Everything in the Cameron garden looked so rosy. The Tories would open up to those of independent mind, there would be less whipping of MPs, and everything would be, well, more pleasant and open. But then, as with a shower cloud on a warm summer day, along came Europe, and Dave didn’t look to be such a jolly nice chap after all.
The problem for the Tories has been superbly illustrated in a news item and follow up discussion on the blog of Iain Dale (and there is no blogger greater than he). The chairman of the University of York Tories has apparently encouraged voters to back UKIP. He has then ceased to be chairman, as he has been expelled from the party.
I mentioned the follow up discussion: this illustrates what I’ve said previously about the problem for the Tories over Europe. They, and those of similar persuasion in the media, have been demonising the EU so thoroughly, and for so long, that a mood of rabid Europhobia has become established. Nobody speaks up for the EU from the Tories: all that comes from Young Dave is how he’s going to reposition his party within the European Parliament, because it’s full of jolly awful foreign chaps.
So the emergence of people who are otherwise solid Tory supporters, voicing support for UKIP – remember Cameron’s description of that party: “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly” – cannot be a surprise, especially as Cameron will not tell his party, in unequivocal terms, his position on the EU. And there is one good reason for this: the issue is as potentially destructive to the Tories now as it was back in the dying days of “Shagger” Major.
Also, as I’ve already mentioned, more significant pro-UKIP noises have been coming from normally reliable Tory sources. Young Dave doesn’t want to push his luck with Norman Tebbit; he might come off second best, especially if Norm tells him to shove his authority, which would leave him free to openly support UKIP, and therefore do the Tories some real damage.
Cameron is not daft – he knows that there is no chance of him, or any other leader of any other party, even considering withdrawing from the EU. But he needs to staunch the wound of Europhobia. So he has one task ahead of him: stop demonising the EU, and start a sensible and reasoned dialogue on the subject.
On this, Young Dave does not have a Plan B.