Roger Helmer, who blogs here, is a Conservative MEP for the East Midlands Region.
We all understand the reasons for the Con/Lib-Dem Coalition. Virtually no Conservative wanted it, but most of us recognised that it was the best we could do, given the electoral arithmetic. We understood the sacrifices and the compromises, but we admitted through gritted teeth that they were a price worth paying to see a Conservative Prime Minister in office, and even more important, to address the fiscal crisis.
The trouble is that it seems some Conservatives are getting just a bit too comfortable with it.
Cameron initially ruled out any Con/Lib-Dem pact in by-elections, or in the next General Election. More recently he has softened this position enormously with his “we have no plans” formulation. Meantime Conservative grandees who should know better have spoken up for a permanent electoral pact (like John Major — did I really vote to select him for Huntingdon all those years ago? Fraid so!). And the word “merger” is heard rather too often.
We see this approach in the shameful and supine approach of the Conservative Party to the Oldham & Saddleworth by-election. My sympathy goes out to our candidate Kashif Ali, apparently running as a paper candidate to preserve the absurd fiction that “We fought this by-election as Conservatives”. No we didn’t. We have sent out the strongest possible signal that we are supporting the Lib-Dems, to save Nick Clegg’s face. We have failed to campaign as Conservatives. It is widely reported, and not denied, that Andrew Mitchell argued to universal agreement, in Cabinet, that we should do everything possible to support the Lib-Dems.
But why? We all know the inter-party tactics and sensitivities, but we also know that whatever we do, the Lib-Dems will be crucified in Old & Sad, and will come a very poor third — if not fourth. It is a racing certainty that Labour will win the seat, with Conservatives second. Labour will benefit from the opprobrium that always attaches to instigators of legal challenges resulting in by-elections; from a large-scale defection of Lib-Dem voters; and from their ten-point surge in the opinion polls since the election.
There was just an outside chance that we Conservatives might have won it, if we’d made an effort, but no chance that the Lib-Dems would win under any circumstances. We’ve gifted Labour a seat that they might have lost.
But let’s look beyond January 13th to the next General Election, which I expect will be fought under the traditional First-Past-The-Post system. I personally have been happy (and occasionally proud) to be a Conservative Party member for decades, and a Conservative parliamentarian since 1999. But I have winced at times at some of the decisions the Party has made. The tax hikes. Ken Clarke’s justice policies. Our obsession with climate change. And most of all, underlying the whole of politics like the drum-beat in Ravel’s Bolero, the decades-long betrayal on Europe. On most of these issues, I sense that the Party rank-and-file is a great deal closer to my position than to that of the Conservative High Command (and MEP or not, I very much identify with the Party’s rank-and-file).
And what do the Lib-Dems bring to the party? An even more limp-wristed approach to immigration, and justice. A positively dangerous attitude to terrorism, as we can see from the current debate on Control Orders. Their “Pupil Premium”, which subsidises failure when we should be investing in success. A general pretension to fiscal probity, undermined at every point by a determination to spend on particular pet issues. A blind, lunatic obsession with the climate issue, and a closed-minded determination to spend eye-watering sums on futile attempts at mitigation. And above all, total subservience to the EU.
We shall never have a robust EU policy while we consort with Clegg and his kind. We shall never see the repatriation of powers from Brussels that we promised (and then forgot). We shall continue meekly passing authority and responsibility for our governance from Westminster to the EU.
I got into politics in the first place to oppose Britain’s absorption into Europe. As The Lady Galadriel says in The Lord of the Rings, "Together through ages of the world we have fought the long defeat." Or at least, in my case, for a dozen years. I have not engaged in that fight for the whole of my political life to give up now, on the altar of short-term political expedience.
Today, with a new Westminster intake of mainly euro-sceptic young Conservative MPs, we have as good a chance as ever of making progress. Yet a Lib-Dem merger would throw that chance away.
So I give notice to anyone who may be interested: I will not be a member of such a mongrel party. I will not represent it in Brussels. I will not campaign for it, and I will not vote for it. And nor, I suspect, will most of the Conservatives I know.