Well, if was OK for Larkin and Toads, why not here?
Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.
After this General Election, were the Tories to “win” (or, as happened in 2010, were the Cabinet Secretary to spatchcock them a “win”), the Big Event would not longer be the “deficit”. It would be “Europe”.
In our local politics we are urged to remember that Farage’s Kippers (4.3% of the vote, 38 seats) — not Manfred Weber’s EDD (29.4% of the vote, 221 seats) — “won” the 2014 European Parliamentary Elections. Clearly, as in 1938, things European are still “a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing”.
Wars and rumours of wars
Yet, assuming that Tory Election “win”, “Europe” is the coming crisis —”Europe” being a shorthand for the fissiparous state of the Tory Party. And, yes (since you didn’t ask), I have today been reading Ian Traynor in The Guardian:
For more than two years, Cameron has regularly demanded changes to the EU, requested that concessions be made so he can repatriate powers from Brussels, win the referendum and keep the UK in. But he has yet to tell the other 27 heads of government what he wants.
“We need more concrete British demands,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European council and former Polish prime minister, told the Guardian three weeks ago. Tusk organises and chairs EU summits and will have a key mediation role over the British issue, which he describes as one of his top three dossiers. He said he wanted to help solve the British problem in a “limited and rational way”, but in effect ruled out a renegotiation of the Lisbon treaty to accommodate the British.
Reopening the treaty has long been Cameron’s main demand, although he has also been told authoritatively that it will not happen. “No one thinks he’s credible,” said Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform thinktank. “Cameron wants to have his cake and eat it.”
The whole of that piece is a recognition that, for Cameron and the Tories, “Europe” is code for the unbridgeable divide which John Major suffered with his “bastards”. Then it was the Maastricht rebels. The headbanger tendency has been self-denying and quiet in recent months, but, after 7th May, will be liberated and reinvigorated. It could be Eurosceptic two-thirds of the parliamentary Tory benches. Exactly a year ago Matthew d’Ancona had this:
In moments of exasperation, the PM has been heard to say that he would rather form another Coalition after the next election than win a small majority and, in practice, govern in a daily modified coalition with [Peter] Bone and his gang of hardcore Eurosceptic backbenchers (“Bonie’s Cronies”, as I have heard them described).
In any case, if Cameron wins with a majority of any sort, or negotiates a second coalition that includes the fulfilment of his pledge to hold a referendum before the end of 2017, the Conservative Party’s energies will be utterly absorbed by Europe, as never before, for up to 18 months.
Conservatives and “National Conservatives”?
When I was observing those divisive amoeba, the North Norfolk MP was Eddie Gooch. At each General Election he had a single opponent, a “National Liberal”. This strange sub-species of Tories now needs explanation: since I can’t be bothered, try wikipedia. They were a lingering residue of the 1931 split in the Liberal Party. There was also a “National Labour” party (those who went with Ramsay MacDonald into the 1931 coalition) until after the 1945 Election.
The question has to be: would a commitment to (or against) #Brexit be as devastating to Tory “unity” as was 1931 to the other two parties? Cameron, as a prisoner of the rampant Eurosceptic right, the faction howled on by the Murdoch scandal-sheets, would likely lead to some constituency associations so alienated they resigned, or were suspended. If Cameron were able to stave off the “Better off out” loopies, the obvious beneficiary would be the Farageistes.
On the other hand, none of these fissiparous tendencies are neutered by a Tory defeat in this General Election. Cameron would be out, gone, the designated fall-guy. Inflexible rigour would be the order the day. [Isn’t it odd that “ideology”, however warped and homeopathically diluted, is now the norm on the right?]
If all we hear about the selection of Tory parliamentary candidates is anywhere near the reality, the next leader will be further right — a hardliner, such as Liam Fox (always sniffing round the parliamentary henhouse) or Theresa May, or a trimmer, such as Boris Johnson (the original arse on which everything has sat except a man).
Watch this dividing space: it could be fun.