THANKFULLY he did not burst into song, but Julian Lewis, the New Forest Tory backbencher and arch eurosceptic critic of the Prime Minister David Cameron, summed up the feelings of many in his party when he said: “Always look on the bright side of life.”
His Pythonesque desire for a “dead parrot” may have to wait for next year’s verdict on the Lib Dems by the voters, but the not normally optimistic Mr Lewis’ comment in the House underlined a joyous mood among Conservative MPs at the election of the much derided Jean-Claude Juncker as head of the European Commission.
There was a time when Conservatives would rebel if their leader was not a winner. Now they are toasting Mr Cameron for being a loser or “utterly humiliated” as Labour leader Ed Miliband put it.
The Prime Minister was cheered to the rafters by his MPs as he made what should have been a difficult statement on a political defeat where he apparently lost almost all his allies in Europe. And it was not orchestrated by the whips, the warmth towards him was genuine.
The reason for this is simple. The Tory party is getting to the point, if it has not already reached it, that the majority of its MPs want Britain out of the European Union. The emergence of Ukip as a national force has pushed many Conservatives MPs to the conclusion that the Tories should follow their instincts and become an anti-EU nationalist party.
Mr Cameron’s failure in his negotiations and the rise of an arch-federalist in such a key position makes his hopes of a renegotiation “much more difficult” by his own admission. This means it is less likely he will be able to recommend staying in the EU if the Tories get their referendum in 2017. For the eurosceptic Tory backbenchers this is great news.
Ukip’s success in the European Parliament elections aside, former Tory Treasurer Lord Ashcroft, now a self-funded political analyst and pollster has produced a poll which for the first time in a long time puts the Tories ahead, up five points to 33 per cent compared with Labour’s 31 per cent, down two.
Crucially, this poll of 1,006 was taken over the weekend after the Juncker defeat and it showed clearly that EU bashing had a positive effect on the Tory vote. Not only that, the Conservatives were the only party where more than 50 per cent of those who said they would support also said they had definitely made up their mind.
With continued questions over Ed Miliband’s strength as leader of Labour and a distinctly woolly position from his party on the EU question it could be that the Juncker disaster was the turning point which led to a Tory victory next year.