When David Cameron ran for the leadership of the Conservative Party in 2005, he had a two pronged approach towards Europe: he would tell his party to shut up about it, and as a sweetener style adjunct to this request, would pull the Tories out of the European People’s Party and place them into a new EU parliamentary grouping of his own invention. A carrot and stick method, if you will. Only problem is, it didn’t stop the Tories “banging on about Europe” at all, and in fact, pulling his party out of the EPP seemed only to make the Eurosceptics in his party think they might be able to get further concessions on Europe out of Cameron if they pushed hard enough (see: referendum, Bloomberg speech, 2017 for more).
All of this has brought Cameron to the point he finds himself in right at this very moment: hosting a meeting with Angela Merkel, presumably focused on how the Prime Minister might get enough concessions from his fellow EU partners to sell a deal to his own party and thus convince them that his plan to campaign for Stay In is the right thing to do (and get them to campaign for the same thing as well, although I think even Cameron himself is not overly optimistic in this regard).
Were the Conservative Party still in the EPP, Merkel would not only be a lot more willing to help Cameron at the present time, but also would have a stake in his success beyond simply wanting to avoid a Brexit. This is because an EPP member governing a country that leaves the EU would be beyond disaster for Merkel. On the other hand, Britain sluffing off in a huff, thus collapsing the annoying European Conservatives and Reformists in the process? Not great, but much more manageable. It all amounts to a classic case of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face. And taking the metaphor to its breaking point, you have to look at the evidence and wonder how much face spiting ever really went down anyhow.
What is saddest from Cameron’s perspective in regards to the ECR deal he made to stop his party obsessing about Europe is that even though this ploy clearly didn’t work, he’s used it as a prototype ever since, each incarnation failing worse than the last. Take the pledge to hold an In/Out referendum in 2017 as a great example. That was meant to shut up the right of not only his party, but those who might be in or wavering towards UKIP. Each time he goes back to this idea of throwing the swivel-eyed a bone, he is surprised when they answer back that they want more and more from him.
I wish Cameron luck with his Merkel meetings this week. The future of the UK might depend on them succeeding.
John Moss says
Cameron’s position today is consistent with the position he had in 2009 before Lisbon was ratified.
Admittedly, there was an intervening period when he did not want to renegotiate the terms on which we were members of the EU and put that to a vote of the British people, but that is what he wanted in 2009 and it is what he wants today.