Sometimes in life, it’s nice to know that some things just don’t change. I know, for instance, that
there’s always a bed for me at my mum’s house. I know that if I pick up the phone to a few old friends, they’ll drop what they’re doing and lend a hand just as I would for them. I know that I’ll always be moved walking into St James’ Park to see my football team play. And I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the Tories will fall apart over Europe.
It’s been a while. Cameron has done well with his husky-hugging and hoody-riding. His tilting at windmills on his Notting Hill rooftop. His cycling to work while the chauffeur brought his suit and briefcase in the car. Not a hint of Europe in any of that. But that was opposition. Opposition’s easy.
Now, Cameron has been in government for over a year. His dragging of the Tory party to the political centre-ground is beginning to annoy the right-wing of his party. And now that one of their standard-bearers in the cabinet has fallen on a Werritty-shaped sword, the natives of the backbenches are getting restless.
So now, despite the massive issues and problems that Parliament should be looking at – the stagnant economy, the rising unemployment, the cost-of-living shooting up – what it’s actually going to be debating is a ridiculous bill on Britain’s membership of the European Union. John Major must feel for David Cameron. A bit. I imagine there are nights when brave sir John wakes up in a cold sweat the word ‘Maastricht’ ringing in his ears.
Cameron is learning just what it is to deal with a eurosceptic backbench muttering ‘rebellion’ in the corridors of Westminster. Number 10’s threat that it would sack any junior members of government who failed to follow the Party’s 3-line whip seems to have had little effect with around one hundred Tories now ready to rebel and some PPS’s and junior ministers threatening to resign. They seem to have had enough of toeing Cameron’s line and are giving him a shot across the bows (I had to get a naval metaphor in on Trafalgar Day!).
One worrying thing for Team Cameron – at least it should be worrying them – is just how early into a five-year Parliament this is happening and just how many of the rebels are from the 2010 intake. Historically rebellions tend to be led by the old guard while the new members maintain fierce loyalty to their leaders as they seek to climb the ladder.
Of course, part of the problem is of Cameron’s own making. This all started with a motion tabled in the Backbench Business Committee, which is there to give backbenchers a bigger voice. The sensible thing to do would be to have allowed the motion to be debated on a Thursday afternoon or even a Friday and then pack it with amendments and kick the resulting decisions into the long grass.
Number 10, in all it’s wisdom, decided to bring the vote forward to Monday. The idea I think being that this would give less time for the Eurosceptics to organise their vote and lobby more members. The problem with that is that those same sceptics were lobbying colleagues before the motion was even tabled. Quiet backroom discussions have gone on a while fortifying the oncoming rebellion.
And now the Tory whips are out twisting arms like limp-wristed four-year-olds for all the good it’s doing. Even the Prime Minister is to be found spending time in his Commons office, a place he rarely darkens with his presence in a normal week.
The fact this motion is being put before Parliament at all shows just how little regard most Tory MPs have for the people of Britain. This is all about internal Party politics and ideology and almost nothing to do with the good of the nation.
Britain’s withdrawal from Europe would be highly likely to cause huge problems in – and a potential collapse of – the Eurozone. While that might sound good to the right-wingers driving this through Parliament, failure in Europe would mean failure of the member states with which we do a huge amount of trade. And that would soon send economic waves across the English Channel and North Sea and find them lapping on the shores of the UK economy.
Economic waves on the shores of the UK economy are the last thing the country needs as we stagnate under Osborne’s management. People who have a reasonable wage coming in are worried about being able to afford their weekly shop, worried about putting their heating on, worried about paying their mortgages. A government which dives headlong into an argument about Europe at a time like this, is a government that will alienate the electorate who want to see growth, housing, and healthcare as the focus of Cameron and his colleagues.
Not that the motion will pass, but the very raising of it will become a problem for Cameron. The party, already suffering from scandals of Fox, Letwin, Coulson, will now have a split over Europe lurking just under the surface of everything they do.
The Lib Dems will not join a rebellion and it looks likely that Labour will also vote with Cameron to defeat this motion. The Lib Dem vote will give the Tory right motive to increase the ferocity of their attacks on Clegg’s party. The Labour vote will kill any referendum off but it will drive the anti-European Tory voters further into the arms of UKIP, aiding Labour and making Cameron’s life that bit more difficult.
Whether the motion passes or fails, Cameron will have headaches from this. And those are the sort of complications he could live without.