Coalition split over Europe

by Daphne Liddle

THE DEEP dark divisions over the European Union that have festered and frothed away for years beneath the surface of the Con-Dem Coalition — and the Tory party itself — have broken out.

And it is the not-so-hidden sympathy with the position of the United Kingdom Independence Party on Europe among Tory backbenchers and Ukip’s success in stealing Tory votes in the recent local elections that has broken the dam that was holding the Conservative Party together.

These backbenchers were upset that the Queen’s Speech last week contained no legislation to enable a referendum on whether or not Britain should stay in the EU.


Cameron responded saying that he was going to try to negotiate a better deal for Britain with the EU. Plainly there was little prospect of him succeeding, most EU leaders regard Cameron as a whingeing pain in the neck and would be glad to see the back of him.

There is very high resentment that Britain, under Cameron’s leadership, has more than once sabotaged EU efforts to close loopholes that allow the giant banks and other companies to use tax havens for the sort of gambling and dealing in toxic debt and so on that was behind the great crash of 2008.

Cameron and Osborne have always railed against “regulation” and “red tape” or any attempt to control the global activities of the giant banks in spite of the economic hardship and misery their activities have brought on 99 per cent of the population of the capitalist world.

That is because the City of London is fast turning into the most lucrative tax haven of all. The disgruntled Tory backbenchers drew up a private member’s Bill regretting the lack of a concrete promise of a referendum and tabled it in the debate on the Queen’s Speech.

Then last weekend a succession of Tory grandees: Nigel Lawson, Norman Lamont, Michael Portillo and Lord Forsyth spoke out in favour of Britain leaving the EU. They were followed by serving Cabinet ministers Michael Gove and Philip Hammond.

wide open

The split was wide open and right through the heart of the Tory party. Cameron was in the United States — having long talks with President Obama when the backbenchers’ amendment was debated in Parliament.

Some accused him of deliberately avoiding the debate but if he hoped to avoid the issue he was disappointed. Obama lectured him on the need to stay in the EU and to fix things rather than break away. This is because Britain’s main use to US imperialism is as America’s puppet within the EU.

From across the Atlantic, Cameron claimed he was giving his party excellent leadership and advised Tory MPs to abstain on the vote over the private member’s Bill.

Then he decided to pre-empt that Bill by drawing up a very short Bill that would enable a referendum by 2017 on the simple question: “Do you think that the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union?” — with no reference to the changes he said he was going to negotiate.

Back in Westminster, where Liberal Democrat leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg was standing in for Cameron at Prime Minister’s Question Time, Clegg expressed anger that the Tories were “moving the goalposts”.

From America again, Cameron complained that the Tory party was limited in what it could do because it was in Coalition with the pro-European Liberal Democrats.

Labour leader Ed Miliband accused Cameron of having completely lost control of his own party but turned down an invitation from the disgruntled Tory backbenchers to support their amendment and possibly defeat the government. Miliband claimed he could not support a referendum in that form on principle, even though it might speed the next general election.

If Cameron’s new referendum Bill goes through it binds whatever party is in power to have the referendum but does not bind the Government of that day to act in accordance with the wishes expressed by the voters.

Nevertheless, a new party in power would be able to repeal the Act or postpone it indefinitely and Cameron knows full well that is what is most likely to happen.

Which is why the disgruntled backbenchers are not happy with Cameron’s Bill and want an immediate referendum.

Whatever happens, the working class of this country and of Europe will continue to be oppressed and impoverished.

In the short term our best hope is to work to maximise organised working class pressure on the Labour leadership so that when he is elected Miliband will be forced to undo the austerity programme that is killing not just the economy but real working class people.

In the long run we must promote the real socialist alternative to this nightmare world that capitalism is hurling us into.