David Maddox: The vexing issue of Europe keeps coming back to life
THERE must be times when David Cameron thinks he is stuck in a political version of Return of the Living Dead. Just as he thinks he has killed off the European issue, it picks itself up and lumbers towards him, arms outstretched to grasp his throat.
First there was the “we’ve got to stop obsessing about Europe” appeal to his party. Then there was the coalition agreement with the europhiliac Liberal Democrats which sidelined discussion of the EU. And then there was the wielding of the veto to throw some red meat to his rabid Conservative eurosceptics. And finally there was a promise of some sort of referendum on the future relationship with the EU.
But the issue keeps on trying to strangle the life out of his leadership – as it did for his predecessors all the way back to John Major. And yesterday the return of the living dead had a recognisable body of someone whose political career was supposed to be actually dead and buried.
Liam Fox’s speech calling for an in/out referendum showed that he is now back as a major figure in the Tory party following his ignominious exit as defence secretary after the scandal surrounding the access he gave to his friend, Adam Werrity.
While the most famous resurrection in history only took three days, in political terms nine months seems almost like obscene haste.
The return of Fox underlines a number of faults within the coalition. One of these is that the right-wing in the party, and eurosceptics in particular, feel that since Fox’s departure there is a lack of one of their own in the Cabinet. Only Iain Duncan Smith can reasonably be seen as a standard bearer for the right, although Michael Gove has tried his best, with Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Patterson as an outrider. It is no coincidence that since Fox’s departure there has been far more trouble and more threats of rebellion from the Tory backbenches.
For this reason it has also left the coalition badly exposed on Europe in terms of the Tory Party’s core support and the threat from UKIP. Cameron himself is seen – rather unfairly – as a pro-European by the Tories, and essentially a traitor to the cause.
As an aside it also potentially limits the scope of any summer reshuffle. There are ministers in and out of the Cabinet that Messrs Cameron and Clegg would like to see the back of, but the Fox experience shows that whatever the circumstances of a departure, if a figure commands enough support on the backbenches then the government is asking for trouble. So don’t expect Vince Cable to go anywhere.
Another to watch maybe the controversial veterans’ minister Andrew Robathan who is said to have carried the little red book with names of right-wingers who backed Cameron’s leadership and looks set to be booted out after a poor performance as a minister. If his former MoD boss Liam Fox is looking for an eurosceptic organiser to stir up trouble then Robathan could be the man to do it.
Search for a job
Search for a car
Search for a house
Weather for Edinburgh
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 7 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 20 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North