It’s only been a month but the long-predicted Conservative Party civil war over Europe is back. Over the week-end, the rebels were out in force demanding real rather than lip-service change in the European Treaty. Resignations and no votes were threatened. Cameron fired back this morning calling a few bluffs. But, with a tiny majority and some tough, unpopular decisions ahead, who is going to lose this game of chicken?
This is of course an old re-occurring story line for the Tories. It’s a bit like one of those EastEnders plots that simmers on, just waiting for the Christmas special. During the 1990s it destabilised the Major Government and promises to do the same over the coming year or two (the real reason the Conservatives want to get it over as quickly as possible). And, like the 1990s, at least one of Major’s ‘bastards’ is back. John Redwood is playing the Phil Mitchel role this time. Only this time, the Cameron majority is even smaller and the stakes higher. The Party, even more on the right than before and riven with pro-UKIP sympathies, has made a renegotiation and referendum a key manifesto policy.
But, what’s most interesting is that this is not simply a war of the Conservative Party. It is one that will cut across all parts of the UK establishment. They were happy to set aside their differences to crush Labour during the election but all will out now.
On the one side you have the Tory Eurosceptics and a majority of the press barons. They have been staunchly anti-Europe and misrepresented it for years. Cameron did his dark deal with them over the Leveson Inquiry and non-implementation of what Leveson and a large majority of MPs voted for. It was payback time during the election. Although it’s clear that to several newspaper owners the full debt repayment will also require getting rid of the BBC and getting the UK out of Europe. There is also a proportion of the Captains of Industry. They hate much about European regulation, especially when it comes to workers’ rights. France is held up as the ‘basket case’, compared unfavourably with that capitalist heavyweight China. And we haven’t even mentioned Greece. You also have the City, with many financiers staunchly anti anything which restricts London’s EU monopoly on creating pyramid schemes and bonus bonanzas.
However, on the other side, you probably have an even larger proportion of business leaders. While half want reforms in Europe only a few percent would want to leave the European Market altogether. This also includes a number of financiers who do some very good business in Europe. You also have the British civil service which, for decades, has been solidly in favour of Europe. After all, it was Thatcher’s appointed ministers and civil servants who pushed the Single Market in the 1980s. Most of all it’s the Treasury which is pro-Europe. The Treasury’s anti-Mercantilist philosophy supports open markets of all kinds. They have fought with the Home Office for years over the immigration question – usually getting their way.
So, the battle lines are set. Look out for some blood bath moments ahead. Politics may even get exciting (certainly more exciting than the Labour leadership contests). But, will it ever reach the viewing figures of an EastEnders Christmas special …? Probably not.