For an illustration of the bind in which David Cameron finds himself as regards Europe, one need only read Barry Legg’s piece in today’s Guardian.
Legg had a short but cantankerous parliamentary career, on the Eurosceptic wing of the Conservative party. However, it would be wrong to dismiss him as an unrepresentative crank, based on a history of Westminster rebellion. The former MP is close to senior figures, including Iain Duncan Smith, and his views are representative, for better or for worse, of a substantial section of the Tory grass roots.
He is prepared to present any policy which does not include a referendum on Lisbon as a betrayal, whether the Treaty is ratified by all twenty seven countries, or not. The Bruges Group is limbering up to do similar.
Whilst more sanguine commentators agree that David Cameron took a risk withdrawing the Conservatives from the EPP, and disagree about the effectiveness and bravery of his decision, Legg contends that the formation of a new group was too little too late.
The Tory leader has, for the sake of party management, excited the senses of the Eurosceptics, and as he positions the Conservatives for government he will struggle to contain their bloodlust.
The Telegraph’s editorial this morning is calmer, acknowledging the difficulties of ‘unpicking’ a ratified treaty, but describes a manifesto commitment to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe as a ‘poor second best to the referendum’.
Cameron, meanwhile, must wish that his EU difficulties would simply go away. The abstracts of his stance on Europe, a broad scepticism about centralisation, concern about accountability, remain fairly centrist. He does not want a first term which is dominated by wrangles with the EU.
Europe is an important issue to Cameron, but it is one important issue amongst many. Unfortunately some members of his party are rather more fanatical about the perceived inadequacies of the EU.