Sunday, March 29, 2009

Anti-Europe donor drops Tories for Ukip.

Europe, the subject which has always torn to Tory party apart, now rears it's ugly head at a time when David Cameron is surely hoping it will simply keep quiet.

The Conservatives' biggest donor is to defect to the right-wing UK Independence party amid a growing rift over Europe.

Stuart Wheeler, a close friend of Michael Howard, who has given the Tories £5m, has been privately complaining for months that he did not believe David Cameron was firm enough on Europe and was irritated that the party was downplaying the issue. He had warned the leader he did not approve of the return of pro-European Kenneth Clarke to the shadow cabinet.

Wheeler will now donate £100,000 to Ukip, which wants Britain to withdraw from the European Union. He told the Sunday Times he was "very disappointed indeed with David Cameron's stance on the issue", despite the Tory leader's recent controversial decision that his MEPs are to leave the centre-right alliance the European People's Party (EPP) and build links with more hardline eurosceptics.

The multi-millionaire argued that "the Conservatives just wish no one would talk about the EU, so they can win the general election in peace". He added: "Much as I want the Tories to win the next election, getting Europe right is even more important."

Wheeler has latched on to the subject of Europe as a place where Cameron is keeping his cards very close to his chest, but I think that's Cameron's game across a whole range of issues. He hopes to be elected simply by not being Labour, and he hopes to do so whilst revealing as few policies as possible. He simply hopes that it's going to be enough to reassure the British public that the Tories are no longer "the nasty party".

However, Conservative extremism on the subject of Europe was one of the main things which pulled John Major's Tory party apart and Wheeler's actions can only make Cameron worry that this train is going to come off the rails one more time.

Ironically, the defection comes as Cameron is simultaneously under attack from his pro-European wing for taking too hardline a eurosceptic stance, after it emerged the Tories had held talks about teaming up in the European parliament with a nationalist Latvian party, some of whose members attend ceremonies to commemorate the Waffen SS.

The revelation that Hague recently met an official of the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom party has dismayed pro-European Conservatives who believe such an approach will leave the party isolated on the world stage.

In an interview with the Observer, the Tories' Europe spokesman, Mark Francois, confirmed that Conservative MEPs would leave the EPP after June's European elections and join other like-minded eurosceptic parties in a new grouping.

However, the search for new partners has run into difficulty after this weekend's edition of the Economist reported Hague's recent talks with the Latvians. The magazine notes that the party includes "hardline nationalists who attend ceremonies to commemorate a Latvian unit of Waffen SS troops".

The Tory stance on Europe has always been fairly ridiculous, but when Hague finds himself hanging out with nationalists who celebrate the Waffen SS - and yet is still not seen as reactionary enough by some of his party - one sees just how extreme the Tories remain.

A leading Tory MEP, who refused to be named, described the decision to quit the EPP as "crazy", saying that the Conservatives were dabbling on the "wild fringes" of European politics.

Cameron is playing a clever game by refusing to ever state what his principles actually are and what it is that he truly believes in. But the company Hague is keeping should give the rest of us some indication of the direction in which the Tories would take Britain should they actually come to power.

But, even hanging around with supporters of the Waffen SS has not been extreme enough to keep people like Wheeler on board.

The subject of Europe reveals just how out of kilter the Tory party are with the rest of Britain, which is why they prefer not to talk about it.

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