Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The final betrayal

From a purely domestic standpoint, the most interesting piece in the torrent of media coverage today on matters EU is the inside page-piece in The Daily Telegraph headed: Clarke urged to stand as leader.

Although this headline does not suggest that the story is about "Europe", that is indeed what it is about. The text tells us that Kenneth Clarke is being urged by "Tory moderates" to stand for the party leadership "as the Government prepares to abandon plans for a referendum on the European Union constitution."

The word is, according to The Telegraph that the Europhile Clarke was now in a strong position to lead a "grand coalition" of moderates against the favourite, David Davis, who is from the centre-Right, with the way opened up for the Europhile Mr Clarke because the French "no" vote meant Europe would not be such a divisive issue in the leadership campaign later this year.

This story swept Westminster yesterday and is undoubtedly true. It reflects the "don’t mention Europe" paranoia of the Tory "modernisers, which drove the environment and farming shadow minister to do a whole interview about farming without mentioning the EU once.

This also explains Liam Fox's barely concealed delight that the French referendum result might mean the cancellation of the British referendum, and his insistence that it should be called off. He is cited in today's Telegraph as saying that it was time to pronounce the treaty dead: "It does not do what the people of Europe want and I think it should be put to rest."

The real message, of course, is that, with no referendum, the Tory "modernisers" can kick the whole embarrassing subject of the EU into the long grass and concentrate on their "schools 'n' hospitals" agenda – even if that current stance is a major U-turn. In the general election, Howard promised that, if a Conservative government were elected, he would name the day for a referendum the moment he walked into Downing Street.

Thus, at a time when the EU is, at last, at the centre of debate and people want leadership on one of the most important political issue of our time, it seems the certain Tories are pushing hard to remove it from the agenda altogether.

Given that the Party took us into the EEC in the first place – and give us the Single European Act and Maastricht – this would represent the final betrayal.

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