Five reasons why Commons Euro vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment

Euroscepticism is on the rise in the Conservative party, not in decline, meaning this will not be Cameron's much sought after Clause IV moment.

Various  coalitionfriendly commmentators posited over the weekend that the parliamentary vote today on whether to hold a referendum on EU membership could be the prime minister’s Clause IV moment – a reference to Tony Blair’s 1995 dumping of Labour’s constitutional commitment to common ownership, thereby showing that he was willing to put centrist pragmatism over ideology.

The theory goes that since Cameron will take the side of the country over party, he will appear as a national rather than sectarian leader and be stregnthened. However, there are at least five reasons why this cannot possibly be the Tory leader’s Clause IV moment.


1) History was on Blair’s side. Cameron’s opponents believe it is on theirs.

Blair was not the first Labour leader who wanted to amend the constitution. Hugh Gaitskell had attempted to do so after the ’59 general election, and this was at the high tide of the belief in big government. The history of the previous half-century, from the USA to the USSR, had been one of the expanding state, and World War II had shown what government, steered by enlightened public servants, could do. If Clause IV was under attack then, it shows how weak it indeed was.

It is hard to overstate how the fall of the USSR only four years before Blair’s assailing of Clause IV, while welcomed by the democratic left, had removed intellectual ballast for the case for a big state. Francis Fukuyama had declared the ‘End of History’ and Thatcher and Reagan had rewritten the rules of democratic politics. Those standing by Clause IV were engaging in a rearguard action.

In contrast, as John Rentoul pointed out in a column arguing that this was indeed Cameron’s Clause IV moment, there is a case to be made that “the tide is turning” on pro-European attitudes even on the liberal left, following the Eurozone crisis and the perceived damage caused by free movement of labour.

Indeed, Conservative Eurosceptics have thier own tale to tell. The legend goes that perfidous Europhiles in Tory government in the Autumn of 1990 committed the double treachery of taking the UK into the European Exchnage Rate Mechanism and betraying Margaret Thatcher. It was Black Wednesday and the withdrawal from the ERM in 1992 that destroyed the Conservative party’s credibility and led to 13 years in the wilderness.

The further the Tories can get from Europe, the better. From MacMillan and Heath to Thatcher, Hague and IDS, they can argue that the general drift of Conservative politics is to become more Eurosceptic.

2) The Conservative rebels are a readymade powerbase for a future leadership challenger.

Although Blair lost a close vote at the 1994 Conference on Clause IV, the left was clearly a busted flush in Labour by 1995. Tony Benn and Eric Heffer only managed to secure around 10 per cent of the vote in the leadership and deputy leadership contests of 1988 respectively.

Arguably the left had even failed to put forward a candidate for the leadership for the contests of 1992 (Smith versus Gould) and 1994 (Blair versus Beckett versus Prescott). Going into the Clause IV vote, there was no ‘pro-Clause IV’ faction that a future leader of the Labour party could hope to use as a base.

By contrast, if around 100 Conservative MPs vote for a referendum, any challenger  will have a readymade shortlist of possible supporters, and will have a credible historical narrative to argue why they are the future (see above). It only takes 15 per cent of the parliamentary Conservative party to trigger a vote of no confidence in the leader – or 47 MPs.

3) Labour were hungry for power. Conservatives are fustrated by office.

By 1995, not only had Labour spent 16 years in opposition: It had been almost 30 years since the party had secured a decisive general election victory. In that time, the party’s cultural and political touchstones had been decimated: heavy industry, unions, council housing, the nationalised sector. It is hard to imagine how desperate the party was for power.

By contrast, the Tory right are asking themselves whether this as good as it gets. Many Conservatives consider the only notable achievements so far to have been schools reform and the welfare agenda, although the latter may now be running into some difficulty. The NHS reforms have been botched, the Human Rights Act is here to stay and hopes of serious deficit reduction are receding, never mind cutting down the size of the state.

If this is the best Cameron can offer, why not go on the warpath?

4) The Tories have a credible-ish challenger on thier fringes

Eurosceptic parties have shown time and again the ability to drain votes from the Conservatives. In 1997, the Referendum party cost the Conservative party six seats, while in the 2009 European elections UKIP took more than 16 per cent of the vote. By the time Blair took on Clause IV in 1995, the hard left had had two general election opportunities and three European election opportunities to take seats from Kinnock’s moderating Labour Party, and had failed to do so.

Unlike the Labour left of the mid-1990s, the Tory rebels can argue that their party is facing an electoral penalty in not being Eurosecptic enough, and have some data to back it up. As long as they can marshall that evidence, they are not going to go away, unlike the pro-Clause IV faction of the Labour Party.

5) The Eurosceptics have money

The Labour left has never been awash with money, and so are comparitively easy for the Labour leadership to defeat. Yet there is a hardcore of very wealthy donors willing to keep the Tory Eurosecptic drive alive. Only last week the Tory peer Simon Wolfson offered a £250,000 prize for anyone who could develop a proposal to break up the Euro. UKIP donors like Stuart Wheeler and Lord Pearson may be willing to consider supporting a leader of Tory euroscepticism.

What made Blair’s Clause IV victory such a striking one was its decisive nature. Once the battle was won, there was no question of it being reversed, cementing his position simultaneously as master of his party and above it. For the five reasons listed above, this may only be the beggining of Cameron’s Euro nightmare, not its end. Blair’s Clause IV moment boosted his stature. This vote may be the start of a slow loss of authority from the Prime Minister.

See also:

Farage should check his own funds before accusing others of being in it for the moneyAlex Hern, October 24th 2011

Tories may care deeply about Europe, but no one else doesDaniel Elton, October 21st 2011

While the Tories squabble over EU membership what’s the future for the euro?Ben Fox, October 21st 2011

The euro lurches towards the abyss – but does the Left have a Plan B?Ann Pettifor, September 14th 2011

Britain: Euroconfused not EuroscepticJoe Litobarski, March 17th 2011

14 Responses to “Five reasons why Commons Euro vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment”

  1. Keith Millar

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five reasons why Commons Euro vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment //t.co/3KJWok2m

  2. Political Planet

    Five reasons why Commons Euro vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment: Euroscepticism is on the rise in the Conse… //t.co/37GOB1GY

  3. AV, Europe, Scotland... Where’s Cameron’s consistency on referendums? | Left Foot Forward

    […] also: • Five reasons why Commons Euro vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment – Daniel Elton, October 24th […]

  4. John Rentoul

    Daniel Elton at Left Foot Forward is right that this is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment //t.co/vo1Zk79S Good thing nobody said it was.

  5. Adam Langleben

    RT @leftfootfwd: Five reasons why Commons Euro vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment //t.co/muKLKMmy #EUReferendum

  6. alex stamp

    Daniel Elton at Left Foot Forward is right that this is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment //t.co/vo1Zk79S Good thing nobody said it was.

  7. matt forister

    Five reasons why Commons Euro vote is not Cameron's Clause IV moment: Conservatives are fustrated by office. By … //t.co/qhdOYniB

  8. David Lindsay

    Let there be no talk of a “Clause IV moment”. That Clause did not mention nationalisation, although it certainly allowed for it; it had been framed so that people who already had nationalisation in mind could read that presupposition into it, even though no one could have read that presupposition out of it. But Tony Blair and his fan club thought that it was about nothing else. So, in repudiating it, they repudiated public ownership in order to repudiate everything that public ownership delivered and safeguarded, notably national sovereignty, the Union, and the economic basis of paternal authority.

    Likewise, in repudiating trade unionism, they repudiated controlled immigration, and the moderating influence of the wider electorate in the affairs of the Labour Party. Mercifully, that latter, at least, reasserted itself in the victory of Ed Miliband over the Blairite candidate. But it still needs to be reasserted that requiring the production of a union card is no different from requiring the production of a British passport or a work permit, while the closed shop was as important for that as it was for giving the Tory forty-five per cent of the industrial working class a moderating influence in the selection of Labour candidates for the safe Labour seats in which they lived.

    Calling the referendum “a device of demagogues and dictators” was Thatcher’s only ever favourable quotation of a Labour Prime Minister. Yet to those who worship at Thatcher’s altar while wholly ignoring her record on this and so much else, the demand for that deeply flawed and wholly foreign device has become a nervous tick. They honestly cannot see how Pythonesque it is to demand a referendum in the cause of defending parliamentary sovereignty. The Lisbon Treaty is self-amending, so there can never be another treaty. What is needed is legislation with five simple clauses.

    First, the restoration of the supremacy of British over EU law, and its use to repatriate agricultural policy and to restore our historic fishing rights in accordance with international law. Secondly, the requirement that, in order to have any effect in the United Kingdom, all EU law pass through both Houses of Parliament as if it had originated in one or other of them. Thirdly, the requirement that British Ministers adopt the show-stopping Empty Chair Policy until such time as the Council of Ministers meets in public and publishes an Official Report akin to Hansard. Fourthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of any ruling of the European Court of Justice or of the European Court of Human Rights (or of the Supreme Court) unless confirmed by a resolution of the House of Commons.

    And fifthly, the disapplication in the United Kingdom of anything passed by the European Parliament but not by the majority of those MEPs certified as politically acceptable by one or more seat-taking members of the House of Commons. Thus, we would no longer subject to the legislative will of Stalinists and Trotskyists, neo-Fascists and neo-Nazis, members of Eastern Europe’s kleptomaniac nomenklatura, neoconservatives such as now run France and Germany, people who believe the Provisional Army Council to be the sovereign body throughout Ireland, or Dutch ultra-Calvinists who will not have women candidates. Soon to be joined by Turkey’s Islamists, secular ultranationalists, and violent Kurdish Marxist separatists.

    The appropriate person to move this amendment is the Leader of the Opposition, with a Labour three-line whip in favour of it and the public warning that the Whip would be withdrawn from any remaining Blairite ultra who failed to comply. The Liberal Democrats set great store by decentralisation, transparency and democracy, and they represent many areas badly affected by the Common Fisheries Policy. The Liberals were staunch free traders who were as opposed the Soviet Bloc as they were to Far Right regimes in Latin America and Southern Africa, while the SDP’s reasons for secession from Labour included both calls for protectionism and the rise of antidemocratic extremism. (Both the Liberal Party and, on a much smaller scale, the SDP still exist, and both are now highly critical of the EU.)

    The SDLP takes the Labour Whip, the Alliance Party is allied to the Lib Dems, the Greens are staunchly anti-EU, so is the DUP, and the one other Unionist is close to Labour. The SNP and Plaid Cymru can hardly believe in independence for Scotland, greater autonomy for Wales, yet vote against the return to Westminster of the powers that they wish to transfer thence to Edinburgh or Cardiff; the SNP also has the fishing issue to consider. Even any remaining Conservatives who wanted to certify the European People’s Party as politically acceptable might be brought on board.

    Leaving those fabled creatures, backbench Tory Eurosceptics. It is high time that their bluff was called. This is how to do it.

  9. Will Straw

    Great blog from @DanielElton with 5 reasons why #EUReferendum vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment: //t.co/j3QZ1Ohh

  10. Mike Gibbs

    Great blog from @DanielElton with 5 reasons why #EUReferendum vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment: //t.co/j3QZ1Ohh

  11. tom cardwell

    Great blog from @DanielElton with 5 reasons why #EUReferendum vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment: //t.co/6Ekik4C8” A great read

  12. david white

    #Labour #Leader Five reasons why Commons Euro vote is not Cameron's Clause IV moment //t.co/nr4Vs6XA //t.co/UG62m8Hp

  13. Trouble ahead for Cameron: Majority of Euro rebels were from class of 2010 | Left Foot Forward

    […] also: • Five reasons why Commons Euro vote is not Cameron’s Clause IV moment – Daniel Elton, October 24th […]

  14. House Of Twits

    RT @leftfootfwd Why Tory Eurorebels will only grow in strength: //t.co/slt4x07p

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