Tale of two factions

‘WAR out in the open’, ‘A party deeply at odds with itself’, ‘split widens’, ‘civil war’. Old headlines from Tory newspapers of the 1980s, mocking the Labour Party for its compulsive factionalism and in-fighting? Wrong. Current headlines highlighting the Tories’ chronic disarray over European and monetary union, which has been brought to a head by Kenneth Clarke’s speech at the European Movement’s dinner on February 9.

The hoary political cliché about headless chickens springs to mind, with the hapless John Major acting as chicken supreme, caught in a tug-of-war between the Euro ‘phobes’ and ‘philes’. This is quite ironic in many ways, as it was precisely Major’s ‘Euro-emollience’ which was deemed necessary to bring peace to a party which was fracturing under the pressure of Thatcher’s intransigence over Europe. Now the carefully constructed Majorite centre ground is crumbling, as “nobody knows where it is or what it is” (The Guardian February 11).

The frenzied, almost Pythonesque, chronology is very illuminating. On February 5 the distinctly nutty Jonathan Aitken declared, “I don’t want to see a single currency. Period. For as long as I can possibly foresee. I would hesitate for an eternity before I came out and said I vote for a single currency.” This neatly reinforced Michael Portillo’s previous comments that a “single currency would mean giving up the government of the UK. No British government can give that up. It’s impossible.”

No one can accuse Aitken or Portillo of being ambiguous or mealy-mouthed on this issue.

No wonder the Eurosceptics were salivating at the mouth when Major addressed the ‘sceptical’ Conservative Way Forward dinner on February 3, promising that the government would seek to impose additional hurdles before considering any moves towards a single currency. Then, playing footsie with the anti-Europeans, he announced that Kenneth Clarke would clarify his position on February 10.

Unfortunately for the unlovely phobes, he did this by telling the ‘enthusiastic’ European Movement that it is quite possible to have monetary union without political union. “It is a mistake to believe that a monetary union need be a huge step on the path to a federal Europe”.

No wonder that all hell broke out, as Churchillian fantasies were rudely shattered by Clarke’s tone of studied casualness. Portillo immediately retaliated, saying that Clarke’s comments were “unhelpful”.

Norman Tebbit told a blood-thirsty meeting of the Young Conservatives two days later that “civil disobedience” could be on the cards, if a federal European Union threatened to swallow Britain up.

The deep splits in the Tories, and the ruling class in general, are an inevitable result of the globalisation and interdependency of capitalism, which is speeding up’ dramatically: “the international financial markets and world trade have by-passed the reach of national parliaments” (The Guardian, February 11). Broadly speaking, the Tory ‘left’ and Labour ‘right’ have recognised this and are attempting, albeit inconsistently and slightly reluctantly, to flow with the social and economic movement in the world (or, at least, hitch a ride!). On the other hand, the Tory ‘right’ and Labour ‘left’ represent more and more the most backward looking section of bourgeois society. They are sticking their heads in the nation-state sands and behaving like second rate King Canutes. 

Eddie Ford