Tom Richmond: Eurosceptics must heal their divisions if they want to win

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JOHN Redwood – the man still not forgiven by some Tories for trying, and failing, to bring down John Major’s government – has made a telling intervention that could now save the Conservative Party’s fortunes at the next election.

A renowned Eurosceptic – the issue at the very heart of his disagreement with Major in June 1995 – he has written a compelling blog which puts the electoral threat posed by Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party into wider political perspective.

If Ukip is to succeed with its desire to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act so Britain can leave the EU, the party will need 326 seats after the next 2015 election. It does not even have one MP at present and Farage failed to be elected in 2010 when he stood against Speaker John Bercow in a seat not contested by the three main parties.

“Even the most optimistic concede that their strategy is taking a long time, and no pollster or independent commentator is forecasting a Ukip win in the 2015 General Election,” observes Redwood.

I’d go further – I think Ukip will be fortunate to have one MP returned on polling day, despite public opinion hardening against the EU.

Contrast this with David Cameron’s government. The James Wharton Private Members Bill, approved by the Commons, paves the way for a referendum on EU membership after the next election, although opposition from the unelected House of Lords means that it is unlikely to become law.

That said, Cameron has no hiding place. If he remains PM after the next election, he will have to deliver his referendum commitment – or he will be bereft of credibility. And this is where the conclusions of Redwood come in as Ukip threaten to deny the Tories any chance of an outright majority so Labour, and possibly the Lib Dems, come to power by default.

He writes: “I am both more optimistic today than for many years, and more worried. I am more optimistic because many more people are now alarmed by the extent and scope of EU power and want something done about it.

“I am more worried because I think Ukip and Eurosceptic Conservatives are tackling the issue in two different ways, which could allow the federalists to win. The federalists are enjoying this, because split we run the danger of damaging each other rather than stopping the federalist juggernaut. We need a Conservative government in 2015 both to deliver the referendum and to avoid another five years of Labour government which would make it much more difficult to exit the current EU, as they would work with Brussels to drag us ever more deeply.”

Is this what Ukip sympathisers and supporters want? No it is not. But, in highlighting the risks, John Redwood has performed a great service to his party. The question now is whether David Cameron and Nigel Farage can come to an accommodation. It is in the interests of both parties that they do.

CONTINUING the EU theme, Labour fixer Peter (Lord) Mandelson remains unconvinced about the merits of a referendum vote. He now argues that the public want “politicians to give a decisive lead on Europe” rather than “grandstanding over a referendum” – a reference to David Cameron’s difficulties. Is this now Labour’s position? A straight ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer from Doncaster MP Ed Miliband will suffice.

IS there any limit to the double standards and hypocrisy of Labour’s scaremongerer-in-chief Andy Burnham? He’s the Shadow Health Secretary who has been criticising the coalition for presiding over a “staggering” 60 per cent rise in locum A&E doctors “because they can’t recruit staff”. The reason for this is very simple.

There are insufficient doctors because the last Government dismantled the training process. Given that it takes six years before locum doctors gain the relevant expertise, that takes Britain back to 2008 and the period just before a certain Andrew Burnham became Health Secretary in Gordon Brown’s government. Like the Mid Staffs scandal, I’m afraid this is just another example of Burnham not accepting responsibility for his actions in office.

FORMER Olympic boss Sir David Higgins, the new HS2 supremo, made a solid defence when he pointed out that no new railway had been built north of Watford in more than 100 years

Yet the strength of this argument as he looks to see whether the line can be built quicker, and more cheaply, than the estimated £42bn was overtaken by his use of jargon like “deliverability” and “connectivity” – and how HS2 will benefit rush-hour London commuters.

Higgins will have to do better if he wants to keep plain-speaking Yorkshire residents onside.

GORDON Brown – remember him? – has intervened in the Scottish independence debate by calling for a “union for social justice” in which the UK can pool and share resources. Wouldn’t Brown have been better off taking a vow of silence if he wants Alex Salmond’s SNP to be defeated?

NOTE the BBC’s moaners and groaners paid to talk down Britain’s prospects. The economy is “recovering strongly”. Who says so? The Corporation’s business editor Robert Peston during a Radio Four discussion about the floundering French economy and the reported philandering of its president Francis Hollande. I take it that Peston’s verdict is now official BBC policy?

WHAT does it say about Britain’s spiritual decline when Tesco began its promotion on Tuesday to sell Easter eggs at discounted prices? At its Horsforth store, you could buy three creme eggs for £1.20. At this rate, the supermarket’s unsold Christmas decorations will be back on sale before the end of Lent.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk