Friday, July 07, 2006

Who cares where someone sits on the wrong train?

It seems I'm not the only one sick and tired of rows about where Conservative MEPs park themselves in the European Parliament. The row about leaving the European People's Party (is it me or doesn't that sound rather socialist?) is getting silly. Frankly it's like watching two people get on the wrong train and then proceed to argue to death about whether to sit in facing or rear seats.

I can't recall the actual wording of David Cameron's pledge, but it was always along the lines of transfering from the European People's Party to a new group made up of Eurosceptic conservative parties. I don't remember it being "we will leave the EPP even if it means sitting as unaligned independents." According to people who think what goes on in the European Parliament matters (mainly MEPs themselves and researchers on the gravy train) such an option would deprive the MEPs of any influence they may otherwise have. That Cameron and Hague have sought to build a new group is transparently obvious. That such a group is harder to build than some claim is equally clear. How can we join a different group that doesn't yet exist and shows no sign of coming into existance?

What's utterly irritating is the sight of MEPs getting themselves into the media to declare that they will personally implement one pledge or another on this, whether staying in the EPP despite a pullout or to leave the EPP of their own accord and sit as independents. The terms egotists, wreckers and scorched earthers all spring to mind. All they are achieving is the fracturing of party unity.

Many try to claim that the Conservatives in the 1990s lost their way and lost power because they weren't Eurosceptic enough. Such a claim is ridiculous. Thatcher wasn't deposed because she took a firm line on Europe and she only now claims that she was because it makes her out to be a victim who attracts sympathy from fellow Eurosceptics. Thatcher was deposed for an overbearing leadership style, for refusing to think again on the poll tax, for being an electoral liability and a poor party manager. Nor did the voters reject the party so decisively in 1997 because it was "soft" on Europe. It was rejected for failing to meet the day to day needs of the population, for getting obsessed with issues the population were not concerned about and for failing to offer a dynamic vision. The idea, made by one commenter on Iain Dale's blog today, that leaving the EPP already would have given us an extra two thousand votes in the Bromley & Chislehurst by-election, at UKIP's expense, is absurd.

Wreckers on all sides are as bad as each other. Let's stop rowing about seating arrangements in Europe and get on with things that matter.


Anonymous said...

You only have your leader to blame for starting a row on something that doesn't matter. Is it just me or is it the case then whenever Cameron actually talks about specific policies (rather than general ramblings about how we should all be hugging trees) he screws up?

Tim Roll-Pickering said...

I don't Cameron is the only one responsible for this mess - the issue of our membership of the EPP has been raging for years and some on the withdrawlist side would (and indeed did) be making these calls as stridently without a leader's pledge to "implement" and with the internet providing platforms the calls would not just go away. The problem has always been the lack of an existing alternative grouping to join. But there are those who would rather sit as independents than in the EPP if those are the only options and Cameron was not explicit at the time what his stance would be in such circumstances. His pledge was ambiguous and made at a closed meeting during the leadership contest - the result is that everyone seems to have a different idea about what it means. That's not helpful when part of it hinges on events outside our control. It also doesn't help that no-one seems to have the actual text of the pledge. But I don't doubt that several of the most ardently anti-EPP MEPs wouldn't still be raising the issue, making it key question in the MEP leader election and so forth. So maybe a bigger dock is needed.


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