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Jim McConalogue: Are the Conservatives merely the lesser of two evils?

James_mcconalogue James McConalogue, Editor of the European Journal, fears that the lack of honourable policies on the EU stains the Conservative Party's current strong standing in the polls.

So, mid-December’s YouGov poll of nearly 1,500 people showed that the Conservatives have reached their strongest position for fifteen years. Although polling can sometimes detract from the long-term electoral battle and probably says more about the failures of Conservative leadership over the past fifteen years, it is a welcome and positive result.

People are not merely giving up with Brown’s dire (mis)management of a Britain in crisis – they appear to be in the position of readily transferring votes to Conservatives.

The Conservatives are now on 45%, against 32% for Labour, compared with 41% and 35% a month ago. This is a notable lead for Cameron but it is worth asking – is David Cameron’s leadership and his concrete voting strategy within Parliament really any better? In brief, is this a Conservative lead resulting from good luck rather than good management? Come the general election, I am sure the right management can make a real difference. A recent issue that is worthwhile examining is one in which the Government may be swayed by effective Conservative opposition – the pressure to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, given that the Treaty text was signed by Gordon Brown on 13 December.

The Lisbon Treaty is a concern that will have a massive impact on the daily lives of ordinary British people – it will lead to a ‘reorientation’ of our national Parliament, and bring about major changes in British policy on energy, immigration, justice and home affairs and foreign policy. Whilst the Conservative endorsement of a referendum on such a Treaty is a good thing, there are clear indications that this is a whitewash, attracting populist votes with no real intention of honouring those votes. Why?

First, the Conservative leadership has actively dissuaded the frontbench from discussing Europe in any practical way – what real impact will the Treaty have? I don’t think there are many on the front bench who could tell you.

Second, the Conservatives have happily exploited the vacuous non-partisan and non-Conservative campaigns which promise a referendum without explaining the way in which this Treaty itself requires a referendum and the impact it will have on our lives. (If the public don’t possess a basic history and vision of Britain’s reluctant relationship with Europe which climax in the Lisbon Treaty, it really won’t bother you if we have more of it or less of it, or none of the above).

Third, the sizeable force of William Hague and Mark Francois’ campaign for a referendum in the media has most definitely outweighed the effective strategic campaign it should have offered in Parliament. If a political party opposes an idea, you would expect it to oppose the idea when it comes to the crunch in Parliament (not just on the BBC).

Fourth, and to give wider testament to all those facts, when it came to the crucial vote two days prior to the signing of the Treaty (on the night of 11 December) for Conservatives to vote on whether David Miliband had properly addressed a debate on European affairs, the Conservative Whips demanded that the Party to abstain. Only 16 rebel Conservative MPs voted against it. (Does anybody know why?) If the future of our British national interest rests with 16 rebel Conservative backbenchers – as effective as this fierce gaggle of British parliamentarians are – then I am, at this present moment, not convinced that the Conservatives are really intending to honour a critical line on Europe.

After all the quandaries and failures that have led to Brown’s Britain to descend into crisis, there is no point in the Conservatives attempting to get Harman sacked for party funding concerns or Darling sacked for the loss of data or his burdensome Northern Rock rescue, when the fate of the British nation, its Parliamentary sovereignty and the future businesses and livelihoods of the British people hang in the balance because the Labour Government has signed a European Treaty that undermines them all. That is where the Conservative pressure on the Lisbon Treaty – if it is intended at all – will be best served.

The cheery warm feeling that ran through me when I read that mid-December’s YouGov poll demonstrated a good Conservative lead seems to now be polluted by a Conservative European policy which refuses to offer a post-ratification referendum and thereby maintain a critical line on Europe; a Conservative frontbench who will not talk of the far-reaching implications of the Treaty through to the historical battle on Europe that the Party needs to win; a backing of unprincipled, non-Conservative campaigns which are overwhelmingly operating on the failed Major-Blair ideal of a wheelin’ dealin’ “Wait and See” Europe, and; a complete failure for them to vote in Parliament against the unsatisfactory debate on the Treaty when presented by the Foreign Secretary, can lead to only one conclusion: that yes, the Conservatives are the lesser of all evils, but they are merely surfing on a high tide of dissatisfaction with Labour. There is nothing honourable about their promises on Europe. And people are simply not convinced by the Conservative case for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, with 82 per cent of them wanting a referendum (another YouGov poll) but 66 per cent saying it would not affect how they vote at the next general election. If people are simply not convinced on the ground by the Conservative case that they have been cheated of their entitlements, jobs, rights, proper governance, pension protection, or taxes across a range of policy areas, they simply will not vote for the Conservatives at the next general election.


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