Tory Bennism on Europe

John Rentoul

benn Tory Bennism on EuropeTory Bennism takes hold: the Sunday politics news is all about which Conservative minister says what precisely about Europe. Labour fell victim to litmustestism in opposition in the 1980s, when the precise number of top “monopolies” to be taken into public ownership mattered deeply to nerds. But to do it in government is unusual: it didn’t do the Major government much good.

The UKIP protest vote in the local elections set the scene, but it was Nigel Lawson’s article for The Times (pay wall) that got the fun started, with its oddly tentative conclusion: “I strongly suspect that there would be a positive economic advantage to the UK in leaving the single market.”

When Norman Lamont said he too thought the benefits of withdrawal from the EU outweighed those of membership, Douglas Carswell, the Eurosceptic Tory MP, gleefully asked, “Are there any ex-chancellors out there who still believe we should remain a member of the European Union? Other than Gordon Brown, that is?” Well, apart from Lord Lawson and Denis Healey, they all do. Geoffrey Howe, John Major, Kenneth Clarke, Alistair Darling – and even Lord Lamont, who thinks Cameron’s attempted renegotiation should be given a chance.

All the same, the mischief was done, and now we have Michael Gove on the BBC saying that what he told the Mail on Sunday off the record in October is true, he would vote to leave the EU if there were a referendum now. Which there is not going to be, so it is the sort of question that a politician can dodge quite easily if they want to. He went on to endorse David Cameron’s policy of renegotiating British membership of the EU and said that he hoped a “satisfactory” deal could be agreed, implying that he would vote to stay in in 2017.

Chaos and the untethering of balloons all round. Theresa May on another programme refused to say how she would vote in the referendum that is not being held, while Sayeeda Warsi said it’s “not a question of in or out”. It is, actually, but not yet.

That’s the news list gone for most of the week, as the vote on the symbolic Eurosceptic amendment in the Commons will wipe out most else, not least because of the unfamiliarity of a whipped abstention by government ministers.

What are the Tories thinking of, I ask in The Independent on Sunday? Too many of them believe in withdrawing from the EU, I conclude, and care passionately about it. That’s not ignoble. I have argued before that the case for and against EU membership is finely balanced. But their behaviour is astonishingly counterproductive.

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  • Junius

    The latest Ipsos Mori Issues Index (for April) is published. This is the most important issues opinion poll, in that it does not present respondents with a list of issues from which they can cherry-pick, but asks unprompted (a) which is the most important issue facing Britain today, and (b) what are other important issues facing Britain today.

    To question (a) just one in one hundred voters mentioned Europe in one form or another (Common Market/EU/Europe/Euro); and when faced with question (b) the number grew to seven in one hundred. The economy topped the list, with unemployment second and immigration third.

    There are those who argue that the economy, unemployment and immigration are all negatively influenced by membership of the EU, but the average joe or joline does not appreciate this, having been brainwashed by the disgracefully-biased pinko tree-hugging pro-EU Beeb. Otherwise, asked unprompted which is the most important issue facing Britain today, he or she would unhesitatingly respond ‘Britain’s enslavery to them narsty, tyrannical Masters in Brussels – that’s what!’

    All opinions must be respected, of course, but the only rational conclusion to be drawn is that unless the EU is thrust in voters’ faces they remain sanguine over Britain’s membership. And while Old Smartypants Gove is the latest Tory to get his knickers in a twist over the non-issue, Cool Hand Ed maintains his equanimity.

  • Matt Tysoe

    Ask the British people if they want more immigrants in our country. We all know what the answer would be.

  • Pacificweather

    It is interesting that it it is the unsuccessful Exchancellors (with the exception of Gordon Brown) who are the most vocal on this subject.

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