Slouching towards Europe

Chris Burford cburford at
Sun Feb 28 11:39:36 PST 1999

The (London) Observer carries a main story linking the activities of pro-Europe Conservatives to a "Tory plot to topple Hague".

>The pro-Euro Conservatives, led by two deselected Tory MEPs, John Stevens
and Brendan Donnelly, think it will be possible to run a highly centralised campaign because the June contest will be the first UK national election to use proportional representation - eradicating the need for a big party membership on the ground targeting key marginal seats. <

>The pro-European group, based like the main Tories in Smith Square, has
already raised over £250,000 and would ideally like to get £1m from City backers to run a Rolls-Royce campaign that would outspend the official party.

>The objections follow monthly tracking polls conducted by Mori for the
pro-European Tories showing that among voters saying they will vote in the June elections, 47 per cent will back Labour, 17 per cent the official Conservatives and 14 per cent the breakaway Tories. Such a split would leave Hague lucky to take 18 seats - the same as the party's disastrous 1994 European haul.

>As internecine war rages over what many regard as Hague's lacklustre
performance, the rebels plan to humiliate the Tory leader in the summer European Parliament elections by fielding candidates in every region under the name of the Pro-Euro Conservative Party.

The story by Patrick Wintour, Political Editor of The Guardian (the Observer is in the same group), appears to be based on reports by this initially small group of pro-European former Members of the European Parliament (MEP's) who have been deselected as official Conservative candidates for June, because they are too pro-Europe. Their challenge to contest the elections against the official Conservative Party is at a decision point on the grounds of whether they can stand with the name 'Conservative' in their title.

They appear to be talking up their chances in a sophisticated political move to encourage greater financial backing on the grounds that a major blow to the official Conservatives in June would be certain to lead to the fall of Hague.

The correspondent has apparently got other sources from within the Conservative party conceding that Hague's position is not strong and suggesting that anti-Europeans might want to challenge his position pre-emptively. But that might be disinformation, from groups wanting to present Kenneth Clarke as a serious candidate.

What is significant is the evidence of how capital is seeing opportunities to control politics. It would be a mirror image of what certain capitalists did to the Conservatives under Major, threatening to run anti-Europe candidates against the official candidate in elections, creating a rolling movement of opinion against Europe in a situation where the pro-Europeans felt they could not argue openly.

It looks as if the June elections could be a testing time for the strength of capital's determination to get Britain into Europe.

Other straws in the wind are Blair's "prepare and decide" statement earlier this week, which would probably not have been done without some positive signals that he could avoid suicide at the polls. It is also just alleged that he has had secret talks with Clarke and Heseletine, which would be consistent with his pattern of all-party consensus to undermine the Conservatives on various fronts, eg reform of the House of Lords.

As I reported earlier this week, the Murdoch press, (Sun and Times) was somewhat more measured about Blair's speech on Europe than might have been expected.

This coincides with a move by Murdoch's News International to establish an alliance between BSkyB and the French digital pay tv company Canal Plus, which would give NI a strong base in Europe to fit in with his global strategy. Murdoch has frequently built his power not through the rampant application of free market techniques, but through studying political shifts closely and taking advantage of them, as well as promoting them.

No conspiracy and no corruption need occur, but it will be interesting as Britain edges nearer Europe, if the French find ways of allowing Murdoch a place in the sun in an enlarged Euro zone, while the Sun itself casts more dappled rays on Blair's european aims.

Chris Burford


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