I’ve already written a couple of speculative pieces mulling over what the Irish approval of Lisbon might mean for the Conservatives in Britain. David Milliband’s op ed in today’s FT is clearly up to making mischief for the Tories. His main line of argument is that Cameron’s apparent capture by his Eurosceptic wing will shift the focus from pursuing larger goals, to more narrow, ‘what’s in it for us’ back and forth exchange with Brussels? According to Miliband trying to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the new post Lisbon EU would involve Europe getting:
…sucked back into arcane discussions about rewriting the EU rulebook and all 27 countries would need to agree to any change. It is not serious. Any country with something it wants from Britain would have us over a barrel. Our ability to argue for open trade, European enlargement and reform of the common agricultural policy would be compromised. [emphasis added]
And, although Tim Montgomerie may be right that Cameron’s got his eurosceptics covered regarding his expected standing down over the Referendum, here’s the real kicker for the Tories:
We have seen how quickly Mr Camerons bold plans on Europe disintegrate into farce. He promised to reconfigure the European parliament, yet only managed to surrender his partys influence, swapping the respected European mainstream for the wilder fringes of far-right European politics.
Britain will not be able to tackle the economic challenges if faces unless we work with European allies. We cannot tackle climate change, international crime or energy if we refuse to deal seriously with Europe. Nor can the Tories hope to offer responsible government until they are straight with the British public.
Labour’s problem is that, as Mr Milliband concedes at the beginning of his piece, whatever internal discomfort Europe gives the party, it is not going to be a great vote loser Tories… With a 12 point deficit after his party’s conference he’s hardly speaking from a position of strength either. The FT itself though wants to see intimations of much bigger things from Mr Cameron:
He uses European Union policy as a bribe with which to buy docility from the partys backwoodsmen who are otherwise suspicious of his metropolitan liberalism. Earlier this year, he withdrew his MEPs from the mainstream European Peoples party to keep party members acquiescent.
The Tory leader also eased their fears with a rash promise that he would hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. But following last weeks vote in Ireland, and notwithstanding the posturing of Vaclav Klaus, the Czech president, the treaty is likely to be in force before the UK election.
Mr Cameron has not yet set out what this means for his European policy. He should do so this week. He should explain that once the treaty has passed, a Tory government will live with it. With that simple stroke, he would show that he is unafraid of the swivel-eyed euro-frothing on the fringes of his party.
At the same time, he would show prime ministerial pragmatism, refusing to raise needless obstacles to engagement with Europe. Mr Cameron must use this conference to show that he will stand up for Britains interests, even against his own partys destructive instincts.