Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Counting the b******s

I recommend "The Westminster Hour" on Radio 4 on Sunday nights for a less blinkered view than in the more often quoted TV politics programmes. In particular, the back-bench MPs who comprise the panel for the regular discussion of the week's topics are generally refreshingly objective. There were good examples last Sunday. Mike Gapes, Labour chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, presented rather more positive policy on the European Union than the party's front-bench spokesmen have been doing. On the same subject, the Conservative Andrea Leadsom sought to show that her party was rather more Europhilic than the headlines following the Cameron veto suggested. She claimed that it was only a few high-profile Tory MPs who were actually against membership of the EU.

However, she would surely accept that there are more Europhobes in the present House than before the 2010 general election. She should also have counted the most enthusiastic supporters of David Cameron's "veto" after the prime minister's statement in the House the next day. I made it 21: Sir Peter Tapsell, John Redwood, Peter Lilley, Bill Cash, Bernard Jenkin, Andrew Rosindell, Dr Julian Lewis, Mark Pritchard, Nadine Dorries, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Brine, Philip Davies, David Evennett, David Nuttall, Andrew Selous, Peter Bone, David Rutley, Mike Weatherley, John Baron and Mrs Anne Main, not to mention Phillip Hollobone. There were only two or three asking questions on her side who appeared to share her views on Europe.

Some of those I have listed would protest that they do not want to leave the European Union, just that they want to remove all the regulations that originated in Brussels. But surely that would amount to the same thing? One cannot envisage the 26 EU nations, all signed up to progressive social, industrial and agricultural legislation, allowing unrestricted access to their market to sweatshop Britain, competing on unfairly advantageous terms.

I liked the contribution to Monday's proceedings by LibDem Bob Russell: "I bring some grandfatherly advice to the proceedings. I urge the Prime Minister to let the dust settle, keep calm and carry on carefully, but please to abandon the Carlos Tevez approach to Europe. Bridges need to be built, and the first bridge the Prime Minister can build is to get Tory MEPs to rejoin the group of mainstream European conservatives." This raises two points: first, that the prime minister may not have found himself isolated in Brussels last week if his MEPs had still been in the centrist conservative EPP group, talking to their fellows, and he himself had been more involved in earlier negotiations. Secondly, after passions - some of the exchanges in the European Parliament recently have been pretty fruity - on either side have cooled, Britain's relationship to the EU will be seen to have practically not changed very much. More damage has been done by the triumphalist puffing of David Cameron's stance than by the "veto" itself.

On this side of the channel, it is certainly no reason to renege on the coalition agreement. Certainly, most of the press (remember, most is Tory and no paper is philosophically Liberal Democrat) are asserting wildly that this is the beginning of the end, and even some LibDems on the fringe are speculating on the same lines. The latter should consider whether they really want to give up a restraining influence over government policy on health in England and on benefit cuts, not to mention positive contributions on business development and local democracy.

1 comment:

Frank Little said...

I learned from a recent World At One that the generally accepted count of Tory Eurosceptics is 80. A minority, but a significant one.