Cameron and his party conspire to create a European shambles

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Cameron and his party conspire to create a European shambles

Post  Sirop14 on Tue May 14, 2013 7:11 pm

Cameron and his party conspire to create a European shambles

In the summer of 2001, when David Cameron had only been an MP for a matter of weeks, he went to see Iain Duncan Smith in his office at Westminster. In that year’s general election, Tony Blair had just wiped the Conservatives off his shoe for a second time, securing another landslide victory. Dazed Tories wondered what on earth to do next.

When in doubt, the modern Conservative Party tends to have a leadership contest. So it was that IDS, Ken Clarke, Michael Portillo, David Davis and Michael Ancram came to compete for the right to succeed William Hague. IDS, now Work and Pensions Secretary in Cameron’s Cabinet, would eventually draw the short straw, but in July, the leadership election was still ongoing. “Raging” would be too strong a word for such a desultory campaign, taking place against a backdrop guaranteed to depress Tories: Tony Blair was triumphant, the Iron Chancellor, Gordon Brown, said boom and bust had been ended, and it was fashionable to wonder whether the Conservatives could ever win power again.

In search of inspiration, Mr Cameron, like many of his colleagues, toured the offices of the leadership hopefuls, sizing them up in an effort to decide which one to back. There would be various ballots involving MPs before the final choice went out to almost 300,000 party members. (That is not a misprint: relatively recently, the Conservative Party really did have 300,000 members.)

As the highly confident MP for Witney waited to be ushered in to see IDS, a veteran rebel of the wars over Maastricht, he fell into conversation with various others in the outer office. Cameron said he wanted the new leader to be someone who could put a stop to the party’s infighting on subjects such as Europe, in order that it might concentrate on winning again. Why, he asked, can’t we all just get along?

It is in that pragmatic spirit that Mr Cameron has conducted his European policy since he himself became leader more than seven and a half years ago. It turns out to have been a naive hope. Put that question to more excitable Tory MPs – why can’t we all just get along? – and the answer turns out to be: how long have you got?


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