Cameron, beware - even Paddy gets it
The Conservative leadership needs to change course and fast over the EU
Britain is now ‘irretrievably’ on course to hold a referendum on membership of the EU, Paddy Ashdown warned Nick Clegg at the Liberal Democrat Conference in Brighton. If Paddy gets it, can’t Dave?
With the Conference season well on its way, Ashdown’s comments illustrate that even the Liberal Democrats understand that there will need to be a referendum on the UK’s EU membership. Of course, Ashdown is a committed Europhile who would not be advocating withdrawal but his comments show that there is at least recognition near the Lib Dem leadership of the merits of a referendum.
On the other hand, the Conservative leadership needs to understand that 70 percent of the population want a referendum on this issue and, according even to online polls in the Guardian, they want the UK to withdraw from the EU.
David Cameron has to have realised that by not making a decision over this he is making the people of the UK more resentful of the fact that they are not allowed a choice over membership and that this may indeed backfire for the Conservative Party.
Cameron should look to the near future: the Labour Party Conference. With fringe events such as the Labour EU Safeguards/People’s Pledge event looking to prove popular with Labour Party conference goers on the Monday evening, and with some of Ed Miliband’s closest advisors including signatories to the People’s Pledge, there is a fear in Conservative Party circles that the Labour leader, who is in a dire polling situation, could catch the Conservative leadership sleeping and announce a change in policy to endorse an In/Out referendum at conference.
There should also be recognition of what’s going on beyond the secure zone at Conservative Party Conference. This year the Freedom Zone will be hosting a wide range of events that include a Taxpayers’ Alliance/Daily Express session on Monday October 8th, entitled “We need to talk about Europe”, and The Freedom Association’s Better Off Out event on the afternoon of Tuesday October 9th. These events are due to have the likes of Daniel Hannan MEP and David Nuttall MP on the panels and may well help build further opposition to the current policy situation from within his own party.
Even after Conference, Cameron will face talk over EU policy from his own MPs. Douglas Carswell’s Private Members Bill to repeal the European Communities Act (1972) is just one example of the opposition he faces. Furthermore, in being chosen by members of the public, this Private Members Bill is not just a sign of Carswell’s view but also an indication of public demand.
Of course, Cameron could take solace in the fact that the European elections are still a couple of years away. He might think that by this time he’ll be able to promise a referendum on UK membership to the EU and that the public will believe him.
However, unless a policy change comes soon he may well find that more Conservative Party members leave, turning the party into one of generals without soldiers. This would be a disaster for the Conservatives and leave the door wide open for UKIP and others to take many Conservative seats in 2014.
The Conservative leadership needs to change course and fast over the EU. If not, it might be too damaged to win the next General Election. This might lead to the formation of another hung-parliament, a further Coalition Government after 2015, and prove another Lib Dem, Vince Cable, right.
Cameron should beware though: this time the Conservatives may not be invited to join.
Rory Broomfield is Deputy Director at The Freedom Association. He tweets @rorybroomfield
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