has Clegg damned his Party to a severe pasting at the next Election, he has also ensured a permanent position in the political wilderness for himself.
But equally, the outburst places yet more problems in the less than ample lap of the Prime Minister. I confess to being at a loss to understand why so many in the commentariat feel David Cameron did himself such a lot of good in Brussels last Thursday. The attitude of those who drivel on about “a Party at last united behind him” talk as if the Tory Right was the only wing of Conservatism. The Party also contains a lot of people – many in his own inner circle – who do see the EU as a ‘given’ in our future, and are dismayed at the thought of what Margaret Thatcher called The Empty Chair that will now sit where once Britain argued against at least some of the more obvious madness. The ones I’ve spoken to so far agree with me: Cameron walked into a trap, partly due once again to sloppy diplomatic preparation.
The immediate post-veto bounce shows the Conservatives just one point behind the Ed Miller Band. Given Ed’s line to date on the PM making a Horlicks of things, while for once I think he’s right, the public clearly doesn’t. (I don’t think Dave was wrong to give Merkozy the finger, but he is tarred forever in my mind for having chosen a predictably unfortunate thing to defend – the very City of London that contributed a full 48% to the UK national debt three short years ago. On a moral basis, he might just as well have chosen Gordon Brown’s decision to stay out of the euro as his point of principle.)
The Tory Right will point to the poll bounce, and jump even more confidently out of its ill-fitting pram. Now (they are already saying) we must press home our advantage, drive the Beastly Hun back to Berlin, and drown the appalling Sarkozy in his own slimey hubris, grrr-grrr. That is a problem David Cameron doesn’t need, especially as a fair few of this happy breed would like to see him consigned to history. An added unknown – dare I say, imponderable – in all this is the degree to which they will be able to gather up many of the new 2010 Tory intake to their triumphal procession. Another feature of Camerlot sloppiness is indeed the way in which it tried to control the likely mindset of those new MPs, and failed spectacularly. We are not looking at a united Conservative Party so much as one potentially about to lurch to the Right….and take its revenge on a clique for whom it has no fondness whatsoever.
The Prime Minister is, if not between a rock and a hard place, then at the very least between a crock and a charred place. He has left the charred place behind in Belgium, and must now deal with the crock that is his relationship with Nicky & the Cleggerons. This week has seen a victory for the more traditional form of Conservatism, but a defeat on two fronts for Camerlot. It will be fascinating to see how the PM copes in this political maze.
In his shoes, I’d want to reassess William Hague’s talents. For a chap whose negotiating skills, economic nous and wit make him perhaps the Premier who never was, Hague’s handling of the Foreign Affairs portfolio has been a staccato stumble from one badly misjudged international situation to another. I will go further: being brighter and more considered than Dave, I’d have a reshuffle, putting Hague into the Treasury and Osborne into the Foreign Secretary role. There is zero chance of this happening in the world outside my head; but for my money it would make wee George take the sh*t head-on, hand Hague a hospital pass he might turn into an election-winning triumph, and leave Mr Cameron unopposed as both a mover and a shaker.