WALTER CRONXITE reports on the slow thought process that has led to Croydon South’s MP opting to back the European Referendum winner
We’ve all seen those Ray Winstone gambling ads on telly, where we’re invited to “cash ahhtt” on a sporting event when the result’s a foregone conclusion, and thus claim our winnings.
It seems that Chris Philp, the Tories’ new MP for Croydon South, has cashed out politically, deciding to side with his party leader, David “Do Your Tie Up Properly” Cameron, and back Britain staying in the European Union.
Unlike his more senior Croydon Conservative colleague, Gavin Barwell, who declared his hand at the weekend, Philp pondered for a few days longer. Neither of Croydon’s two Tory MPs went to the polls at the General Election last year having disclosed to their electorate that they would back the case for staying in the EU, a factor which might have proved decisive for Barwell, who scraped back into Parliament with a 165-vote majority.
Cameron’s and the Tories’ position on the EU has been substantially dishonest, at both the 2010 election and again in 2015. “We’ll give you a referendum,” they promised, and failed to deliver in the first five years of the Tory-led Government. Yet the Conservatives could have gone to the polls in both General Elections saying that they stood for being in, or out, on Europe, and let the voters decide then.
That they did not was out of a political fear of UKIP, which had done so well with its Eurosceptic psychobabble at Euro elections, and to try to avoid an irrevocable split among their own party’s ranks.
Philp’s delaying on the subject, and what appears to be a significant softening in his position towards Brussels, comes from a similar sort of dissembling, but in his case seems likely to be prompted by his own career self-interest. He said he wanted to hear what the Prime Minister had to say in the House of Commons on Monday. He wanted to examine the details of Cameron’s “deal”.
More likely, Philp was waiting to see the dust settling over the moves by, first, Michael Gove and then Boris Johnson in their declarations that they will be backing Brexit.
Johnson’s essay on his decision in the Torygraph on Monday was described by senior Tory commentator Iain Dale as “total fuckwittery”. Maybe that was influential in Philp’s ponderings?
Philp’s decision needs to be set against the context of the dog-fight now going on in his party.
As the right-leaning magazine The Spectator puts it: “Today, the two best-known Tories in the land stand in direct opposition on the most important vote the UK has had since the second world war. Only one of them can win.”
Philp left it later than most, but in Ray Winstone style, he thinks he’s sided with the winner.
We are told that Johnson, who is still supposed to be the Mayor of London, was offered the job of Foreign Secretary and a Sovreignty Act if he were to side with Cameron and support the case for remaining in the EU. That he did not is being characterised as a naked challenge for the leadership of the Conservative Party, over the issue that has caused fissures in the Tory ranks for half a century. If Britain votes “No” on June 23, there is little doubt that Cameron will resign as Prime Minister and Conservative leader.
Today, Philp was attempting to diminish the importance of his own part in all this. As if the opinion of an MP in the party of Government doesn’t actually matter: “It’s what the public thinks now that counts,” he said.
And he also tried to distance himself from his own previous pronouncement of Euroscepticism: “I have never publicly or privately backed Brexit. May do in the future if facts change though.” Never say never, eh Chris?
Trouble is, until a couple of days ago, his own biography was saying: “I believe in British sovereignty. The EU, as currently constituted, does not allow the UK to adequately run its own affairs and must be urgently and radically reformed.”
Was this a case of Philp trying to appear to be one thing to the conservative (small “c”) voters of Croydon South when seeking their vote, and then doing something else?
Or does he seriously think that the “deal” which Cameron brought back from Brussels last week addresses those issues, and others, such as his previously expressed hard-line on immigration?
Philp announced his decision via a lengthy post on his website yesterday: “It is now up to each and every citizen to make up their own mind. Your vote is worth just the same as the vote I will cast in Coulsdon on June 23,” he said, underlining that he is registered as a voter in Coulsdon.
“I have been asked quite often what I intend to do. After mulling it over, studying the detail of the negotiation and questioning people (including the Prime Minister and Chancellor) who are familiar with how the EU operates, I have narrowly concluded that for the moment the UK’s best interests are served by staying in.”
He further admitted his “generally Eurosceptic” position. “But I am prepared to keep trying to achieve this from within the EU for the time being.”
There is little in Philp’s lengthy reasoning on Europe could not have been stated in some form a week ago, or a year ago, before the last General Election. But that’s a shapeshifting politician for you.
Philp now is presenting himself as a Cameron loyalist. “The Prime Minister has moved our relationship with the EU in the right direction and I believe, with some reservations, that for the time being it is in the UK’s national interest to stay in. So I will be voting to stay on June 23,” Philp writes.
“Leaving the EU poses a risk to jobs and prosperity. If we leave, there is no going back. But if we stay and no further reforms are achieved and we do not like the way the EU is heading, we can vote to leave in future. This is something I would be fully prepared to do.”
Ohhh, the hokey-cokey!
If Britain votes to remain in the EU on June 23, and Cameron is able to draw an endorsement of his leadership from the decision, expect Bullingdon Boris to be consigned to the Tory backbenches for at least four years. And expect Chris Philp’s name to be alongside some junior government role in a post-referendum reshuffle.
Or as Ray Winstone might say, “Luvverly, treacle!”
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