Timothy Garton Ash is right: there is only one logical way for me to vote in 2015 – for the Conservatives

by Stephen Tall on April 23, 2013

Timothy Garton Ash wrote recently in the Financial Times of the looming — and profoundly paradoxical — choice facing the British voters at the 2015 general election in two years’ time:

If … your priority is the unity of the Conservative party, you should vote Labour or Liberal Democrat. If you want Britain to make up its collective mind about staying in the EU, rather than remaining Europe’s fence-sitting mugwump, vote Conservative.

His logic is irresistible — by which I mean to say I agree with him. And by which I mean to point out that I said as much three months ago: Why Cameron is now the ‘Yes to the EU’ campaign’s best hope.

The sequence is as follows:

  1. If Labour forms the next government (either on its own or with the Lib Dems) two things are likely to happen. First, the ‘referendum lock’, triggered by any new treaty change, and accepted by Ed Miliband, is likely to kick in at some point in the next parliament. Secondly, David Cameron’s successor as Tory leader will be a signed-up ‘Better Off Out-er’. If the Tories and the press (and Ukip) are in favour of a ‘No’ — well, all bets are off.
  2. But imagine if the Tories win in 2015… David Cameron will lead a ‘Yes’ campaign (he’ll win enough concessions to dress it all up as a major renegotiation) which will also be supported by the Lib Dems and Labour. As a result, the ‘Yes’ campaign will win, probably. Do you think the Tory ‘Better Off Out-ers’ will be reconciled to such a verdict? Not likely. Here’s Prof Garton Ash:

A significant minority of the parliamentary party, its national membership and its voters could not accept that the Conservatives – of all people – had led the country into a historic vote to stay in the hated EU. The more modest the changes achieved, the larger that minority would be. In the UK Independence party – currently outpolling the Liberal Democrats – those eurosceptic diehards would find a welcoming home. The result could be a split in the Tory party comparable to that which occurred over the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846.

All of which is a bit of a dilemma for liberal voters like me…

Do I want the UK to remain a member of the EU?

Yes.

Do I want the Conservatives to lose their Europhobe nut-job contingent?

Yes.

Logically, therefore, there is only one possible way for me to vote in 2015: Conservative.