Conservative Double-think

Robert Walter MP

Robert Walter MP

One of the reasons that led me (and many others like me) to give up on the Conservative Party was their extraordinary ability to tell a robust Eurosceptic story — and then go and do the opposite.

I well remember, for example, Christopher Beazley, who served as a Tory MEP alongside me from 1999  to 2009.  He was known in the parliament and the Conservative delegation as an out-and-out pro-European, absolutely committed to the federalist project.  I made a point of going along to his selection meeting in Eastern Region in 2003, convinced that no one with his views would be reselected by Conservatives.  But blow-me-down he made a (moderately) eurosceptic speech, which was enough to ensure his re-selection, but was so far away from his true beliefs that it was jaw-dropping.  In politics we don’t accuse colleagues of lying.  So I won’t.  But you may draw your own conclusions.

(While we’re at it, I must share with you a comical tale about Christopher.  One day in Plenary, Syed Kamall was making a very robust eurosceptic speech, which angered Mr. Beazley.  Beazley walked up in front of Syed, while he was still on-mike, and started ranting at him.  Christopher had clearly lunched rather too well, and was, as they say in Westminster, tired and emotional.  Syed, still on-mike and on-record, interjected “I’m sorry, Mr. President, but I’m being interrupted by a drunk”.  Collapse of stout party.)

I was struck by an egregious example of this same double standard in a letter in the Telegraph from Robert Walter MP on January 21st:

SIR – The enlargement of the European Union means that there is no reason why it should be constructed in the mould of the original post-war founding fathers, however commendable their motives.

In the national parliaments and among the people of Europe, there is no craving for the original centralised model.

Brussels is not Europe, and the people who work there have no monopoly on European vision. British influence in Europe has been much underestimated over the last 40 years, particularly here at home. David Cameron now has the opportunity to restate our commitment to the European project and provide real leadership, harnessing the collective strength of all member states. We can only do that as a confident, full and positive member of the Union.

Robert Walter MP (Con)

He starts out engaging the sympathy of Telegraph readers by criticising the EU project — yet his conclusion is that we must be “full and confident members of the Union”.  Like the Bourbons, he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing.  But his analysis is curious.  Far from our influence being underestimated, as he says, in fact the reverse is true.  Europhiles love to talk about the need for “influence” in Europe, yet we have very little.  I should know — I’ve been in the parliament for thirteen years, and seen it first-hand.

For decades we’ve talked about “winning the arguments in Europe”.  We’ve talked about slowing the pace of integration, about repatriating powers, about reforming the institutions.  Yet clearly and palpably we’ve failed.  It just gets worse, and we get deeper in.  Now they have detailed plans to undermine the City of London, and transfer much of the business to the continent.  Will we never learn?

And if Mr Walter is not bad enough, we have the Prime Minister himself telling us he’s a eurosceptic intent on reform.  Yet by saying to start with that he wants to stay in the EU, he has thrown away his only negotiating card.  He’s promising a referendum for one reason only — to try to stabilise his eurosceptic MPs and party members.  But if we couldn’t believe his “cast iron guarantee” of a referendum in 2007, how shall we trust a promise of a referendum maybe in 2018, after the next General Election, with a question based on renegotiations which are not yet started?  As an old colleague of mine used to say, he’s selling the sizzle, not the steak.  And we don’t trust him to deliver.

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4 Responses to Conservative Double-think

  1. Richard Henderson says:

    Interesting. Thank you. Looking forward to learning more.

  2. A lot of commentators would strongly disagree with this, including the excellent Dan Hannan MEP.

    But Peter Oborne wrote a lovely piece in the Telegraph yesterday when he compared the present PM with Mr Wilson, who even promised to reform the CAP! He went to Brussels and achieved nothing then came back waving Chamberlain’s piece of paper and asking us to support the new arrangements.
    To my shame, I thought we would be getting free claret and trips to the South of France! So I willingly campaigned for the “Common Market”. And got my way – national bankruptcy.

    Fool me once…….

  3. Mike Spilligan says:

    I heard a radio report yesterday, saying that (among other positive comments to The Cameron Speech) Mario Monti had expressed his support and hoped to see Britain continuing to be at the centre of EU influence. How such an absurd statement (via Sky News) could be reported, other than it being part of the current propaganda offensive, I can’t imagine – and from Monti of all apparatchiks. My first thought was: Who will the EU parachute in to be our PM when Cameron’s chicanery fails them?

  4. Wilfred Aspinall says:

    Every word said in this article is right. I have just set out my view on the referendum in response to the article yesterday in Rogers Blog.

    We need to work even harder to ensure that there is a referendum now not some “promise” that is never likely to emerge.

    As is said you don’t start negotiations by saying that if you don’t get the result you want you won’t in any case take any action. In any negotiation you make your demands unfettered by a get out clause. Once a settlement is agreed you have to either recommend acceptance or rejection. David Cameron is saying now that whatever is agreed he will recommend acceptance.

    Strange tactics, especially in dealing with the EU

    Wilfred Aspinall
    Former Member
    European Economic and asocial Committee

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