by Malcolm Clarke
There cannot possibly be a more endearing sight for the left of centre politician than the sight of Tory MPs rabidly attacking one another over the issue of Europe, their reaction to the word ‘Europe’ as predictable as the salivating dogs trained by Pavlov’s bell.
But I do not believe that the issue of Europe is solely about UKIP, although they have seen big gains as a result of this issue. Europe severs the right and UKIP could have expected better results having mopped up floating Tory voters who are Euro-sceptic, the standard protest voters who used to vote Lib Dem and also the mid-term ‘we hate politics’ voters who look to inflict damage on the main parties.
If you consider the positive climate for UKIP gains given the heightened public consciousness on issues surrounding EU membership, getting 25% of the vote is underwhelming and I question the extent of the success that the media are heralding for UKIP. They have filled a void in protest politics, nothing more. That is not to say their position will not develop in time to a more established position, but as we saw in Scotland two days ago, there is no Cleggmania-like wave for Nigel Farage at present.
At Westminster, the Tories are treading familiar ground with a virile battle raging over the issue of Europe once again. The Tories just cannot resist a good row over Europe but I believe they should be dealing with the difficult domestic situation we face like the ever-increasing cuts to public services, the ideological attack on councils and the flat-lining economy. They have reverted to type and it’s the same old Tories. They showed it over the NHS and they are showing it over Europe.
Many of their ills are self-inflicted by a strategic error by David Cameron. By declaring that he will defer an in-out referendum until after the next general election and after a renegotiation on our terms of membership within the European Union, he walked headlong into three big problems.
Firstly, whilst in opposition Cameron gave a ‘cast-iron guarantee’ for an in-out referendum. Now he has gone back on his word and people have noticed, particularly those in his own party who were previously appeased by this pledge. Cameron now faces distrust to the extent that a private members bill has been tabled by Conservative MP for Stockton South, James Wharton, to ensure the matter is cast out in binding legislation. As no party can legislate to bind their successors, Cameron is dangling a carrot to the electorate and to his disparate MPs saying, ‘stick with me and get your referendum’. Unfortunately for Dave, they electorate may well kick him out of Number 10 for not delivering an in-out referendum now.