No doubt what the Westminster bubble, politicians and media alike, saw as the main political event yesterday, with hour after hour of live coverage on the election for the new Speaker, and reams about John Bercow in the papers today.
Well done to him, and good luck. Move fast, I say.
But if his (nominally so) Party wins the next election, then I think a far more significant political event took place yesterday, with potentially far greater consequences than Speaker Bercow’s presence in the Commons chair.
I refer to David Cameron’s unveiling of the new ‘Conservatives and Reformists’ grouping in the European Parliament, which cuts him adrift from other right of centre parties, like those headed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Sarkozy of France. It is one of those decisions that may well appeal to a certain constituency, internally, while in Opposition, but which in government could easily come back to haunt him.
In an increasingly interdependent world, how countries wield influence within the various international groupings dictates much more than it used to their ability to shape their own domestic agenda, and to meet domestic and foreign policy objectives.
It is worth taking a look at Cameron’s new team. It contains 25 UK Tory MEPs, and one Ulster Unionist. Fifteen MEPs from Poland’s Law and Justice Party. Nine from the Czech Republic’s Civic Democrats. Then one each from Belgium, Holland, Finland, Hungary and Latvia.
It has been interesting to hear Cameron, William Hague and others trying to defend some of the far-right tinges of their new Polish colleagues, just as I look forward to hearing their defence of Latvia’s Fatherland and Freedom Party, and its honouring of Latvia’s Waffen SS veterans.
The move is a victory for Tory MEP Daniel Hannan, who has been campaigning for this departure from the mainstream for some time. Mr Hannan wants the UK out of the EU altogether, and has become something of a minor star in right-wing US circles because he attacks the NHS as a ‘mistake’. By Dave’s friends do we know him?
What happened yesterday confirmed Cameron’s desire to move the Tories from the mainstream of European debate to somewhere between Euro-scepticism and extremism. I’d have thought that was every bit as important as the choice of Speaker. He may not be terribly happy that John Bercow now occupies the chair. But he will be very pleased that all the fuss and ballyhoo about that reduced his Euro-adventures to minor broadsheet coverage when its actual significance merits far more attention and debate.
** Some of you seemed a little shocked yesterday by my view that having Old Etonians (or Etonions as I typoed them) as PM, Speaker and London Mayor would not be a good thing. The reason I am on the left of politics is a basic belief in equality of opportunity. Eton sits at the top of a self-perpetuating system of privilege that acts as a barrier to that. Discuss.
** Also worth discussing — President Sarkozy’s address to the French Parliament yesterday. First, because he changed the Constitution to do so, overturning a 134 year ban on Presidents addressing Parliament. Second, because his main point seemed to be an attack on the rights of French Muslim women to wear full veils and face coverings. Serious issue for such an event; or pointless talking point that risks stigmatising Muslims?