David Cameron will be thinking he has just about got away with his Europe fandango. MEP Daniel Hannan resigns from a job few knew he had … this is a low damage count.
Cameron may even be taking some comfort from the fact that the noisiest criticism of him appears to come from a Frenchman. Nothing like the Frogs to get the blue blood boiling.
But it would be a mistake. Because the comments of Pierre Lellouche, France’s Europe minister, will represent the view, more or less colourfully, of President Sarkozy. They represent also, at least in part, the views of other European leaders who have frankly been bemused by Cameron’s stance on Europe, most recently his outspoken efforts to undermine Tony Blair’s chances of becoming the first President of the European Council.
The charge Labour must make stick against successive Tory leaders is that in failing to settle the Europe issue within their ranks once and for all, and in forever being in thrall to Thatcherite Euroscepticism at its most extreme form, they have allowed division to create weakness which in turn has harmed their influence.
Cameron parades as an agent of change yet on this issue, the change has not even reached the cosmetic levels of his other changes.
This is less important in Opposition than in government, but if Cameron becomes PM, then the influence diminution becomes a real problem.
So, given how much of a Prime Minister’s work is tied up with Europe, it is worth taking a proper look at what Lellouche, like Cameron a conservative, has to say.
Cameron’s plans, outlined yesterday, are ‘pathetic.’ They will not succeed ‘for one minute.’
Easy to dismiss as the ramblings of a Frenchman. After all, the Tories will say over their steaks in their clubs, the Frogs have always been jealous of us ever since we saved them from the Nazis.
But Lellouche is a confirmed and committed Anglophile, one who goes on: ‘It’s just very sad to see Britain, so important in Europe, just cutting itself out from the rest and disappearing from the radar map … This is a culture of opposition … It is the result of a long period of opposition. I know they will come back but I hope the trip will be short. They are doing what they have done in the European Parliament. They have effectively castrated UK influence in the European Parliament.’ (This is a man charged with the art of diplomacy speaking here, not me).
He said he had told William Hague directly that their policy was one of marginalisation. Heavy stuff, and however much Hague says, as he did last night, that Lellouche does not speak for majority political opinion in Europe, I think he will find he does.
It is one more reason why, when Lellouche appears to be taking for granted the advent of a Tory government, the British public should continue to reflect on whether a weakened, marginalised, loathed Britain is what they really want to vote for.
It sounds ok after a few drinks, with a bit of xenophobia flowing. But in an ever more interdependent world, where the benefits of being in Europe far outweigh the disadvantages, it won’t be very funny if it happens.
Deep down, I think Cameron knows that. But with the still mad party he leads, he cannot work out how to make it any different.