July 9, 2001
There's no real point to a
Conservative Party led by Ken Clarke
do apologise for going on about this blessed Conservative
Party leadership contest. I understand why many people must
be bored with it. In fact, it is dreadfully boring. A recent
televised debate was more a game of spot the difference than
anything resembling debate. Of course, it was held by the state
owned BBC, so the treatment of questioners was typically biased,
with left wing questioners being indulged, and right wing questioners
brushed off. The press even tried to make a story of the leading
contender professing to have an "open mind" on the subject of legalising
cannabis. Kremlinology, it seems, is alive and well.
candidates seem to spend their time agreeing: "William Hague had
a good campaign," "I don't believe that we should legalise drugs,
yet," and the classic "We need to talk about schools 'n' hospitals."
This was all very worthy and dull and made you realise why William
Hague was not such a bad leader, considering all the alternatives.
The very dreariness of their agreement was broken by Europe. First
off was an Italian-American banker (no, that is not rhyming slang)
who asked the five contestants "how much investment they were prepared
to lose to keep the pound." It was rather ably punctured by Michael
Portillo who pointed out that in fact Britain is doing rather nicely
for inward investment. The banker was allowed to comment three times
(in contrast no right wing questioner was allowed to comment on
the answers he was given) and ended up making a fool of himself.
The BBC producers must have been wishing that they had only talked
to him before getting him to ask a question. If aggressive foreigners
with poor arguments would persuade the UK to go into the Euro, the
European Commission would have done it by now. However, the interest
was that you actually had differing views among the candidates.
Portillo and David
Davis, were against it but were not "never men." Two, Iain
Duncan-Smith and Michael
Ancram were against the Euro on constitutional grounds. One,
however, was for the Euro: Ken
Clarke, the former chancellor.
AN ELECTION IN ONE EASY STEP
things can be said about Ken Clarke. His links with the British
fascist leader, Sir Oswald Moseley, and his youthful anti-Semitism.
The unbelievably easy ride he gets from the press, a reason many
Conservatives give for supporting him. His laziness. His arrogance.
There is, however, one basic flaw he stands apart from the rest
of the Conservative Party on an issue that they regard as central
to their identity Europe. It may be sadly true that the Conservatives
resembled, in Michael Portillo's memorable phrase "the pub bores
on Europe," but the fact has to be faced that most Conservatives
are Eurosceptics. Similarly, most British people are Eurosceptic.
Therefore, Ken Clarke's election would lead to both a split in the
party and the loss of the only issue on which the public seems to
agree with them.
WHAT'S THE POINT?
is the point of a Conservative Party that is not eurosceptic? Any
meaningful opposition to the Blair agenda involves moving away,
not towards, the constraints of Brussels. You want less economic
regulation? Too bad, Europe says you have to regulate. You want
lower taxes? Too late, Europe has decided the "optimum level" of
your taxes. You want to be tough on crime? Have you checked with
the European Court of Human Rights? The franchise for cheer leading
for the various policies of the European Union is already taken;
Conservatives cannot thrive in that crowded market. A Clarke leadership
would lead the Conservative Party to irrelevance, with the party
tearing itself apart and the public tuning out.