The press are talking up the prospect of a Tory Euro-split. The likes of serial rebel Douglas Carswell are regularly talked about as if they are the same as the Maastricht rebels, and they will do for Cameron as John Redwood did for Major. Common Market or Quit is their rallying cry.
If we were to withdraw from the Eurosystem, but remain part of the Single Market, we would have to conform to all manner of rules and regulations made by the Eurosystem. It is not just that we would have no say in making such rules (not that we have much say now). Nor is it just that many so-called Single Market rules – such as the 48-hour week – are actually social and employment law masquerading as Single Market measures. The real problem with retaining a residual requirement to conform to Single Market rules, after withdrawing from all the rest, is that UK firms would still have to conform to Single Market rules even if they have no intention of exporting to the Single Market at all.But are they going to bring down another Tory Government?
I'm not sure. Carswell knows Cameron's not going to get a Common-market relationship in negotiation. He also knows he will almost certainly get an in-out referendum some time after the next election (assuming a Conservative victory...). Miliband has ruled out such a referendum. Carswell also knows he will be free to campaign for 'out'. Hence the long-running complaint that the media seem determined to run with a 'Tory split' story, when actually the party's rather united on the issue, and probably more so than Labour. Even Carswell talks with irritation about the endless 'Tory splits' questions he gets, when quite often he's actually supporting the Prime Minister.
Tory splits on Europe are largely tactical. There are a few who would take a hard line, a small number who would vote 'out' come what may. There are almost no federalists of the Michael Hestletine type left. Everyone else is sceptical, but not wanting to pull out now. Almost all, including Cameron, want to repatriate powers.
Most people in the country (if they care, which few do) want to repatriate powers too, but don't want to pull out. So the Tory party is in broad agreement with the country. This, however encourages the Tories to talk about Europe, as it's something they have in common (they think) with 'the man in the street'. The 'man in the street' however is thinking "I wish they'd shut up about Europe and sort the fucking economy out". To understand this better, read this by YouGov head, Peter Kellner on "Valence voters".
Suppose you feel that strongly about the role of the private sector in the NHS, either for or against. That is a positional view. But suppose you don’t mind that much either way, and all you want is prompt, high-quality care when you need it. In that case, yours is a valence view. Most politicians, activists and commentators are full of positional views. But millions of swing voters aren’t: they take a valence view of politics. They judge parties and politicians not on their manifestos but on their character.What banging on about Europe tells voters about the Tories' character, even voters who agree with them on the issue, is that The Tories aren't interested in concerns of ordinary voters. Labour's positional issues at least have the virtue of not being completely irrelevant to the man in the street, even if the voters largely disagree. It matters not a jot that the voters take the "right wing view" positional view on Europe, what's crucial is they don't hold this view very strongly and aren't that interested. Endlessly demanding a referendum may be delivering what the voters say they want in response to that question, but To which the average voter actually asks "to what immediate problem is a referendum on Europe a solution?". Almost no-one (3-5% at most) outside the bubble of the politically engaged think a referendum on the EU is important enough to spontaneously offer it as a top-5 issue to pollsters.
The headbangers, by which I mean those who simply will not be appeased by anything other than an immediate referendum, now, in which Cameron backs 'out', have largely gone to UKIP. And good riddance. What's left is a small rump of people for whom Europe is a major issue but who can be persuaded to back a realistic strategy of renegotiation, if the referendum is credibly promised.
My problem is that any Euro debate has the potential to cost the Tories dear. The best thing Tories can do to prevent a Labour victory in 2015 is just simply shut up about Europe. Don't mention it. Keep schtumm. It is enough that the voters agree with us. We do not need pacts with UKIP to defend the right flank. We don't need to have a pre-election referendum. All the voters want right now is lower prices in the shops and a growing economy. Deliver that, get a landslide. Fail, get voted out. It is that simple. Europe appears to be a distraction, of interest only to the political class, reinforcing the view that the Tories in particular aren't interested in the concerns of ordinary people. Whatever your view, you must acknowledge that withdrawal from the EU would be a major issue for Government, which would distract them from other, more pressing questions.
Above all, the headbangers need to stop spouting self-serving myths, which aquire truthiness by constant repetition. What are you, Labour? Most of our law is not made in Europe. We are not swamped by eastern Europeans, who aren't "taking our jobs. The EU is not a plot by dastardly foreigners to circumvent our democracy, when all the important stuff affecting people day-to-day is dealt with by Westminster. Even if a measurable percentage of law is "made in Brussels", much of it is detailed trade regulation, necessary for a functioning common market, and of little interest to the man in the street. And in any case, in order to get to 50% of law "made in Brussels" you need to include every law which has any influence at all from EU law, even where the law is not changed because of 'Europe'. We are not "run by Europe" and to suggest we are is paranoid fantasy.
Contrary to both Federast and Head-banger myth, renegotiation of terms is possible, both Thatcher and Major showed this. The Eurozone is going to go off and do its own thing. Which leaves the 'outs', of whom Britain as the largest country, is the natural leader. Some of the outs are still publicly committed to joining the Euro, but in practice are probably having second thoughts. The UK does have influence - the EU would be much less free-trade oriented were it not for us. It's true the 'Common Market' relationship is not on offer, but significant repatriation of powers over employment law and so forth could be.The EU is reforming, and a UK renegotiation will accelerate this process. The UK is a creditor nation, with a strong economy and goodwill, especially in the countries of the East for our open policy to immigration which contrasts sharply with the attitude of France and Germany. Remaining in, but on looser terms is true to 500 years of British/English foreign policy.
And let me be quite clear. Britain does not dream of some cosy, isolated existence on the fringes of the European Community. Our destiny is in Europe, as part of the Community...Margaret Thatcher, Bruges, 1988.
If your view is "Withdraw now, or by Thursday week at the latest, or you're a Federast" this post is not for you. This one is, and you should bugger off to UKIP, pronto. If, however you have a realistic view of what Europe is for, and does with us; and think the UK can influence its European future, then have a little faith in Cameron. He's got it right so far.
Cameron's strategy is right. It is consistent with British interests and conservative ideals. It is pragmatic, intelligent and opportunistic. It is sceptical, but not obsessed by the European question. Like Thatcher, who secured the rebate, and Major who secured the opt-outs from the social chapter and Euro, Conservative prime-ministers have performed well in European negotiations. Cameron will be no different. In contrast Blair gave up the rebate and got nothing in return, and Brown scuttled off to Europe to sign the Treaty of Lisbon while no-one was looking. Conservative Prime ministers succeed in Europe despite the head-bangers, not because of them.