Wednesday 14 January 2009
Lord Malloch-Brown remarked in Lords questions yesterday - "For anyone who came back from the Christmas holidays feeling a little sleepy, there is nothing like Europe to make the blood rush to all our heads." Europe always has the ability to "liven up" British Politics.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the issue divided the Labour Party. Many Labour MPs were, what we would call today, eurosceptics. They opposed our entry - then called for British withdrawal - for a number of reasons. At that stage the EEC was seen a a "capitalists club", dominated by right wing governments (Christian Democrats in Germany & Italy; De Gaulle in France). Those who had backed independence for parts of the "Empire" saw our move into Europe as abandoning those we had a moral obligation to support - not put up trading barriers against. They feared that jobs would move from the periphery (most of the UK) to the "Golden Triangle" at the centre of the existing EEC. In the 1980s those reasons declined and new opportunities were recognised in Europe.
Division then crippled the Tory Party - it lay behind the fall of Thatcher - and was at the heart of John Major's problems. The chatter in blogs (and around the Palace of Westminster) against Kenneth Clarke's return to the Tory front bench show that the hostility over Europe remains divisive and toxic for the Tories.
It is no coincidence that Labour's warming to Europe occured as the Tories grew more hostile. Labour has always been an internationalist party - and the EU has expanded to include 27 countries - from its original six. Co-operation has been the keyword. The EU institutions have taken on anti-competitive behaviour by some powerful industries. There has been more stress on employees' and consumers' rights.
As yesterday's exchanges in the Lords showed - you can count on the issue of Europe to raise the temperature.