Ever since David Cameron became the leader of the Conservative Party, I have hardly had any cause to criticise him for the way he and his team have played their political cards. Indeed, some of their political footwork has been breathtaking.
However, there is one particular political “hot potato” which will give the jitters to many conservatives. It is ‘What to do about the Lisbon Treaty if it is ratified before the Conservatives come to power?’
The Conservatives have promised that they will provide the answer to that question in their general election manifesto. However, they may not be able to ‘hold their cards to their chest’ until then. Already, there have been statements from the Conservative camp that they are likely to take a pragmatic approach, as reported today in the Times. In other words, they intend to accept ratification if it happens and do nothing to try and untangle it. I would not question the practical wisdom of this approach in terms of the National Interest. My biggest worry is that the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party could erupt over it.
There are also political ramifications in terms of the forthcoming General Election. For one thing, it gives Gordon Brown a motive for delaying the election until 2010. Labour will remember that the Conservative Party under John Major tore itself apart over Europe. Nothing would please them more than to see a revival of discord within conservative ranks. In making that calculation, he would be banking on the Irish to accept the Treaty. Nothing would please Labour more than to see a revival of internal Conservative division.
In making that calculation, Gordon Brown will be reliant upon the Irish to deliver a “yes” vote in the referendum this Autumn. One can imagine headlines such as “the Irish give Gordon a lifeline” or something similar.
Gordon Brown will, of course, have other calculations to make in determining the date of the next general election. Waiting until next year does have its dangers. During the winter months following Christmas, there are more likely to be disruptive strikes. VAT will also go back to 17.5% at the beginning of January with a consequential detriment to Britain’s retail sector. Also, once proper structures are in place to deal with MP’s expenses, there will be very strong independent arguments for a General Election in the National interest. The economic news leading into the Autumn will probably show that the recession has technically ended. During the Autumn, at least, Brown might be able to point to better times ahead.
It is my belief that but for the prospect of an Irish referendum ratifying Lisbon, most Labour supporters would want Brown would go for an October poll as the their best possible damage limitation exercise. My hunch is that Gordon Brown will see the Leprechauns dashing to the end of the rainbow. Never will affairs in Ireland have proved so pivotal to the determination of Britain’s rulers since the Battle of the Boyne.
Filed under: Conservative Party, European constitution, General Election, Gordon Brown, Labour Party, Lisbon Treaty, MP's Expenses | Tagged: Conservative Party, Economy, Europe, European constitution, General Election, Gordon Brown, Irish referendum, Labour Party, Lisbon Treaty, MP's Expenses | 8 Comments »