Magazine article The Spectator

Only Mr Hague Can Lead This Fight. but First He Must Fight Ken and Hezza

Magazine article The Spectator

Only Mr Hague Can Lead This Fight. but First He Must Fight Ken and Hezza

Article excerpt

There is no longer any doubt as to what Tony Blair believes. On Tuesday, he revealed himself to be a Fabian: a EuroFabian. Like the early Fabians, he is a revolutionary with a horror of conflict. They wanted to achieve socialism without civil disorder; he wants to join the euro without electoral disorder. The Fabians tried to persuade everyone that socialism was inevitable; Mr Blair would like to persuade us all that a single European currency is inevitable. He has even revived the Fabians' favourite slogan, `The inevitability of gradualism'.

Mr Blair also knows what he is graduating towards. A passionate European, he is well aware that the euro is the engine-room of federalism; that is why he is in favour of it. Not that he will admit as much. On Tuesday, he did acknowledge that the euro had constitutional implications, which means that he is more intellectually honest than Ken Clarke; no hard task. But he will not be in a hurry to spell out those implications; the inevitability of gradualism is intended to take care of all that.

Indeed, Mr Blair probably regrets that he was forced to say as much as he did. Attracted as he is by Catholicism, he gave the impression on Tuesday that he had been at school with the Jesuits to master the art of equivocation. There were constant attempts to give himself linguistic escape routes so that the press would be unable to describe him as committed to the euro. Like Quintus Fabius Cunctator, he wanted to delay before giving battle, but there can be no such delay; the momentum of events has seen to that. The most important battle in modern British political history has now been joined.

Mr Blair has one strategic weakness: public opinion, abetted by much of the press. But he has one countervailing strategic asset, which his opponents have been fatally slow to acknowledge. In Britain, the impact of public opinion is mediated through the party system. There will admittedly be a referendum, which could allow the voters to escape from party shackles: that is why Ken Clarke was so against it. But given the circumstances in which that referendum will be held, the course of party warfare over the next two years will have a crucial effect on the outcome.

Let us assume that there is no significant Tory recovery at the next election. If that were the case, then after that election the party would be in a state of implosion. There would be an envenomed leadership contest, with Ken Clarke assuring everyone that the Tories could never begin to recover until they embraced Europe; many Tories might be so demoralised that they would believe him. The party would be in no condition to fight an effective referendum campaign, while Mr Blair would still be on his honeymoon. The referendum result would be much closer than Labour's lead in the polls would suggest, but does anyone doubt that Mr Blair's best hope of winning a referendum would be to hold it three months after another heavy Tory defeat? Does anyone doubt that he could have won a referendum in July 1997? Those who believe in an independent Britain should give thanks for his political timidity.

But let us assume that the Tories do recover; perhaps not enough to win the next election, but enough to give them every hope of returning to power at the end of the second Blair term - say 280 Tory seats. If that were to happen, the whole political atmosphere would be transformed. Not only would Mr Hague's leadership be secure; he would be regularly written up as the next prime minister. …

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