David Blackburn

The European issue gets the Tory conference underway

The European issue gets the Tory conference underway
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The Conservative conference is just hours old, but already Cameron faces a battle to hold the line over Europe and the Lisbon treaty.  He produced his standard response on the Andrew Marr show: that he wanted a referendum if the Czechs refuse to ratify the treaty. And he added: “I don’t want say anything or do anything that would undermine what was being decided and debated in other countries”.

Meanwhile, rent-a-quote Europhiles and Eurosceptic Tories exchange blows in Manchester. Leon Brittan described a possible referendum on the Lisbon Treaty as “ludicrous” and Dan Hannan has just told Sky News:

“This is not the Conservative party of the past. This is a 1990s story. Everyone I speak to here is broadly opposed to Europe and they want a referendum, if not on the Lisbon treaty then on Europe more generally.”

Boris Johnson’s statement on the subject was the most arresting:

“I think the British people deserve a say on it. I think it would be right for such a debate to be held... particularly if the upshot of the Lisbon treaty is going to produce President Blair.”

There is a sense that Cameron is not in control of this issue, which is a gift to UKIP and Labour. Flirting with Eurosceptic voters, Nigel Farage has once again urged Cameron to promise a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. And David Miliband has followed up his disgraceful remarks last week by saying:


"You've got to put the country first and your friends, your Euro-extremist friends second, and at the moment he's dithering.

"David Cameron has got himself in a position where he made promises to the Euro-extremists in his own party and he won't take them on."

Clearly, Cameron does not want the conference that is supposed to start the march to Downing Street defusing the Europe issue. Confronting it head on will only exacerbate the problem. The easiest way to relegate Europe is to get delegates thinking about radical policies for government. The unveiling of the so-called Work Programme, the Tories’ radical welfare reform package, this afternoon should get this vital conference back on track.