While Labour remains in disarray, the makeup of the Conservative Party will be very important for the Brexit campaign. As many front benchers espouse the regular platitudes to please their voters, it is clear the gap between the Conservative grassroots and the front bench is getting larger.
A Survation poll has found 55 per cent think top cabinet ministers should be able to campaign to Leave the EU, even if they go against the Prime Minister’s orders. While there has been much debate over party unity over the referendum, ‘Country before Party’ appears to be lacking in today’s spin-driven politics and partisan loyalties.
This year’s Conservative Conference has provided a snapshot of the coming battle, and whether true Eurosceptic Tories are being silenced, or are silencing themselves so they do not upset the Whips. We also have to recognise, many of the new input of MPs will be terrified of upsetting important figures in the party by revealing they may be a threat to Cameron’s imposed restrictions. They will be concerned about possible future promotions.
The conference brochure in Manchester noticeably has a lack of the ‘R’ word, as they seem to want to avoid the subject of the Referendum. Reading through the programme you wouldn’t believe the biggest decision the Great British Public will have to make in a generation is only a year away or less. Tory press officers should remind themselves Britain has not had a say on the EU since 1975, and no one wants a repeat of Harold Wilson’s ‘fair’ referendum on our EEC membership.
David Cameron has also been noticeably silent on George Osborne’s self-appointment to the Conservative IN campaign. Both know little will be formally modified in Europe without significant treaty change, and they have both been informed by many in Brussels this will not be happening.
Some of Cameron’s front benchers won’t be overly bothered, or the ever shrinking number of party members who would like to stay in the Union at all costs. However, there is still a major divide in the party. With little to satisfy the needs of those who want OUT, this split will only get deeper as time goes on.
With the grassroots of the party quietly muttering amongst themselves for an ‘OUT’ vote in the upcoming referendum, it is time for the potential future leaders to come forward and state where they stand. A true Eurosceptic voice is needed in the Conservative Party, but while David Cameron continues to promise his so-called renegotiation deal, those faithful to him will sit patiently and hang on his every word.
The problem is – and has been for some time – the Conservative Party is lacking a freedom-loving, vocal Eurosceptic. There is no Margaret Thatcher-like figure who is willing to stand up above the parapet and make their voice heard.
There have been murmurings of Boris Johnson being the man for the job, but he needs to make his mind up sooner rather than later on the EU referendum. He needs to decide whether he will stand up and show his Eurosceptic credentials and risk the leadership contest, or hide away in the political shadows and push ‘the deal is coming, be patient’ party rhetoric. However it soon becomes obvious the London Mayor would only run on a Eurosceptic ticket if it boosted his ratings. Boris is nota true ‘better off outer’.
Even so, the little hope the grassroots have for a true Eurosceptic Tory will very much depend on bottom up pressure from campaign groups and the public alike. Whether the more Eurosceptic Ministers such as Savid Javid, Michael Gove and Priti Patel will follow suit with public opinion will remain to be seen.
Consistently listed as a top issue among the electorate, Home Secretary Theresa May has taken on-board the concerns on the doorsteps about uncontrolled immigration. Despite being dubbed a ‘hardline speech’ by Sky News, May still insists our EU membership remains in Britain’s best interest.
While Brexit was expected to overshadow the Tory Party Conference, David Cameron completely sidestepped the issue in his speech. By talking about immigration and the EU separately, he is trying to dupe the Great British Public, who know our EU membership leaves Britain’s borders out of our control.
If the PM is so concerned with Britain’s influence around the globe, he will also realise the EU’s global share of world economy is actually shrinking. Leaving the EU would not show a Britain that ‘walks away’ as he put it, but would show a strong Great Britain which will prosper far beyond the stagnant union.
While many Tory leadership hopefuls are hedging their bets and waiting for the right time to make their views known, it is clear partisan interests are overshadowing what’s best for Britain’s future. This is why the grassroots must stay on course for the EU referendum and vote to Get Britain Out.
Chris Muspratt is researcher for the cross-party grassroots Eurosceptic campaign group Get Britain Out.