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Published on October 17th, 2011 | by Ben Phillips
Image © [caption id="" align="alignleft" width="350" caption="Public enthusiasm for Europe is at an all-time low, Photo credit: Nick Pickles"]Photo credit: Nick Pickles[/caption] The Telegraph reports that the influential Commons Backbench Business Committee, which can schedule up to twenty-seven debates in the Commons during each Parliamentary session, is poised to demand a debate on an EU referendum to take place within the next few weeks. Representing an unprecedented collective expression of Conservative Euroscepticism, such a development would be exceptionally bad news for both the Coalition in general - entirely unacceptable as it would be to the Liberal Democrats -and for David Cameron himself; the Telegraph cites one anonymous Conservative source as remarking that Cameron 'can ignore Tory Euro-sceptics banging on about this, but ignoring a Commons vote is another matter.' His difficulties in ignoring it would stem not least from the apparent involvement of his own Foreign Secretary in the machinations underpinning the prospective debate. William Hague, speaking to Conservative backbenchers at last week's meeting of the 1922 Committee, has been reported as opining that public enthusiasm for Europe is at an all-time low, 'a feeling compounded by 'excessive regulation' and 'unnecessary interference into daily life'.' Hague may well be correct that Euroscepticism is now a pervasive, and largely apolitical, fact of the British outlook on the world. His remarks come amidst the Eurozone debt crisis and the publication, by the thinktank Civitas, of a study entitled Time To Say No, which 'sets out a timetable for an orderly withdrawal from the EU, including holding a referendum in 2014.' Yet there is no doubt that Hague is also tapping into a groundswell of right-wing disaffection with David Cameron's leadership, both within the Conservative Party in Parliament and in the country. In the view of the Conservative right, the half-hearted paean to Euroscepticism which defines Cameron's approach to Europe - the stated aim of clawing back certain legislative powers from Brussels which stops far short of a referendum on Britain's continued membership - is symptomatic of the broader problem: an indecisive leadership, far too indulgent of progressivism and neglectful of the traditionalist Conservative ethos. Against the backdrop of the present crisis, Europe also provides a useful focal point for the right's dissaffection, as Conservative Home's Newslinks feature, today brimming with resentment at the prospect of a British contribution to the Eurozone's rescue fund, makes clear. Conservative Home's founder, Tim Montgomerie, in an interview with the BBC's Edward Stourton to be broadcast on Radio 4 tonight, produces the headline-worthy claim that 'a third of those now on the Conservative benches would like to see a fundamental renegotiation of the UK's relationship with Europe, and another third would like Britain to come out altogether.' As Stourton himself puts it, 'Euroscepticism is the iceberg of Tory politics; only the top is visible, but a large and - for the leadership - possibly dangerous mass lies beneath the water.' As the Eurozone crisis comes to a head, so too may Cameron's struggles with his own party.

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The Conservative Party and Euroscepticism

Photo credit: Nick Pickles

Public enthusiasm for Europe is at an all-time low, Photo credit: Nick Pickles

The Telegraph reports that the influential Commons Backbench Business Committee, which can schedule up to twenty-seven debates in the Commons during each Parliamentary session, is poised to demand a debate on an EU referendum to take place within the next few weeks. Representing an unprecedented collective expression of Conservative Euroscepticism, such a development would be exceptionally bad news for both the Coalition in general – entirely unacceptable as it would be to the Liberal Democrats -and for David Cameron himself; the Telegraph cites one anonymous Conservative source as remarking that Cameron ‘can ignore Tory Euro-sceptics banging on about this, but ignoring a Commons vote is another matter.’ His difficulties in ignoring it would stem not least from the apparent involvement of his own Foreign Secretary in the machinations underpinning the prospective debate. William Hague, speaking to Conservative backbenchers at last week’s meeting of the 1922 Committee, has been reported as opining that public enthusiasm for Europe is at an all-time low, ‘a feeling compounded by ‘excessive regulation’ and ‘unnecessary interference into daily life’.’

Hague may well be correct that Euroscepticism is now a pervasive, and largely apolitical, fact of the British outlook on the world. His remarks come amidst the Eurozone debt crisis and the publication, by the thinktank Civitas, of a study entitled Time To Say No, which ‘sets out a timetable for an orderly withdrawal from the EU, including holding a referendum in 2014.’ Yet there is no doubt that Hague is also tapping into a groundswell of right-wing disaffection with David Cameron’s leadership, both within the Conservative Party in Parliament and in the country. In the view of the Conservative right, the half-hearted paean to Euroscepticism which defines Cameron’s approach to Europe – the stated aim of clawing back certain legislative powers from Brussels which stops far short of a referendum on Britain’s continued membership – is symptomatic of the broader problem: an indecisive leadership, far too indulgent of progressivism and neglectful of the traditionalist Conservative ethos. Against the backdrop of the present crisis, Europe also provides a useful focal point for the right’s dissaffection, as Conservative Home‘s Newslinks feature, today brimming with resentment at the prospect of a British contribution to the Eurozone’s rescue fund, makes clear. Conservative Home‘s founder, Tim Montgomerie, in an interview with the BBC’s Edward Stourton to be broadcast on Radio 4 tonight, produces the headline-worthy claim that ‘a third of those now on the Conservative benches would like to see a fundamental renegotiation of the UK’s relationship with Europe, and another third would like Britain to come out altogether.’ As Stourton himself puts it, ‘Euroscepticism is the iceberg of Tory politics; only the top is visible, but a large and – for the leadership – possibly dangerous mass lies beneath the water.’ As the Eurozone crisis comes to a head, so too may Cameron’s struggles with his own party.

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