By Paul Halsall
David Cameron has this week been hailed for his “leadership” on a new political deal. But he ducked the central crack in his party’s internal politics – the European Union.
Who in the Tory Party is willing to Defend the EU? Ken Clarke perhaps, but the rest of the Tory frontbench, including Cameron, just waffle. Above all, I doubt they want an election now – an election in October after the Irish have approved the Lisbon Treaty would in all probability suit them fine.
I once had some sympathy with the left wing/Bennite critique of the EU – i.e. that it represents a supranational power that cannot properly be controlled withing the parameters of representative democracy because the “European-wide electorate” does not exist given the language and historical divergences of the Continent.
But now I think a wider historical perspective is worthwhile. After a 1600 year history of more or less continuous warfare, Europe achieved a high degree of peace and stability after the Congress of Vienna in 1815. But that Concert of Europe was unable to deal the rising power of Germany, which initiated three major wars in 1870, 1914, and 1939.
The European Union has improved on the Concert of Europe by tying the continent together economically, and by spreading and maintaining a human rights agenda which has indeed given minorities the protections they lacked in the narrow ethnic nation-states of the 19th century.
Indeed, it has become one of the major engines of peace, prosperity, and co-operation in world history.
I can quite understand why educated Tories such as Cameron may want to support it, but I find it annoying that neither they nor most Labour politicians will openly praise the EU for what it has achieved. Here all the heavy lifting is done by the LibDems (plus SNP and PC I suppose.) Labour politicians who understand the achievements of the EU (such as Gordon Brown himself, or Peter Mandelson) seem unwilling to make a positive case in public, and at most will talk about what we would lose if we were to withdraw.
I am quite willing to have a straight up and down referendum on “staying in Europe/leaving Europe” with a serious six month campaign. But Cameron’s party is the only one that is truly split on this, and his refusal to defend an EU that he actually seems to agree with seems to me to indicate his basic weakness as a leader.