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A Plea From a Eurosceptic Tory

23/05/2013 17:48 BST | Updated 23/07/2013 10:12 BST
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In common with many Conservative Party members, I want an in/out referendum and expect I'll be campaigning hard for an 'out' vote if we get one. Even more than that, I want a Conservative majority after the next election. Just the thought of Ed Miliband smirking outside 10 Downing Street on 8 May 2015 turns my stomach. Besides, only a Tory majority gets us that referendum. We know now that Miliband is dead against giving the people a say. And Nick Clegg will do anything to protect his Brussels pension fund.

We can argue about whether "renegotiate then a referendum" is the right policy. But never mind that. "Renegotiate then a referendum" is the policy. Whatever the virtues of mandate votes or getting Labour and the Liberal Democrats to vote down a bill in this Parliament, Tories should go out and sell the policy we've got. It's true that David Cameron badly damaged his credibility by breaking his cast-iron guarantee for a vote on the constitutional Treaty of Lisbon (and with hindsight, he must be cursing the day he took that fateful decision). But surely we can all agree he'll never be able to pull a stunt like that again.

So, however much I admire their principles, and conceding that it was backbench pressure that forced Mr Cameron to offer a referendum in the first place, I am beginning to get a tiny bit impatient with the honourable ladies and gentlemen on the backbenches. Admittedly, unlike many Tories, I think that replacing the enormous corporatist quango and public sector retirement scheme, otherwise known as the House of Lords, with just about any alternative is a good idea. I can't see what the fuss is about gay marriage (if it makes a few people very happy and shouldn't bother anyone else, what's the problem?). And just looking at the talented colleagues I work with makes me grateful that some of them are here because of an enlightened immigration policy. I suppose I'm not really UKIP material.

But before my fellow Eurosceptics dismiss me as a pseudo-pinko and the last remaining member of Ken Clarke's fan club, let me say this. My libertarian views are hardly a million miles from those of luminaries of the right such as Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and Daniel Hannan. I admire the radicalism of the government in education and welfare, areas that Mrs Thatcher hardly dared to touch. I applaud this administration's determination to stick to Plan A and get a grip on public spending. I fear desperately that Miliband's cronies will wreak the country just at the moment the Conservatives have been able to transfer the economy out of intensive care.

Elections really are won by the party standing closest to the common ground. This was the case in the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher could offer a robustly rightwing programme because her opponents were marching towards a hallucination of the New Jerusalem. With Miliband leading his troops off stage left while singing the Internationale, we have a similar opportunity. UKIP might hit 5% in 2015, but most of their votes will be in true-blue heartlands where they can't cause much damage. In seats where Labour and the Conservatives are going toe-to-toe, UKIP will be not so much squeezed as squashed between the heavyweights. Their current level of support is unnerving (and they will win the European Elections next year). But listening to some Tory backbenchers, you'd have thought they were blushing debutantes who'd never seen a mid-term protest before.

There are only two factors against the Conservatives. The electoral arithmetic still favours Labour (so thanks guys, for stopping House of Lords reform, even if it wasn't just to spite Clegg). That's water under the bridge. Our other problem is party unity. Voters don't like parties that they perceive to be split. The media, of course, will do everything it can to foster just such a perception. But it's no use blaming journalists - they are just doing their job. Instead, it is up to Tories to starve the story of oxygen. Backbenchers should take a vow of silence on all matters not directly and explicitly linked to their own constituencies. The only exception should be telling anyone who'll listen what wonderful job the Conservative members of the Government are doing. When a local party chairman receives a survey from a mischievous newspaper asking how many members have left in protest of gay marriage, he should steer the relevant email straight towards the recycle bin.

Speaking as a Conservative, the next election is ours to lose. If it means holding our noses, if it means putting some principles into abeyance for a couple of years, even if it means MPs not humouring media starlets who'd be so grateful for a story, then so be it. Every Conservative has a duty to knuckle down and follow our leader. If we do that, there is every chance that come 2020, the United Kingdom (and it will still be united) will be prosperous and free. But if we lose our nerve and give the impression we are an undignified rabble, by the end of the decade we live in a bankrupt country shackled to the European Union's economic corpse.