Party unity is one of those things you can measure by the frequency with which the idea is mentioned. The more often it is talked about, the less it exists. When a political party is actually united there’s no need to mention party unity.
As Isabel notes, Sir John Major has long, wearying, experience of this. The speech he gave yesterday is full of sound advice. Like many other leading politicians, Sir John seems more impressive – and commands more respect – as the years roll on and the memory of his own time in office fades.
At Conservative Home Harry Phibbs responds to Major’s speech with a piece that notes, in its headline, this “strange outbreak of Tory unity on Europe”. Closer examination reveals, however, that this supposed unity is a Heath Robinson contraption constructed from gossamer. The Tories have agreed that there should be a referendum (at some point!) on Britain’s continued membership of the EU. And that’s it. There’s little agreement on anything else. The best that can be said is that the party leadership has bought itself some time.
Mr Phibbs, like many other Tories, is quite clear on this. He will be voting to leave the EU whereas Sir John and, most probably, David Cameron will be voting to retain Britain’s membership. Or, as Mr Phibbs puts it:
[I]f staying members of the EU would mean staying in the CAP and the CFP then it’s lost my vote.
Well, if that’s one of the conditions that eurosceptics will make for any “renegotiation” of Britain’s membership then that renegotiation has no chance of succeeding. Or at least no chance of pacifying those Tories who want out.