Back the the future yet again?

So fundamentalism is rearing its head on either side of the water, on the twin neuralgic themes of justice and policing at Stormont and UK membership of the EU at the Conservative conference in Manchester. Malachi (in a welcome return to the Bel Tel) projects the speculation all the way to a snap Assembly election . I leave detailed assessment to others closer to the action, but I can’t help feeling all we’re getting is some pretty rough sparring bouts, not a real contest. And I do ask this: we know what the DUP and SF would be against but what would they be campaigning for? On the Tories and a referendum on Europe, I can’t recall when a party with a 12 point lead in the polls last insulted the electorate so grossly with such a threadbare argumentEven the cheer-leading Eurosceptic Daily Telegraph has pulled Cameron’s Czech rug from under him.

.. the Czech president that made it clear he thought it was too late for Britain to halt the Lisbon Treaty – something the Tory leadership had been clinging to. Vaclav Klaus said: “I am afraid that the British people should have been doing something really much earlier and not just now–too late–saying something and waiting for my decision. There will never be another referendum [on the treaty] in Europe.”

Boris is stoking the flames. And William Rees Mogg, venerable ultra-establishment ex-Times editor has outed himself with suggestions of a pull-put altogether, arguing tosh about the incompatibility between British “liberal democracy” and continental “bureaucracy.” In reply, the Tory high command is feeding the line that Cameron may settle for a repatriation of key powers like social welfare ( already excepted under Labour’s “ red lines” but maybe not permanently) and justice and home affairs ( ditto). Hardly enough blue-veined meat there to satisfy the fundamentalists. And anyway what makes Cameron think he could do that without breaking the Treaty and reaching the point of a referendum on withdrawal? Is this a route a potential PM should want to follow in the throes of a full-blown recession? BTW Worth noting that the main Conservative bloggers Conservative Home and Iain Dale are leaving it to the MSM to make the weather on this. Is this the moment when the committed don’t want to rock the boat too hard and prefer to leave it to traditional newsgatherers to put the boot in without fear or favour?

  • Pulling out altogether is just a daft idea.

  • John O’Connell

    Wait a minute, Malachi. They haven’t hardly even thrown a jab at each other yet. They’ll have to engineer much more bad feeling, even open hostility before thinking in terms of an election.

    Certainly, the electorate will punish Sinn Fein if they embark on an opportunist election that may see an end to Stormont with the only real improvement in their position a first minister’s job that will look pretty pathetic against a backdrop of a return to (Bosnia) the Troubles.

  • Of course, a nightmare scenario for SF, I presume, would be having to fight two almost simultaneous elections, north and south and with the General Election in Britain due in May.
    Maybe they’ll wait to see if Cowen has more mileage in him.

  • Dave

    I think Cameron is looking at membership of EFTA as the outcome.

  • igor

    There’s one glaring flaw in Malachis argument.

    If SF do collapse the Assembly why would there be a snap election? I assume that Unionist parties would refuse to play ball on the basis that the Shinners just couldnt be trusted and the SDLP and Irish Government would also be urging a period of negotiation to avoid recreating the stalemate. It takes two to tango

  • igor


    If you think that the DT has been a cheerleader for the Conservatievs in the last 12 months I have to ask – what are you on?

  • Brian Walker

    I agree that the Telegraph had long ago ceased to be the parish mag of the Tories. But no doubt following the market, it now clearly supports the Conservatives.It remains a proper newspaper though.

  • Neat piece of conflation, Brian Walker @ 10:50 AM.

    My casual take would be the distreesing habit, both sides of Sruth na Maoile, of oral self-abuse to fill longueurs of idleness.

    Thus, in the phoney-war between (decide for yourselves key dates: mine would be …) the Belfast Agreement and May 2007, there was nothing for the leading figures to do except mark out territory. Similarly, the Cameron tactic of regular Monday pressers (with Osborne on Tuesday …) meant a newly-minted, back-of-the-envelope “policy” had to be coined for each one. The difference was one became set in adamantine stone, the other involved serial flip-floppery (Northern Rock, anyone?)

    In the bad old days, when all national newspapers had stables of knowledgeable, witty and experienced political correspondents, there would have been a constant stream of considered critical comment. Such is not available in the modern dispensation. The likes of Fraser Nelson and now James Forsyth need to post great thoughts a couple of times a day, on each and every issue, else they risk being trumped by lesser lights (Dale, Staines, Montgomerie … ). All of which makes your last message (@ 10.10 AM), about the Torygraph remaining “a proper newspaper” all the more apposite — compared to which other, I wonder.

    Cameron has been allowed the licence to walk away from his dead-duck policies (and, to his credit, does so regularly and without shame). No apology, no denial, no restatement: just move on. Harold Wilson could do the same thing: he called it pragmatism. The glaring exception in Cameron’s case is not the economy (which, perhaps, it should be) but the peripheral issue of Europe.

    That tells us a lot about the present state of the Tory Party. There was a gem of observation in a piece by Canon Giles Fraser, of St Paul’s, in last week’s Church Times. Now, that’s not a place to which I would generally look for political acuity; but try this (arising from the death of Irving Krystol):

    It is no coincidence that many neo-cons, such as Kristol himself, began as Trotskyites — international Marxists who believed that Stalin betrayed Marxist ideals by concentrating the revolution in the Soviet Union.

    It was this internationalism that distinguished the neo-cons from simple small-town conservatives. The neo-cons wanted to change the world and to export the American revolution. But this revolution was not rooted in the public ownership of the means of production, but in the neo-con holy trinity of democracy, the market, and God. For the neo-cons, this was another way of saying freedom, prosperity, and moral values, all mutually reinforcing each other.

    When I read that (neo-cons versus small-town conservatives) I felt a spark of recognition. Except, in the Tory Party the “small-town conservatives” (for whom I have considerable respect) are sharp-elbowed aside by the PR types, the Mad Nads, the flash-Harry lobbyists and similar troughers. Apart from egotism and self-advancement, they need an umbrella under which to huddle: hence the current Europhobia.

    Of course, this week of all weeks, it’s naughty of Brown, Mandelson & co. to be adapting Joe Louis’ “Bum of the Month Club” to a daily drubbing. A firm date for “P&J” by Friday, perhaps?