There are various dilemmas facing the Prime Minister as he contemplates who to appoint as the UK’s next European Commissioner. If he appoints a cabinet minister that would help make space for ambitious new talent. But then it would also prompt a pesky by-electon.
Should he bolster his Eurosceptic credentials by making a provocative choice? Someone who it could convincingly be claimed would be unlkely to “go native.” The Conservative Home poll of Party members on this question had Dan Hannan MEP as the most favoured candidate – followed by John Redwood MP. Paul Goodman has proposed Martin Callanan – who as a former Leader of the European and Reformists Group would also be a strong candidate.
The alternative approach is for a “safe pair of hands”. A more establishment figure – such as Andrew Lansley. This would cause less controversy. It would help with the narrative that the renegotiations were to be a credible, serious and constructive process. But the concern would be that if they failed such a failure would be denied.
For most people a very substantial change is needed. If we are to become a self governing nation again many doubt that could be compatible with continued EU membership. It would certainly require a huge repatriation of powers. If this is not forthcoming so be it. We can vote to come out. But let’s not have some footling concessions then followed by Wilsonian claims of a “successful renegotiation.”
So the choice of the former Conservative leader Lord Howard – widely speculated on in this morning’s newspapers – looks attractive. Whatever view one takes, nobody could suggest that he would not be up to the job. As Home Secretary he overturned consensus thinking and brought about a fall in crime – something we are still benefiting from. That was after his officials told him that rising crime was inevitable.
Lord Howard is a lawyer. Sometimes that was a disadvantage for him as a politician. He would get caught up in detail – when being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman or responding to the Hutton Report – when the public wanted a clear message.
But being a lawyer would be a benefit as an EU Commissioner. The strategy of Eurocrats is to maintain and extend their power through the use of impenetrable jargon. They try to bore us into submission. Lord Howard would not let them get away with it.
Thus Lord Howard has that exceptional combination of qualities – being an establishment figure that Eurosceptics can rely on. When he was leader, the 2005 Conservative manifesto proposed that specific areas – such as Overseas Aid – should be entirely restored to the UK Government. It proposed withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy.
Lord Howard is aware of the scale of the challenge. He has been having a nice rest for a few years. It is time for him to serve his country again.