Even in Croydon, the Tories are split over Europe

The splits in the Conservative party over Europe, so widely reported nationally, are even apparent between two of Croydon’s MPs, reports ANDREW PELLING

Gavin Barwell: working for a government minister, but backing an amendment to his own government's Queen's Speech

Gavin Barwell: working for a government minister, but backing an amendment to his own government’s Queen’s Speech

With UKIP polling as high as 20 per cent in opinion polls this week, Croydon’s Conservative MPs have been vocal on the subject of Europe – with one speaking out in favour of the European Union, the other backing a referendum that could see Britain leaving the EU.

Croydon Central’s Gavin Barwell has been opportunist while Richard Ottaway, from Croydon South, showed some backbone in the debate on the EU in the House of Commons.

With the Eurosceptic tide being so strong and the EU looking like a complete economic basket case, Croydon South’s MP showed real strength of character to put his head above the parapet and make the case for Britain’s continuing membership of the European Union.

Of course, it’s easier to do this when you never have to face the electorate again, as is the case with Ottaway, who promised Croydon Conservative members that this would be his last term in parliament when he was dragged before them when he was in trouble over his extravagant expenses claims.

In parliament last week, Ottaway showed his past, pro-Heseltine corporatist political approach. Sadly, he also lost his temper in an open clash with the consistently blameless and courteous Bernard Jenkin MP, a noted Eurosceptic.

“May I say to my hon. Friend Mr Jenkin that that sort of contemptuous laugh does no good to the debate whatever?”

Ottaway is not someone who likes being laughed at. As a self-confessed former secondary modern school boy, an inferiority complex is evermore justified in a party run by Old Etonians.

Richard Ottaway: doesn't like being laughed at

Richard Ottaway: doesn’t like being laughed at

Jenkin later explained that he wasn’t laughing at the Croydon South MP, just disconcerted that he was not being allowed to intervene a second time in the debate.

Ottaway is damning about Britain’s trading prospects if it choses to be outside the EU. According to the former Royal Navy officer, such a departure would leave the UK, “Not gaining sovereignty, it is [about] losing it”.

Ottaway thinks the EU would punish an isolationist Britain. “The EU is not going to let us set up an offshore free trade island like Hong Kong, undercutting its industries. We will have to pay for access to the single market. The EU will dictate the terms of trade, and we will still be under the thumb of Brussels.”

Ottaway insists that he was not a Europhile. He did, though, attack Michael Gove, the Education minister, and Barwell’s ministerial boss. “I disagree with the Secretary of State for Education, who says that life outside the EU would be ‘perfectly tolerable’.”

Barwell, the self-confessed bag-carrier for Gove, took full advantage of the permission given to bag carriers (officially known as Personal Private Secretaries) to vote for the amendment to the government’s Queen’s Speech, regretting the lack of a bill to promote a referendum on EU membership.

Barwell says he is pro-EU membership but as an MP for a marginal seat, he did not want to miss the populist opportunity to say that he wanted to let his electors have their say on the EU at some ill-defined time in the distant future.

It seems unlikely that Peter Staveley, the recently adopted UKIP parliamentary candidate for Croydon Central, will let Barwell get away with such a vague populist lunge.

Staveley, who beat-off the eccentric Winston McKenzie for the UKIP parliamentary nomination, is unlikely to beat Barwell at the polls. But UKIP’s influence on the most electorally exposed MP in Croydon is palpable.

For the record, as the Conservative party continued to be split, even within one borough, Croydon North’s Labour MP Steve Reed voted against the EU referendum amendment.

  • Andrew Pelling was MP for Croydon Central until 2010
  • Inside Croydon: For comment and analysis about Croydon, from inside Croydon
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About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
This entry was posted in 2015 General Election, Andrew Pelling, Croydon Central, Croydon North, Croydon South, Gavin Barwell, Peter Staveley, Richard Ottaway MP, Steve Reed MP and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Even in Croydon, the Tories are split over Europe

  1. What a delicious prospect for the 2015 General Election: Barwell and Staveley fight each other to a standstill, trying to establish which of them is more Europhobic, while someone else wins the seat; someone with a positive approach to Britain’s future as a close ally of Germany and an influential member of the European Union.

  2. There are huge splits in the Tory Party on Europe, but I’m not sure this article has correctly identified them. The real split is between those who are pro-Europe (like Ottaway, Ken Clarke etc) and those who want to leave the EU. Cameron hovers somewhere in the middle, but pushed recently towards those who want a referendum, by the rise of UKIP.

    Gavin Barwell’s position seems to me to be perfectly reasonable . He thinks the public should have the right to vote on the issue, but hopes the referendum comes down on the side of the “yes to Europe” campaign. Those of us who witnessed the 1975 referendum remember how much money and propaganda was produced by the pro-Europe lobby, to secure a “yes” result on that occasion, so Gavin’s objective is not pie in the sky.

    As to Labour’s position, there are a number of us in the Party who believe it’s wrong to deny the public a vote, especially as we’ve been promised a referendum by all 3 main parties in recent years but it has never materialised. The issue won’t go away, so it should be put to the people. My own view is that the EU is undemocratic and bureaucratic and does not, generally speaking, advance the interests of working people. We should have an internationalist outlook, but not be part of the EU.

    • The referendum option is one put forward by any party not prepared – not courageous enough – to include key measures in its manifesto when standing for election.

      UKIP says it’ll stage referenda almost to decide what day of the week it is, perhaps because they can’t manage to put forward, in all honesty, a proper schedule of policies when seeking election.

      Meanwhile the two “main”, real, parties shy away from stating their true positions on Europe in their manifestos. Why? Can’t they just decide, “We’ll stay in the EU”, or “We’ll come out”? To stand for election and not state a position on this issue is just dishonest.

      And dishonesty lies at the heart of Britain’s relationship with Europe.

      After all, Ted Heath’s Conservatives sought power and won an election in 1970, on the promise of having a referendum before Britain would go into the Common Market. Hey ho, quelle surprise, as Charles de Gaulle might have said, and the Tories broke an election promise. It has scarred this nation ever since, and divides their own party at regular intervals.

      By the time Harold Wilson’s Labour, with a 1974 manifesto promise to hold a referendum, got round to putting the issue to the electorate, the question had changed: no longer was it “shall we go in?”, by then it was effectively “should we pull out?”

      And the answer was profoundly different.

      Heath’s duplicitous move meant that Britain abandoned its long-time trading partnerships with Australia, Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth, in favour of our new “partners” in Europe. Since when the Tories, in particular, have yielded power and influence from Westminster to Brussels.

      Now here is a first. I’m with Richard Ottaway on this one. We’re in now. We’ve been in for more than 40 years. Coming out would create untold problems and costs for Britain. Let’s accept that we’re in, get over it and let’s lead in Europe.

      It’s about time our political leaders showed some leadership on the European issue, and stopped pretending that a referendum – in which the resources for the “stay-in” option will, just as it did in 1975, overwhelm those arguing to pull out – will change at all the status quo. As Silvio Berlusconi, or Francis Rossi, might say.

  3. I agree with David White about the fundamental nature of the EU. I voted NO in the 1975 referendum and have not changed my views since that it forces a pro-capitalist model on all its members, preventing countries developing their old alternative solutions. As a former civil servant friend fan of the EU said to me the other day it is rightly controlled by the unelected unaccountable elite of Commissioners. Yes there are some crumbs that are beneficial and others which look good but employers can drive a coach and horses through them, like the work time agreement. Next time you go to a restaurant ask the staff whether they are on double shifts and how many doubles they do in sequence. Work/travel days of 16 hours working in hot kitchens on your feet most of the time with inadequate rest rooms is no way to treat people, especially when many are low wage and reply on your generosity in tipping. Perhaps David would expand his analysis about the unacceoptable nature of the EU in a future posting

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