When ARE the Tories going to realise that the hardcore anti-European fringe are not their way back to power?
The anti-EU parties (including here UKIP, Veritas, the BNP and the Greens, not all of which are by any means solely made up of disaffected Tories) between them got 1,109,987 votes. But I’d say it’s a safe bet that most people voting for the Greens weren’t doing so for their stance on the EU, so knock off their total, you’re left with just 852,229. Though this is more than the difference (in terms of popular vote) between the Tories and Labour, it’s nowhere near enough for a majority – just 68,000 votes. On top of that the anti-EU vote tends to be readily mobilised, so it’s unlikely there are many more of them knocking around.
I mean, I can fully understand why the withdrawalists reckon leaving the EU is the answer to all their problems (and it’s not just because some of them are barking), but the Tories really need to reclaim the positive side of the EU. I mean, after all, the EU got a lot of its impetus from Churchill, it was Macmillan who tried to get us in to start with, Heath who finally got us there, and Thatcher and Major who signed us up to a bunch of the subsequent treaties. Britain’s place in Europe is thanks to the Tories – it’s about time they reclaimed it, even if they have to do so with a slightly sceptical take.
A reserved pro-EU stance – acknowledging its major faults but with a positive message of evolution and change (which will be much easier to bring about with the new member states on board, tipping the balance of power away from France) – may not only be a handy way for the Tories to bring together their various sects, but is also what the pro-EU camp in this country sorely needs.
This could in turn bring back to the Tory fold some of the semi-sceptics – those who don’t like the way the EU is currently being run, but who don’t want to pull out altogether – while simultaneously allowing those who don’t really care much about the EU but who are put off by the often massively overblown rhetoric of the anti-EU camps to vote Tory without worrying that they’re going to be tainted by association. A lot of the reason for the repeated splintering of UKIP is that sensible eurosceptics simply didn’t want to be associated with the more rabid variety. The Tories need to appeal to the sensible ones while shutting out the mad ones, and work together with those pro-Europeans (like me) who want to make the EU better.
It is frequently fogotten, amidst all the invective, that there is actually a lot of common ground between the sensible eurosceptics and sensible europhiles – both groups can see the problems with the current EU. The Conservative party could make itself the place where they can come together to work out solutions.