It is fair and even obvious to say that George Osborne is the Conservative paladin of the moment. The unexpected majority he was a major part of achieving, followed by a budget that got hearts racing on the Right, means Osborne has become the prime minister heir apparent. All of which makes the fact that in regards to the decisive issue du jour for the centre-right, George is completely out of kilter with a large portion of his party, in particular the right of it which holds him in such high regard on pretty much everything else. You know what I’m talking about here. Begins and ends with an e. Third largest continent population wise, second smallest geographically. And something to do with a union.
There was headline in today’s Daily Telegraph that had my heart in my mouth. It read: “Britain should return to a trade relationship with the EU”. Oh shit, I thought. Has George gone all Owen Patterson on us and said that remaining in the EEA but leaving the EU would be optimal? That headline sure makes it sounds like it. Of course, I calmed down immediately after reading what George actually had to say on the matter:
“I prefer to talk about it as a single market of free trade. It’s free trade with the rules that enable the free trade to be a real success. That’s the way I think we should think about it. Britain has other interests at a European level. For example, the climate change talks that are happening in Paris at the end of this year. The security work that we do with the French. But for Britain, I always felt that the central attraction of European Union membership was the economic one. And that’s why it’s so important to fix the economic aspects of our relationship if we are going to convince people and convince ourselves that it is right for Britain to remain in the EU.”
The difference between what the headline is trying to tell you and what the chancellor actually said is subtle – but makes all the difference in the world. The headline is fundamentally Eurosceptic in approach, while what George said was, albeit guardedly, pro-European. This disconnect between the headline and Osborne’s words shows that the Telegraph, which is arguably the leading voice of conservatism in this country and as such has become increasingly anti-European in tone and content, cannot quite grasp that their leading light is not on the same page as them. Part of me thinks that whomever at the Telegraph wrote that headline genuinely heard anti-EU sentiment within what Osborne had uttered. It must be difficult when you and your hero don’t see eye to eye on something of central ideological importance.