Thursday, September 29, 2005

Foxing the opposition

Conservative leadership challenger Liam Fox is to take on the high ground of Euroscepticism, according to The Daily Telegraph, and pull the Tory MEP group out of the strongly integrationalist European People's Party (EPP) in the EU parliament.

This is something Iain Duncan-Smith tried to do during his brief tenure as party leader and is something none of the other leadership candidates have been prepared to consider. David Davis, for instance – who rests on his undeserved reputation as a Eurosceptic – has said that membership of the EPP is a decision for the MEPs, while Clarke, who is still a vice president of the European Movement, could hardly be expected to make a stand on this issue.

In a speech today, Fox will argue today that the EPP's most recent manifesto commits it to press for the realisation of a "united states of Europe", with a European army and police force and tax raising powers for the European Parliament. It believes in powerful trade unions, redistributive taxation and a high minimum wage," he is scheduled to say.

The Telegraph, in its lead editorial, thinks this is a good move, a remedy that "could restore Tory health".

Rightly, it says that "the seating plan in the European Parliament does not set many pulses racing," but it observes that Tory membership of the EPP quite justifies the charge that they say one thing in Britain and do another in Brussels. It was this perception of dissembling that, in part, contributed to the best-ever UKIP vote and the worst-ever Tory vote in the 2005 election, it argues. Thus, concludes the paper, if the party adopted the policy set out by Dr Fox it would be taking a major step towards restoring its integrity - and recovering its electability.

The Telegraph could, of course, be right – especially if – as is eminently possible – the next general election falls on the same day as the Euro-elections. But Fox is probably carrying too much baggage to make a serious dent in the lead of the two main candidates, Davis and Clarke, although if his input does put the EU on the agenda, he will have done the Party a service.


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