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Conservative contortions on Europe and Blair

Posted on 29 October 2009 | 11:10am

It is fascinating to watch the Conservative contortions over Europe and Tony Blair. They suggest Europe as an issue remains a huge problem for them.

These are problems David Cameron needs to sort out, because if he were to become Prime Minister, one of the many surprises in store for him is just how much of his diary will have to be dedicated to dealing with and about the EU.

If he had an ounce of strategic nous, as opposed to tons of tactical awareness, he would realise just how much of an advantage it would be to him to have a Brit, and a heavy hitter, in the new position that many of Europe’s leaders would like TB to fill. 

His opposition reveals something else about Cameron – that a government led by him would be very much a Thatcher-style ‘One of Us’ government. Churches, charities, pressure groups, voluntary bodies, conciliators, watch out. 

It sometimes infuriated the more tribal members of the Blair team the extent to which he sought to promote and support non Labour people – Tories and Liberal – into important positions overseas, not to mention the way he sought to maintain a dialogue with Margaret Thatcher, and benefit from her experience on foreign policy. But he was probably right on both counts. 

In his ‘anyone but Blair’ stance, it could be that Cameron just worries having another big British figure around the European scene, much as he sometimes  gets irritated having Boris Johnson so prominent on the London scene. But even with this new position, and even with the focus there would be on TB if he were to be appointed, the elected leaders of the big European powers will remain the main players. 

What TB could do for Europe is pretty clear.    Being a big hitter is only the most obvious. He has proven strengths as a conciliator and negotiator, which doubtless explains the Irish government’s support for him. The smaller countries should consult the smaller parties in the peace process for assurance on  how he never overlooked them. He is an energizer and optimist and God knows Europe needs to shake off its introspection and self-doubt. And he is a committed pro-European capable of expressing that support in terms of the benefit to nation states as well as to Europe as a whole.  I see that one of the lines against him run by William Hague is that TB was rejected by the UK, so he should not be foisted on us again by the back door. This is a novel, almost comical take on the outcome of the 2005 election, let alone the 2001 poll, when Hague was Tory leader. Methinks revenge (Hague) and jealousy (Cameron) are playing their part amid the politics (right-wing Eurosceptic) here. 

But it means for Cameron, he has landed himself in a position where the choice is not TB or nobody – but TB or a Benelux federalist. The idea that a party which seeks to uphold the national interest would rather have a non-Brit with a federalist agenda who dislikes Britain because he thinks TB was not federalist enough just shows the perverse contortions the Tory position on Europe throws up.  

The Tories have managed to keep Europe off the radar until recently, but now their odd bedfellows in Eastern Europe, the Lisbon Treaty and the argument over this new position show that this issue never really goes away for them. 

I suspect that – deep down – Cameron probably knows he would do well to have a senior Brit in Brussels who by nature is not a party political point-scorer, and would help him negotiate very, very tricky waters for a Tory PM. But he can’t resist the short-term pandering to his Eurosceptic MPs who even now continue to tell people there will be a referendum on Lisbon, and they will bring down the whole shooting match. 

One final point about another of the arguments the Tories are running – namely that TB divided Europe over Iraq. It is true that Iraq was a divisive issue but as a matter of fact 21 out of 25 European governments supported the war, with 10 European PMs controversially signing a joint letter castigating the position of President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder. It is curious that when Dutch PM Jan Pieter Balkenende is mentioned as a possible compromise candidate, nobody points out that he supported the war in Iraq. As did Cameron and Hague. Just one more issue where their stance changes day to day, according to whatever political breeze they detect when they stick their fingers in the air. Leadership it ain’t.

  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    Cameron is just worried that with TB back on the scene he’ll show Cameron up for what he really is, a pale immitation.

    TB is the complete package. Many, not just DC, are jealous of that and only wish to hold pour cold water on his return to major front line politics becuase he highlights their own inadequacies.

    So to all the TB naysayers I say…shhhh…recognise talent when you see it, congratulate him on his ever expanding portfolio of jobs and bank balance and ponder what could have happened if Tony was a rock star.

    (Sounds like a good title for a single 😉 )

  • olli issakainen

    I find it very odd that the new foreign-policy high representative might have in practice more power than the new president of the European Council as the pecking-order between them is not clear.
    Two Finns (Paavo Lipponen and Martti Ahtisaari) have been mentioned in connection with the post of the president.

  • Bernie

    Brilliant.

  • Em

    I don’t know why people keep harping on about “The people’s princess”. “We don’t do God” is a phrase and stance that demonstrates your real genius.

    I’m not sure I like religious TB. I believe Europe should continue its march toward secularism and thus, I’m afraid, I’d have to give TB a thumbs down. I thought Paxxo was being a troll when he asked Blair whether he and Bush prayed together but it turns out there IS talk that they indeed did pray together. I find that piece of info most troubling.

    I agree with you on the advantages of having TB except when it comes to Iraq. I do think it was an issue divisive enough to be a weighing factor against his candidature. As far as my concerns over religions go, I don’t think the Middle-East or Muslims inside Europe would share them. I think they like TB over Palestine and I’m sure they’d prefer an openly Catholic man in place rather than a secular one.

    There must be something behind the Tory stance against TB which I don’t understand. Wouldn’t DC win brownie points by approving of him? Show his openness. Are they forgetting that most voters who support the Tories are only doing so begrudgingly?

  • B Hunter

    So right, Alastair, as is your commenter here. Tony’s a superstar and the Tories know it.

    Good point on the countries which supported the Iraq invasion. I think many people have forgotten, or never knew this. Wonder why?

    Are our hacks all calling the other 21/22 countries’ leaders “war criminals” too? And are their commenters calling for summary justice for these leaders too?

    With even The Times turning into a censorship site like The Mail, it’s some job getting the truth out there. The accepted “truth” is held as securely as is a fundamentalist religious position.

    Unquestionable.

  • Jane calamityjane.a@ukonline.co.uk

    Since Ireland ratified the Lisbon Treaty, I have been amazed at the difficulties that the Tory party have got themselves into. Well done David Miliband for drawing to our attention the rag bag of extremists the Tories have aligned themselves to in Europe. Interesting too that William Hague had to explain the alignment to Hilary Clinton. Sadly, it seems that despite the rebranding, the party remain the same – anti Europe and nasty. They need to be very careful as their views on Europe are alienating many people.

    Imagine any future PM briefing against a former PM – it is just not the done thing to do. I think David Cameron has let William Hague run wild and he is, as you say, still smarting from the 2005 election. Now let me remember, was Europe and saving the £ not the main theme at that time. It seems people never learn.

    I do think that their campaign against Tony Blair is anti British. As David Miliband said, there is a likelihood of a G2 developing with the USA and China dominating world affairs. Europe has an advantage as one of the worlds largest markets but without a strong and world renowned President we will lose clout on the world stage. Further, I am astonished that David Cameron seeks to gain the support of those who previously voted for Tony Blair. What a cheek and how sad for him and his party that Tony Blair still poses such a threat.

    I am hoping that Tony Blair gets the job as he has the necessary skills to represent the peoples of Europe. We should celebrate that a former PM is welcomed on the world stage and is being considered for the post.

  • Judith Haire

    Or if Tony Blair teamed up with Nigel Blair the possibilities would be interesting. But on a serious note if Mr Cameron did have his way and sell off the Meterological Office on the grounds that it’s part of the MOD I’d be one step ahead of Mr C and get some bladderwrack from the beach and attach it to my back wall. I find most of today’s blog speak utterly incomprehensible; I’ve done the sums and a person on the minimum wage would earn about £12k a year and today an Ex minister has had to repay over £13k of his claimed expenses on a second home and this makes me really glum.

  • Melanie Poole

    It is true that David Miliband gives the Tories a good hit on Europe from time to time but there is so little attack on them going on. I saw your letter in the Financial Times yesterday and thought thank heavens someone is hitting these people with some intelligent analysis, as you do again here, but where are all the government ministers?

  • Simon Gittins

    What a load of cr*p.

    Blair is a self-serving, lying, hypocrite.

    How an earth could his appointment be viewed as positive for Britain ? one of his lasts acts as PM was to give away a £7billion EU rebate with nothing in return.
    He’s already sat as President of the European Council twice and what did he achieve then apart from trying to further promote himself ?
    His appointment would be a bloody disaster, he’d swan around the globe acting as if he represented the views of 500 million when he hadn’t even been elected by them.
    I’d sooner have Radwan Karadzic, he’s probably got less blood on his hands !

  • Richard Gordon

    Die Chancen des ehemaligen britischen Premiers Tony Blair auf den Posten des Präsidenten des Europäischen Rates tendieren seit Donnerstag gegen null. Beim Treffen der sozialdemokratischen Regierungschefs vor dem Beginn des EU-Gipfels fand der britische Regierungschef Gordon Brown kein Gehör für sein Plädoyer zugunsten seines Vorgängers.

    Translation:

    The chances of the former UK Prime Minister becoming the President of the European Council have been, since Thursday,heading towards zero.

    At the meeting of the Social Democratic heads of government in advance of the European Summit, the lobbying of Gordon Brown, the British Head of Government, on behalf of his predecessor, fell on deaf ears.

    Süddeutsche Zeitung Donnerstag, 29. Oktober

    Tony Blair: Null Points from the Social Democratic camp

  • Jane A

    I’m not going to waste valuable blog space when Mark (Elvis) Wright said it all and better than I could have. Vive le Blair.

  • George Woodhouse

    Tony Blair – all mouth and no trousers! An amazing performer though – but he should be doing it on the stage.

  • Bar Bar of Oz

    I go with “Elvis”!

    Honestly, TB will only want the job if it’s real and it’s very likely that the EU at this stage will want a president who is not much more than the chairman of the board.

    Also, TB’s role as the Quartet envoy to Palestine/Israel is absolutely critical and he’s the only one who has the remotest chance of bringing the two sides together.

    So better if he stays on that job. By the time the EU is ready for its next president they are likely to have had enough of ponderousness (if there is such a word) and be begging Tony to take it. Especially after having to deal with Hague and Cameron promoting the the neo nazi cause.

  • Paddy

    Keep up the good work! Loving reading these even if my labour support has diminished a bit.

  • Matthew

    In some ways this is reminiscent of Tory contortions over the president of the European Commission under Major. Vast importance was attached to appeasing the Eurosceptic right by symbolically blocking a federalist candidate. The outcome was the appointment of a different federalist candidate, Jacques Santer, who turned out to be one of the worst European Commission presidents of all time.

    The Tories would love us to believe that their bizarre obsession with Europe is over. The reality is that Cameron has failed to take on his party over any meaningful issue, and if elected, we can look forward to more of the nonsense that we witnessed the last time they were in government.

  • Stan Rosenthal

    Mr Moderator (Alastair?), I’m suprised that you have been publishing abusive comments about Blair but have declined my last comment referring to one of the very few public expressions of support for Tony Blair, the Ban Blair-baiting petition. This is very disheartening, coming as it does from a site that is presumably on our side. If there is a reason for this, could you please let me know privately, since frankly I am totally mystified.

  • Andreas Firewolf

    We dutch people said ‘NO’ to the new European treaty. Then Balkenende decided, that we should not be allowed to vote again after the politicians made same cosmetic changes to the treaty. Then Balkenende said ‘YES’ to giving away our rights and our sovereignty against our explicit will. So the people of the Netherlands said ‘NO’. And Balkenende is guilty of High Treason.

    Europe and the USA have a very big mouth about democracy, elections, honesty, human rights. But is there democracy in the Netherlands? Have the people a say in their own affairs? Or do we need to go to The Hague with a guillotine, before somebody listens?

    The voters are running away from traditional parties towards new extremist parties. They have very good reasons for doing so. The traditional politicians have betrayed us so many times, that nobody takes them serious anymore.

    I am from the Netherlands. And I know that Balkenende would be a very wrong choice. In the Netherlands he has been absent in each and every crisis. Only when the opposition forces him to an opinion, he comes up with some kind of statement. He gives the impression of someone suffering from a clinical depression.

    Beside this, he is a child! When he first met Bush jr., the former president of the USA, he behaved like a small boy that got a compliment of a headmaster. When he was patted on his shoulder by mister president, he was out of his wits from joy. In the Netherlands we made jokes about this, but we were extremely embarrassed. To please this Bush, he dragged us in an illegal war with Iraq. When the new coalition for his present government was formed, he demanded, that there would be no interrogation about this war. So we, the people, are not allowed to know what really let to this war.

    10/27 2005 there was a fire in a prison for persons seeking asylum. One asylum-seeker smoked a cigarette and the building burned down. Eleven people burned to death, many were severely burned. The person who smoked a cigarette was prosecuted for murder and found guilty. But who was to blame? The fire brigade previously tried to close down the facility because it was a fire-hazard. The council of the town were it was located agreed and made a decision to close it down. This council decision then was overruled by the minister of justice, Piet Hein Donner. For this, he had to resign and new elections were held. In the next government Balkenende choose this same Donner as minister of social affairs.

    It is quite easy to put all the blame on a person seeking asylum. He can not defend himself and it is easy to kick him around. But the truth is: Piet Hein Donner is guilty of eleven counts of burn-murder. He should be in jail. But in the Netherlands he is minister of Social Affairs. With many thanks to his associate Balkenende.

    This same Balkenende demanded, that the christian god should be put in the European constitution. He wanted to turn the European constitution into a gross violation of our constitution and of human rights. That is one of the reasons why we, the dutch, said ‘NO’. And that is why we don’t trust Balkenende. The Netherlands signed a treaty about the human rights. Religious discrimination is a violation of our human rights. Balkenende is just an oath breaker, a Christian bigot that violates our human rights and who wants to impose his dirty superstition upon us.

    Keep in mind that we did not elect Balkenende. A vast majority of the dutch doesn’t want him. He is the leader of the Christian Democrats, not of the Netherlands. Politicians made him the unwanted head of state. And we do despise the whole political system for it.

    Now there are speculations that European politicians will give him an important position in Europe. If these politicians want to take another step towards a European revolution, this would be a great step. If I were one of them, I would make sure that my head is still firmly attached to my shoulders. Two centuries ago there was a famous French surgeon, who invented an instrument to cure ‘Mad Human Disease’. We have an outbreak of this awful disease in The Hague among politicians and civil servants. The name of this surgeon? Monseigneur de Guillotine. His surgical instrument cures everything.

    Of course I write this tongue in cheek. But make no mistake. Politicians in many European countries seem to be in a hurry to reach the end of the road towards a very bloody revolution.

    More details about Balkenende can be found on my website:
    http://www.andreasfirewolf.com/politics

  • Stan Rosenthal

    If there are any other reasonable people out there who are as fed up as I am about war criminal charges being made against Tony Blair to stop his bid for the EU Presidency I suggest they get it off their chests by googling and signing the Ban Blair-baiting petition, which has already been signed by Oliver Kamm, John Rentoul,Tom Harris MP, and Sedgefield’s Paul Trippett and John Burton. How about you Alastair?