Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Although we send 250 police in search of possible terrorists in east London, our government takes a completely opposite attitude to the subject whenever it's Irish. After the IRA was involved in the murder of Robert McCartney and the robbery of the Northern Bank, the US government last year reimposed the ban on Sinn Fein fundraising in the United States. At the time Mr Blair supported this, but now we are in the extraordinary situation in which the Americans, who since 9/11 have tried to be consistent in their attitudes to terrorism, object more strongly to the IRA than does the nation in which they have done most of their killing. Having all but destroyed the moderate SDLP and the moderate, Trimble-ite Unionists, the British government now wants to get the political process going again, with the Paisleyites and Sinn Fein dividing the spoils. Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary, is privately encouraging Mitchell Reiss, President Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland, to lift the ban. What makes the situation even odder is that, thanks to an exception specially arranged with Sinn Fein in mind, Northern Irish political parties are allowed by British law to raise money abroad, whereas mainland British political parties are not. If the ban is lifted, therefore, Gerry Adams can fly to New York to drum up custom for the party that he leads, but neither David Cameron nor Tony Blair can do the same.

Isn't it time now that the Conservatives fulfilled their new leader's pledge, and broke away from the European People's Party in the European Parliament? Mr Cameron's commitment to do so is almost the only definite promise that he made in his leadership campaign, and it did much to secure him the support of those in Parliament and party who might otherwise have considered him too leftwing. Rather like Tony Blair's promise to his own troops in 1997 to abolish hunting, it appeased people who could have made a great deal of trouble. If it is delayed much longer, that trouble will start all over again.

William Hague, whom Mr Cameron put in charge of the matter, has made the mistake of allowing the final decision to wait upon events in Europe. This gives endless pretext for blowing the change off course, the latest being a dispute between the Czech Civic Alliance and the Polish Law and Justice Party, which are supposed to be large components of the Tories' hoped-for new grouping in Strasbourg. Actually, there is no need to try to have everything in place before leaving the EPP, since there is a vacancy for democratic euroscepticism in the Parliament which will fill gradually once a grouping exists. The reason for leaving the EPP is that it is committed to ever-greater European integration and the Conservatives are against this. Therefore every Tory European election campaign (and, to a lesser extent, every Tory policy on Europe) is based on a lie. If Mr Cameron doesn't push Mr Hague on quickly, many Tory MEPs will leave the EPP anyway.

It is hard to see how they could be disciplined for doing so; they would only be doing what their leader said earlier that he wanted.

So much is written about Gordon Brown becoming the next Labour leader that I am reluctant to add to it. But this column has to keep up its once-lonely position (which included tipping Alan Johnson on 1 October last year) that Mr Brown will not necessarily get the job, and so I will add a point so simple that it is often missed. …

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