Sunday 4 October 2009

Tory blogosphere would get Britain out of EU

The Conservative Party civil war over Europe is over - largely because the Eurosceptics won it. One striking proof of the generational shift in the party can be seen in just how deeply Eurosceptic the Tory blogosphere is - and how few pro-European voices can be found within it.

You will find very little dispute on the Tory blogs with the idea that David Cameron should strengthen its anti-Lisbon line if the Treaty is ratified, including offering a retrospective referendum in Britain to ditch it. Where there is an internal debate, it is rather more about whether Britain should be in the European Union at all - and even that is a very one-sided debate with the "better off out" argument strongly in the ascendancy.

The anti-EU dominance of the Tory blogosphere

ConservativeHome is the main Conservative hub of online debate. It has been campaigning strongly for a stronger Eurosceptic line this weekend.

Founder and co-editor Tim Montgomerie favours Britain leaving the EU. Writing in the Fabian Review to preview our 'Who are the new Conservatives?' fringe, he writes "I support leaving the EU. I am a critic of the EU primarily because it has diluted democracy", though he told our Brighton fringe meeting that the political capital expended on leaving the EPP may well have sated the leadership's appetite for any further major Eurosceptic moves.

Montgomerie is the most influential voice in the Tory blogosphere - but his anti-EU position is fairly widely shared among the most prominent and popular Conservative blogs, and among the party grassroots more generally.

The Total Politics blogging poll offers a respected snapshot of which are the most popular political blogs. Here are the top 10 Conservative blogs - and a brief summary of where their authors stand on the EU.

1. Iain Dale - strongly Eurosceptic. Not (as far as I am aware) publicly in favour of Britain getting out. But blogged that he guessed (correctly) that vote-match software placed his EU views as closer to Ukip than the Tories, but was happy to vote for Dan Hannan.

2. Conservative Home - campaigning for a stronger anti-EU policy including retrospective scrapping of Lisbon if ratified. Founder and co-editor Tim Montgomerie favours withdrawal.

3. Dizzy Thinks - Favours withdrawal from EU, though appears to hold relatively moderately Eurosceptic by standards of this list.

4. Daniel Hannan MEP - leading "better off out" voice. Held stag night in Iceland to celebrate its refusal to join EU

5. Tory Bear - strongly Eurosceptic. [Position on UK membership not immediately clear]. UPDATE: "We have confirmation via twitter that TB favours EU withdrawal: "@torybear reply to "@nextleft Better off out!"

6. Archbishop Cranmer - very strongly Eurosceptic. Sounds in favour of UK non-membership (unconfirmed).

7. John Redwood MP - strongly Eurosceptic. Favours a trading relationship with EU partners.

8. Douglas Carswell MP - Hannan's co-author. Favours withdrawal from EU.

9. Letters from a Tory - Favours withdrawal from EU, and return to common market relationships.

10. Burning our Money - Favours withdrawal from EU to a free trade area.

(I welcome any clarifications of their precise position from those listed: this post is based on statements about EU issues and membership on their sites).

Does that mean British withdrawal is the coming argument in the Tory party?

The cycle of causation - how far the Tory blogs reflect the strength of Euroscepticism in party opinion, and how far they further bolster and strengthen it - can be debated.

What seems clear is that the party is much more anti-EU than it was in the 1990s, as the ConservativeHome survey of activists suggests.

As The Independent reported on Saturday:

Asked to outline Britain's ideal relationship with the EU, 39 per cent of Tory members believe it should pull out and set up a free trade deal with other European countries. A further 29 per cent say it should remain an EU member but seek a fundamental renegotiation of Britain's terms. Another 20 per cent want to repatriate some powers from Brussels. Only 9 per cent want to stay in the EU and oppose a further loss of sovereignty. In a sign of how far the Tories have shifted on Europe, a tiny 3 per cent of party members say Britain should play a full part in building an "ever closer union".

The pro-Europeans were always a more elite and less grassroots group than the sceptics. But the Ken Clarke generation of Tory pro-Europeans have very few obvious successors - and this does dramatise how they failed to mobilise and get organised as the right did. (Capturing the commanding heights of the Tory blogosphere has gone alongside something of a lock on constituency selections in recent years, which could prove particularly significant in future arguments).

So the anti-EU pressure on the party leadership will be amplified by the new prominence and salience of online politics in the party. The pragmatic arguments of more pro-European voices in Parliament and among business supporters will have very few public advocates in the party's public debates, especially online.

The leadership seems to have decided against a retrospective referendum, wants to avoid any substantive debate this week and is seeking some symbolic measure - perhaps a made-up referendum on a negotiating mandate to repatriate some powers.

But the main argument for compromise - that a post-ratification rejection could seriously damage Britain's relationships with EU partners and could pave the way to British withdrawal from full membership - may not get much of a hearing, when many high-profile voices actively want to see British withdrawal and may see a significant battle over Lisbon as just one skirmish in that wider war.


Letters From A Tory said...

No complaints from me - I want a trading relationship and a strong element of cooperation between the UK and the EU, but nothing more.

Cameron's desperate desire to get away from the Lisbon issue this week has got off to a very bad start.

Unknown said...

It's not just the 'Tory blogosphere' that is increasingly Eurosceptic (how convenient that would be!), it is the public at large. I think those who are pro-EU need to grasp this particular nettle - the Tories have stolen a march on this and very much represent the view of a rather large majority. The left are rapidly losing any sort of foothold on this issue (outside the metropolitan village).

Anthony Z said...

Michael - I think that depends on what you're describing as 'Eurosceptic'.

At the Euro elections, where anti-EU voters have a strong incentive to vote, and where the vote is proportional, so there is no need to vote other than your true beliefs, withdrawal secured 23% of the vote. Not a majority, not even a quarter, in an election that was the perfect opportunity to push for withdrawal.

True, across the country there are a large proportion of people who don't believe that the EU has been good for Britain, but there are also a large number of people who don't have the first idea what the EU does - and these are often the same people.

Objectively, increased understanding of the EU is correlated with support for our membership - and though I don't have the figures to hand I think we are the worst (or if not the second-worst) informed country on European issues.

Finally, I seem to recall (again, no time to look up the refs, sorry) that the recent Eurobarometer showed pro-EU feeling in the UK increasing, not decreasing.

dizzy said...

I'm not actually a Tory, I was, but I'm not a member anymore.

Sunder Katwala said...


Thanks for that, which I didn't know. I was simply using the Total Politics top 10 Conservative blogs, so that I wasn't potentially skewing it by making my own selection.

And I wasn't expecting quite such a strong majority for entirely "out"

I don't know Iain Dale's views on UK membership, but if he is for staying in (as I suspect) then he might turn out to be the only one in the top ten not in favour of Britain leaving the EU. (with perhaps a caveat about ConHome too: I don't know whether Tim Montgomerie's co-editor Jonathan Isaby may take a different view of EU membership).

Sunder Katwala said...

Next Left has received a response from His Grace, Archbishop Cranmer, as follows:

Dear Mr Katwala,

His Grace is pleased to clarify.

He has no objection to being a member of that which the British people voted to remain a member in 1975 - an economic trade bloc.

But since the EEC became the EC and then the EU, it would appear that it has acquired all the legal apparus of a nation state, including a supreme court. It is about to acquire a president, a global network of embassies and a de facto foreign secretary (though [s]he is not to be called that). That is not what the British people voted for a generation ago.

His Grace simply wants a referendum. He wants the British people to be given the opportunity to decide their destiny. And if they should vote 'No' to the EU, he would hope that they are not obliged to have another referendum a year later, and another after that, until such time as they deliver the right answer.

His Grace hopes this is of assistance.


dizzy said...

No problem Sunder, I am signed up to "Better off Out", however, I'm with His Grace in that I want a referendum on the subject of that came down with the opposite view to mine I would respect the result - for twenty years or so at least.