Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Dark days ahead

In the recording of road accident causation, there is a category called "looked but did not see", a self-explanatory cause whereby the driver looked in the direction of a hazard but simply failed to see it.

In a similar fashion, political observers can look at specific phenomena and fail to see their significance. Sometimes it is because they do not put together the pieces, or have not discerned the very often subtle links. Other times it is simply because what they see is considered "boring", something BBC political editor Andrew Marr famously admitted.

The other great problem is when the observer gets too closely involved. On the basis that the spectator sees more of the game, descending onto the pitch and getting stuck in plays havoc with the over-view and the objectivity.

All of these problems are affecting, to a greater or lesser extent, this blogger. I should be getting excited about the havoc being caused by the Labour MEPs on the working time directive opt-out and there are serious issues with the WTO negotiations that deserve attention – to say nothing of the Iran situation and much else.

However, despite our digression into many other issues – with sometimes marginal relevance to the issue at hand – the primary purpose of this Blog is to record and thus aid the fight against the EU constitution, in the context of the forthcoming referendum.

This is why, of course, the behaviour and fate of the Conservative Party is important to this Blog. Unlike the 1975 referendum, when all three major political parties supported the "yes" campaign, which was then launched for the Conservatives by none other than Margaret Thatcher, we have a situation now where the Conservatives will be opposing the constitution and thus should form a central part of the "no" effort.

Out in the constituencies, there is absolutely no doubt that there is a strong Eurosceptic sentiment. Having worked closely at the grass-roots with UKIP, and thence with Conservative Party activists, it would be very hard to tell the difference between the two parties at a local level and we could expect activists from both parties to make a strong contribution to any popular campaign.

But the effectiveness of the workers will depend to a very great extent on the leadership they get from the centre and this is why the Howard re-shuffle is so important. Hailed as a "modernising" cabinet, it really must be appreciated that this is the left-wing, Europhile branch of the party that would earlier have been described as "one nation" Tories, or more simply "wets".

They hark back to the pre-Thatcher days and, as my colleague has remarked, subscribe to a philosophy encapsulated in the credo "we can manage socialism better than the socialists". These now form the bulk of the members of Howard's shadow cabinet, many of whom are instinctively Europhile or "reformers". But, since they know that the constituency associations (and the majority of rank-and-file MPs) are strongly Eurosceptic, they dare not proclaim their real preferences.

Thus, as long as these people are at the helm, instead of strong leadership on the EU referendum, what we will get is lukewarm support, and in some cases covert sabotage, leaving the constituency workers without direction, motivation and, crucially, money.

This is further exacerbated by Howard's decision not to leave until Christmas, which means that in the crucial run-up to the high-intensity campaign, the Party will be looking inwards and not concentrating on the main event. How much better it would have been if Howard had declared that he was going to lead the party through the referendum and then step down leaving the way clear for his successor to fight the next general.

What must be realised though is that the current reshuffle represents a palace coup, brought to a head by a very small circle of MPs who have neither the support of the majority of MPs and certainly not of the constituency parties. They have struck now before the new entry – largely Eurosceptic – have been able to bed in and get organised – on the basis that, if they did not seize control now, they would never have another opportunity.

Even as I write, however, a counter-revolution is in the planning but whether it will succeed is anyone's guess. If it does not, there will be dark days ahead. The "modernisers" will run rampant and sap the life energy of the Conservative Party which is so needed to fight the EU referendum.

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