Wednesday 22nd October
Europe has been the fault-line in Conservative politics for as long as I can remember. Edward Heath took us into what was then the Common Market against the wishes of almost half of the Tory party, and it has been that way almost ever since. Labour used to be against Europe, but then during the Thatcher years they began to realize that despite a virulent Tory government they could protect some workers rights by being in Europe. But the Tories were still hopelessly split with Maggie herself becoming a leading Eurosceptic in her dotage (which probably happened a lot earlier than reported). John Major struggled with his own party and has been considered a traitor ever since signing the Maastricht Treaty. Tony Blair was frustrated by Europe but sort-of played the game while a succession of Tory leaders and never to be P.M.s courted the Eurosceptic wing of the party.
Cameron promised to put Europe behind the Tory party but it has been a running sore which has just got a hell of a lot more inflamed. And with the dogs of UKIP snapping at his heels he has responded by lurching towards the Eurosceptic pose – a la Winston. “We will fight them on the beaches” – only this time he won’t win, in fact it is already looking like defeat. The tragedy is that he has boxed himself into a corner and now expectations are running so high that unless he can persuade 27 other countries to abandon the founding principle of the darned thing he will look like a loser. Hopefully the electorate will spot that well before the next election and save us all a lot of heartache. In the meantime the right wing of the Tory party may well split to join UKIP, the others and the rest of the LibDems will limp on, but whatever happens Europe will continue to divide them – just as the Corn Laws did two hundred years ago.