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Booker: fracking the consensus?

Richard North, 04/11/2012  


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In his column today, Booker ties together two themes, the crie de coeur of "enough is enough" on wind farms from John Hayes, and the "humiliation" of David Cameron over his wish to accept a limited increase in the Brussels budget.

Hayes's verdict on wind farms could just have well been spoken about Britain and the EU, by any of those 53 Tory MPs who voted against the party line, Booker writes. But what was significant, he says, "was that each marked the cracking apart of a suffocating all-party consensus which has imprisoned our politics for far too long".

Even a year ago, he says, "it would have been unthinkable that so many Tory rebels would be willing to defeat the Government over the EU – or that a minister would question the plans to cover our countryside with wind farms".

Nevertheless, Mr Cameron "may secretly be pleased that this rebellion will help him strike a Thatcher-like pose, 'defending Britain’s interests' against demands for a further huge increase in the spending of the Brussels Monster – as his EU colleagues head for a new treaty which will more than ever marginalise the British as second-class 'European citizens'".

That, in fact, is a distinct possibility, as we see via Witterings from Witney, the odious Andrea Leadsom mount another faux challenge on the EU, claiming she has "an agenda for EU reform we Tories can agree on".

Whether she's right or wrong, it doesn't matter - this is Tories talking to themselves. What does matter is the dwindling band of people out there who might be tempted to vote Conservative at the next election. And they are unlikely to be at all impressed by Leadsom preaching EU "reform".

Nor are they likely to be that impressed by Cameron's next cod squabble, as the Tory leader looks for another issue which will make him look "Big in Brussels" after the next European Council.

It was, after all, this time last year that Cameron stumbled on his pretend veto, and since that played well in the polls – initially at least - his strategists are desperately looking for something to replicate the effect.

Thus, while Booker sees a suffocating consensus at last starting to crack, and the genies of common sense and the national interest trying to struggle out of the bottle, there are different ways of looking at it. 

More like, it is the Conservatives running scared, scrabbling round looking for something that will find favour with the voters – without having to change anything fundamental in their policy portfolio. Any departures from the consensus, therefore, are only skin deep and, as we have observed, Labour will soon paper over the cracks.

Nevertheless, Booker asserts that, on both the huge issues of energy policy and the EU, which are doing such damage to our country, although we are nowhere near the beginning of the end, we may have reached the end of the beginning. 

There, he may be right. But I suspect that this end is a lot further from the finale than was el Alamein from V-E Day.

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