Monday, June 09, 2008

The price of neglect

The Tory euro-sleaze scandal is building up nicely. As the media goes into overdrive about the alleged practices of Conservative front-benchers, our favourite newspaper worries that a few more revelations will bring the opinion poll revival skidding to a halt, "as voters conclude that the Tories are still guzzling away at the teat of public funds, 1990s-style."

Tory MEPs are not making it any better as over half refuse to release their expense details - but that will come as no surprise to anyone who has had any direct dealings with that sorry bunch over in Brussels. They always were a pretty sorry lot.

The great hope – as far as The Telegraph is concerned, is that that Labour and Lib Dem MEPs are also shown to be behaving improperly. Then the presumption is that anger will be directed not at the Conservatives but at the EU. Hope springs eternal, as the paper then thinks that this "may actually boost the Tories, who are seen as the least Euro-enthusiastic of the three main parties." Just who are they trying to kid?

As always, though, the point has been comprehensively missed. Since his accession to the leadership of his party, Cameron has been to Brussels to meet his MEPs once. His interest in affairs European has been minimal, but he has had plenty of warnings that he has been nurturing a brood of vipers in his back yard.

Back in 2003, a comprehensive plan was produced – under the brief reign of Iain Duncan-Smith – for a complete overhaul of the Tory group in Brussels. This included, inter alia, pooling MEPs expenses, using the money to create a co-ordinated research team. The "colleagues" could not wait to bury that one – and we can now see why, even though it was evident then what was going on.

There was a brief attempt to resurrect the plan when Cameron took office but, very quickly, it became apparent that he – or the custodians of his diary – weren't interested. That the issue of MEP expenses is now re-emerging is, therefore, a sort of rough justice. It is the price of neglect.

It would be nice to think that something more profound will emerge from this – a realisation that you ignore the European Union at your peril. But that would probably be too much to hope for.


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