Once again the issue of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the European Union risks sending the Conservative Party into a frenzy of debate and division. Since becoming leader, David Cameron has tried his utmost to cast off his Party’s past. It was his plan to make sure that the Conservatives were no longer the po-faced ‘nasty party’ that fell apart at the mention of the EU.
Hugging hoodies and visiting the North Pole hasn’t quite done enough to detach the ‘nasty party’ label, and the issue of the United Kingdom’s relationship with the EU is back with a vengeance. Cameron will be worried by the ease with which Miliband used the issue of the EU as the centerpiece of a confident and powerful performance during PMQs.
The Party is of course not in the state it was in the 1990s. He is not a Conservative Prime Minister who has used a rude word to describe Eurosceptic opponents. However, it is inevitable that the memories of those years will have been evoked in recent weeks.
He must not be happy that MPs and Tory grandees are popping up to announce their deeply held convictions on a topic that has so engrossed and trapped Conservatives for years. He will also not like the fact that Britain’s closest allies are wading in to chastise the Prime Minister.
All this provided fertile ground for Ed Miliband during PMQs. The Leader of the Opposition’s first question cleverly captured the problem for Cameron and the Tories. Bringing up words Cameron had said early in his leadership, Miliband asked whether the Conservatives:
‘spend far too much of their time banging on about Europe.’
Miliband’s own opposition to committing to an EU referendum now is a difficult one to sell to the public. But if PMQs is anything to go by, Cameron will not want to engage in too many public battles on the subject of Europe.
As George Eaton writes:
‘Miliband unsettled the Prime Minister with several well-chosen questions. Asked whether he would allow cabinet ministers to campaign for EU withdrawal during the referendum campaign (an issue I looked at earlier this week), as Harold Wilson did in 1975, Cameron simply ignored the question. But he will need to have an answer ready when he takes questions from the media after his speech on Friday.’