The splits in the Conservative party over Europe, so widely reported nationally, are even apparent between two of Croydon’s MPs, reports ANDREW PELLING
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, 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.
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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- Out, out, out! Can anybody stem the Eurosceptic tide? (guardian.co.uk)
- Tory war over EU referendum as MPs reject David Cameron’s olive branch (standard.co.uk)
- UKIP Surges to Record High (blogs.independent.co.uk)