There is muttering in the ranks. A fair number of Tory MPs are feeling unloved and are disinclined to trust the Prime Minister. Europe is obviously a key element in all this; it is the grievance of grievances. But the problem goes wider than the EU. The solution will require concessions from both sides, for both the dissidents and the leadership are at fault. Neither has been quick enough to respond to change.
Back in 2005, David Cameron was determined to change the party. He has. Yet he and some of his advisors are curiously reluctant to recognise the extent of their success. A couple of years ago, Michael Heseltine said that David should stop worrying about change. He was the change. Hezza may have been slightly premature, but only slightly. There have been dramatic changes, as any perusal of the Tory benches makes plain. Better still, as a result of the Parliamentary party's increasing diversity, euroscepticism has broadened its demographic base. Change as the hand-maiden of reaction: a prospect to gladden the blackest Tory heart.
But the focus has now changed. At the next election, most voters will not be swayed by the composition of the Tory front bench. Nor will they be worried about what young Master Cameron got up to at the Bullingdon Club. It will be the economy, stupid: their and their children's prospects: their country's prospects. It is by no means clear that the government will be able to offer much in the way of economic growth by 2015, so strong leadership will be at a premium. In effect, David Cameron may have to say: "We're not there yet, but trust me to get us there". Currently, that is not looking too bad. Mr Cameron persistently outperforms his party in the polls.
He does come across as prime ministerial. But there is a self-inflicted difficulty. He is not doing enough to align himself with the people who do the work, pay the taxes and obey the law – who also happen to be the vast majority of the Tory party in the country. Detoxify? Those good citizens never realised that they were poisonous. Yet the warm-up to the PM's speech at the Party Conference might have been specifically designed to drive them away.
First, it was far too long. We have all sped to arrive at the cinema only to find that the rush was unnecessary. Long minutes of adverts and trailers would have to be endured before the serious business started. Thus it was in Manchester. There was a ridiculous film of youngsters cavorting around in No.10. Just the sort of stuff to inspire confidence in the middle of a crisis. Then there was the music, which is not the right word. Cacophony was piled on cacophony. Not a tune was heard nor a harmonious note. It sounded as if a dentist's drill was competing with a knife scraped across glass. I suppose that we cannot have "Land of Hope and Glory" back. But there must be something to stir and inspire: something to persuade anyone between thirty-five and ninety-five that they have not stumbled into the wrong hall by mistake: that this is still the Conservative party, not the political wing of a youth club.It is to be hoped that many Tory associations will make quiet but implacable protests, stating that although they will forgive Manchester's atrocities because they accept that the insults were accidental, they do insist on firm assurances for future conferences. Many Tory MPs are clearly having their ears bashed by their own supporters. Although I think that they should do more to stand up for themselves (see below), it would also help them if the conference choreography had been less repulsive.
The squeezed middle: the alarm-clock classes: every opinion pollster can identify them and all three parties are trying to reach out to them. They will determine the outcome of the next election. The Tories should be in the best position to win them over: these ought to be Tory people. Yet they cannot be taken for granted. If "it's the economy, stupid", it might seem frivolous to mention the performance of the Manchester malharmonic orchestra. But that was symptomatic of a wider failure to find the right idiom. The Tories have always been the true British National Party. Tories are in politics because they revere their country, and because they do not trust the other two's patriotic credentials. You cannot love a country without respecting its aspirational majority, and the Cameroons do. At present, however, they are not making nearly enough effort to find the language to express that respect.
There should be plenty of troops to help in that task, for there is a tremendous amount of talent on the Tory benches. 2010 was a great vintage, and there are good men around from previous intakes who would have been ministers but for the coalition. Indeed, there is going to be a chronic problem in Parliamentary party management for the indefinite future, with far more candidates for office than vacancies to absorb them. In the short run, the authorities can exploit that, by telling the ambitious young that they have an opportunity to enhance their credentials, by work and loyalty.
First, however, a lot of the young must also come to terms with change. Observing the chaos in Europe, it is hard for any Eurosceptic to pass up the temptation to lapse into German. Schadenfreude; after the long threat to our currency, after the lies of Lisbon, it is delightful to warm our hands on the bonfire of our enemies' discomfiture. We should allow ourselves that indulgence, for about five minutes. Then, it is back to hard thinking, lest the flames reach us.
There is still a threat from Europe: a threat to the British economy and to the components of growth. Anyone who believes that we can turn our back on the continent's problems has not begun to understand how serious they are. Anyone who thinks that there is an easy solution, ditto. Thee are three possible responses to the present mess. First – much the most likely – is frothy talk and no action. The Eurozone will continue to kick the can down the road. until it turns into an oil-drum filled with concrete and everyone has broken toes. The second is a serious attempt at fiscal union, which must rapidly lead to political union. I do not believe that anyone has begun to think through the consequences of that dramatic step. There would be no democratic mandate. The stumbling attempt to acquire one could lead to widespread outbreaks of protest and populism. Angela Merkel has warned of the risk of war if the Euro collapsed. When they talk about wars, Germans should always be taken seriously: they are very good at starting them. But the real risk of disorder and conflict could come from an attempt to impose a political union on peoples who do not want one. Sixty-six years after the defeat of the Germans' last attempt to unite Europe, several decades after they were supposed to have become good Europeans – they did drop Deutschland Uber Alles from their national anthem – it seems that the German political elite still nourishes the illusion that the rest of Europe is just waiting to be told what to do by the Germans.
The third, and only sensible, option is a two-speed Euro: north and south, the wurst zone and the garlic zone. If that were to happen, the French would insist on being in the first eleven. National pride would prevail over economics. The Germans ought to welcome that, for it should abate the precipitous rise in the northern currency. A two-zone Euro could work, if it were given a chance.
That is unlikely to happen, because any such proposal would be unacceptable to all good europhiles. It is based on realism and commonsense, both of which are anathema. So the likelihood is that the Eurozone will blunder on, while its members become more and more ill-tempered; their electorates, more and more restive. Growth-rates will suffer; unemployment rates will rise; banking crises will recur. Where this will end, nobody knows, Anyone who still believes that Euro-kind will inevitably find its way to a desirable outcome is invited to justify that proposition, with reference to European history since 1914.
How should we react to this wonderful prospect? That seems obvious: cautiously. We eurosceps know what we want: a Common Market, plus inter-governmental cooperation. That sounds easy to achieve. After all, we have a trade deficit with the EU and are a substantial net contributor. Even under a Common Market, the UK would have to pay something towards the running-costs. In other words, we are a good customer. If a rational firm were told by a valued customer that it was cutting back its order but would still be spending a lot of money, its managers would swallow their disappointment and assure the customer that there would still be a high level of service. So that is alright, then? No. Anyone who believes that the EU is a rational body is invited – no, not to justify the unjustifiable. Is invited to apply for asylum: lunatic asylum.
To understand the EU's possible reaction, it is necessary to return to fairy-tales and nursery phrases: in particular, to the fox with no tail and cutting off one's nose to spite one's face. As the Eurozone struggles, there is a significant risk of protectionism. It would be crazy of the rest to exclude us from free trade. But craziness is now firmly on the EU's agenda.
It follows, therefore, that we in the UK need Fabian euroscepticism. There will be plenty of opportunities to negotiate with the EU, and to secure concessions. Assuming a Tory government with a working majority, a fundamental re-negotiation is probably inevitable after 2015. But it will be easier to succeed in that objective if we show some restraint in the interim; some willingness – without gloating – to help the Eurozone out of its difficulties. They are also our difficulties, so we are fortunate that we have the right men to deal with them.
It is time for the party to recognise that and to trust its Leaders. David Cameron, George Osborne and William Hague are not only outstandingly able. Never since the Chancellorship became a great office of state have the three holders of their vital posts been so firmly united. They will provide the leadership. They now need followership.
Last week, there was far too much talk about MPs having to do what their constituents told them, as if a Tory MP's twin functions were to act as a rolling opinion poll and to put the "twit" into twitter. Any Tory MP in doubt about his true vocation should re-read Burke's Speech to the Electors of Bristol. If an MP lacks the moral courage to differ from his constituents when they are wrong, he is not worthy of his place in the greatest of all representative assemblies.
There is one final point. The Eurofanatics have abandoned the field. There is still dear old Ken, the last of the EU-hicans. All the rest are safely interned in the House of Lords. Euro-scepticism is and should be at core of Tory thinking. Yet it must not be allowed to overwhelm the cocktail. The Tory party must present its views on Europe as part of a broad strategy for national recovery – including European recovery. If it does this, there will be no successful intellectual challenge. The federalists are too discredited and demoralised to mount a counter-attack. But if we get the balance wrong; if we allow ourselves to be portrayed as disunited – as a mere battle-ground for single-issue fanatics – we could still lose. Our insensate rhetoric could provide mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for the federasts. If that were to happen, our party would have betrayed itself. More important, it would have betrayed our country.