Party unity is one of those things you can measure by the frequency with which the idea is mentioned. The more often it is talked about, the less it exists. When a political party is actually united there’s no need to mention party unity.
As Isabel notes, Sir John Major has long, wearying, experience of this. The speech he gave yesterday is full of sound advice. Like many other leading politicians, Sir John seems more impressive – and commands more respect – as the years roll on and the memory of his own time in office fades.
At Conservative Home Harry Phibbs responds to Major’s speech with a piece that notes, in its headline, this “strange outbreak of Tory unity on Europe”. Closer examination reveals, however, that this supposed unity is a Heath Robinson contraption constructed from gossamer. The Tories have agreed that there should be a referendum (at some point!) on Britain’s continued membership of the EU. And that’s it. There’s little agreement on anything else. The best that can be said is that the party leadership has bought itself some time.
Mr Phibbs, like many other Tories, is quite clear on this. He will be voting to leave the EU whereas Sir John and, most probably, David Cameron will be voting to retain Britain’s membership. Or, as Mr Phibbs puts it:
[I]f staying members of the EU would mean staying in the CAP and the CFP then it’s lost my vote.
Well, if that’s one of the conditions that eurosceptics will make for any “renegotiation” of Britain’s membership then that renegotiation has no chance of succeeding. Or at least no chance of pacifying those Tories who want out. There will be no opt-out from the Common Agricultural or Common Fisheries policies. (At least, it is exceptionally hard to see how or why there would be.)
And, depending upon the polls you choose to cite, it may be that as many as 40% of Tory members already want Britain to leave. Most of the Tory leadership, including, again, the Prime Minister do not want Britain to leave.
If this is “unity” then lord alone knows what division would look like. Mr Cameron has not ended the Tory Euro Wars. He has merely delayed the final reckoning. But when it comes it will split his party and, assuming he is still leader, most probably end his political career.
More Spectator for less. Subscribe and receive 12 issues delivered for just £12, with full web and app access. Join us.