Don’t be distracted from the real story, guys. The Conservative Party is on the verge of doing something truly revolutionary. We are about to establish, for the first time in the history of the EU, a dissident group – an alliance of mainstream parties opposed to political integration. All week the news has been reported in the most hackneyed way as (yawn) “a revival of Tory splits over Europe”. David Cameron, we read, was bounced during the leadership race into promising to take his MEPs out of their alliance with the Euro-fanatical European People’s Party (EPP); yet he now faces a rebellion from his own Left unless he backs down.
In other words, a recondite issue about where the Tories sit in the Strasbourg hemicycle is now of interest only to the extent that it involves bickering or broken promises. But this is wholly to underestimate the magnitude of what is being proposed.
Ask yourself why Angela Merkel and Mariano Rajoy and Nicolas Sarkozy and all the other Euro-bigwigs are lining up to criticise David. Ask yourself why Tony Blair has suddenly come over all solicitous, determined to save the Tories from their own folly. I’ll tell you why, my friends. Because Euro-federalists can see what it would mean to lose their ideological monopoly.
At present, every political alliance in Europe – the Communists, the Socialists, the Liberals, the Greens, the Christian Democrats – favours the so-called finalité politique. They all support the euro, a common foreign policy, an EU criminal justice system, a phasing out of the national veto. They all want to push ahead with the constitution, despite the recent “no” votes. Indeed, the EPP goes further than the others, demanding a single EU seat at the United Nations, a European army and police force and – my particular favourite, this – a pan-EU income tax to be levied by MEPs.
Once there is a mainstream conservative bloc positing a different kind of EU, the cartel is broken. From that moment, Euro-federalism ceases to be inevitable, and becomes one among a series of competing ideas. That is what the leaders of Old Europe fear. That is the prize within our grasp.
Let me address one or two of the points that have come up in the comment threads on this site. First, there has never been any question of our sitting with extremist parties. The persistence of the notion that “Tory MEPs may end up with Italian fascists” is one of the most successful pieces of black propaganda I’ve ever encountered. No one has ever proposed such a thing and, for what it’s worth, the party that is descended from Mussolini’s, the Alleanza Nazionale, is currently applying to join the EPP.
It is true, of course, that people have different definitions of extremism. Things are sometimes said in the heat of election campaigns that, when coldly quoted afterwards, can look unpleasant. Would readers of this blog automatically disqualify a party that ran election posters showing a gay couple with the slogan “Daddy and Papa? Say No!”? What about a party which had had hundreds of its MPs and councillors convicted in fraud cases? OK, then, what about a party that had campaigned against the immigration of some computer programmers from India under the slogan “Children Before Indians”?
Well, here’s the thing: all three of these parties are currently in the EPP. They are, respectively, Forza Italia, Chirac’s UMP and the German CDU. So why don’t we see Gareth, Justin et al demanding our instant separation from the EPP? Could it be because their real objection to our new partners is that they are Euro-sceptic? If so, that is a perfectly honourable position, but for Heaven’s sake be honest about it.
Let’s also deal, briefly, with the idea that David was somehow tricked into making a foolhardy promise when his leadership campaign was at its nadir. This is, as George Bush might say, to misunderestimate the man. David disagreed with going into the EPP when Chris Patten took that unhappy decision back in 1991. He disliked the notion then for the same reason he still does: that it is wrong for Conservatives to say one thing in Britain and do another in Brussels. And to point out that he made this pledge when his leadership campaign was in the doldrums is another way of saying that the campaign took off from that moment.
But let’s not get bogged down in the detail. This is about lofty ideals, not tactical manoeuvres. Unusually – indeed, almost uniquely – the leader-writer’s view of what is going on is more instructive than the lobby correspondent’s. What matters is not whether Boodle or Coodle will defy the leadership, or whether Doodle thinks the Ruritanian Farmers’ Party unsound, or whether Foodle only voted for Cameron because of what Hoodle told him. What matters is that we are creating, after 50 years, an organised and properly resourced vehicle to advance the Tory vision of Europe. Creating a conservative bloc is the biggest, boldest, brightest thing we have done on the EU front since the budget rebate deal in 1984. Raise your eyes to the big picture, my friends. It’s worth looking at.