Conservatives have lost their way in the Europe debate

James Willby

The debate on Europe within the Conservative Party is going from bad to worse. Beginning with the Business Secretary comparing current Conservative rhetoric to the speeches of Enoch Powell, to the revelation that the Prime Ministers rhetoric is causing enormous disquiet amongst our colleagues in the European parliament, with the leader of the Polish delegation telling David Cameron that unless his rhetoric on EU migration changes, it will be very difficult for them to continue working with us. Rather than seeking allies for EU reform, we’re giving a wonderful performance in the art of losing friends and alienating everyone we come into contact with. But it goes further than that. Something seems to have gone wrong at the heart of this party of ours.

In defense of my argument I’d like to offer you two substantive pieces of evidence: the EU referendum bill and the atrocious rhetoric that was directed at Bulgarian and Romanian migrants.

At the time the referendum bill was announced, I remarked to a MP that I was against it. We’d already said we’d hold a referendum in 2017 if elected, so why legislate for it now? When pressed, he explained that in the light of the Lisbon Treaty, there needed to be some form of gesture to show people we were serious about giving them a vote on Europe.  While it is of course true that one cannot vote on a treaty that has been signed, the ghost of David Cameron’s “cast iron guarantee” continues to haunt party strategists. The idea behind supporting the Wharton referendum bill, I was told, was to show we meant business and win back disaffected support. It seemed a sensible way forward. However, the threats to use the Parliament Act to force the bill into law show, in my opinion, the unpalatable truth behind the campaign to “Let Britain Decide”.

This isn’t about letting anyone have his or her say. The Wharton referendum bill is nothing less than a grubby political trap, designed to ensnare a future Labour government whilst trampling on what was – hitherto – a key principle of our democratic system: that governments may not bind the hand of their successor and that none should attempt to do so. It is not in the British national interest, but in the perceived electoral interest of the Conservative party. By putting the bill into law now, the party is attempting to booby-trap the first two years of a Miliband premiership, either forcing him to hold a referendum he opposes or cry foul when he repeals the bill. It is grossly transparent, full of short-termism, and wrong.

It is this same toxic mix that has led to the some of most disheartening debates on EU migration that I can remember, culminating in the parliamentary debate on Bulgaria and Romania. It was not pleasant. We were, we were told, importing a crime wave from Bulgaria and Romania. Some MPs even went as far as pledging to man the desks at Stanstead airport on the 1st January, allowing them to interrogate new arrivals from these countries. It is hysteria of a type that would make Joseph McCarthy proud. If Dominic Grieve can be forced to apologize for suggesting corruption is endemic to the Pakistani community, how can it be right for MPs to make such comments about Bulgarians and Romanians?

The Bulgarians and Romanians I know personally are hard-working decent people, but understandably aggrieved at the way they are being castigated by our party. And so to them, on behalf of the quiet, sensible majority, I’d like to say I’m sorry. I’m sorry that you are being so odiously used by members of my party. I’m sorry that the fear of UKIP has made the supporters of European enlargement turn their back on the principles they once defended. The Bulgarian President is entirely right to say this debate risks damaging the UK’s image as a tolerant and open nation. As the Economist has already stated, you are very welcome here. I hope many of you will come and lend your talents to our country and that our party will finally see the opportunity you represent. You see, if the Conservative party really wanted to prevent a victory UKIP in 2014, it could simply ask for your vote. Rather than telling you what a problem you are, we should tell you we appreciate your service to this nation and invite you to join us on the path of EU reform.

This fact – that EU migrants have the same voting rights as UK nationals – has been completely absent from our internal debate. Were we to mobilize them effectively in our favour, UKIP’s hope of winning the European elections would be dashed. As to its likelihood I’m not hopeful, but who knows?

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For a supposed ‘wonk’, Ed Miliband has surprisingly few ideas of his own

James Willby

You might remember that there was a break-in at Labour HQ. The joke was that the thieves had gone in looking for a policy but hadn’t come back with anything of note.

There’s been talk of “predators and producers”, of “the squeezed middle”, but the only clear instances where Miliband has produced anything like a coherent vision were with his use of Disraeli’s one nationism and his proposal for a freeze on energy bills. Then with the intervention of former Conservative Prime Minister Sir John Major, Miliband thought he had finally struck gold.

“Many people face a choice this winter between heating and eating” he quoted at a despairing David Cameron.  “These are the ordinary people of this country who this Prime Minister will never meet and whose lives they will never understand.”  It was, to quote a boxing term, a straight KO and the Prime Minister returned to Downing Street to lick his wounds. So, should we Conservatives be worried by such a performance? Does it herald the change of fortunes Labour activists have been so desperate to see? Hardly. 

The Labour leader’s use of Disraeli and Major, whilst good politics, illustrates his Party’s fundamental weakness – simply put, it has no idea who it is or what it’s for. From free schools to referenda, from reducing the taxation on the poorest to green investment, everything that is fresh and exciting is coming from the ongoing tussle between the Coalition parties. The fact Miliband is forced to rely on the words of former Conservative Prime Ministers in his battle with Mr. Cameron shows just how bad the situation has become. Nineteen months from a general election and Labour’s ideas factory is a wizened burnt-out old husk.

Despite endless internal reviews and conversations, it has produced nothing of substance and Miliband’s tenure has seen him hop from bandwagon to bandwagon in a vain attempt to capture the public mood. Chris Bryant’s attempt to get tough on immigration blew up in his face. Tristram Hunt is now floundering over free schools, first backing them then seemingly veering away, and on HS2 I doubt anybody within the Labour Party knows what their policy actually is.

In laying claim to Disraeli’s one-nationism and Major’s compassionate conservatism, Miliband invites us to judge him by their principles. Does his opposition to deficit reduction chime with Disraeli’s observation that “Debt is a prolific mother of folly and of crime”? If he becomes Prime Minister, will he seriously be able to claim that Labour “inherited a sick economy and passed on a sound one” as Major did?  Perhaps we can best sum up Labour’s dilemma by paraphrasing Thatcher. You see Ed; the problem with ‘Milibandism’ is that eventually you run out of other people’s ideas. It might be time to get some of your own. 

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The costs of a UKIP-lite immigration policy outweigh the short-term benefits

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Harry Fraser

When Nigel Farage, the leader of a party that feels the need to define itself as ‘non-racist’ on its official website, thinks your immigration policy is ‘nasty and unpleasant’, then the chances are that something is wrong with it…

Last week, the Home Office launched a billboard campaign aimed at illegal immigrants, urging them to hand themselves in. The large billboards, placed on the back of vans, feature the slogan “Go home or face arrest” and are currently on a trial tour around six London boroughs with high immigrant populations. Illegal immigrants are told to text “HOME” to a number for free advice and help with travel documents. Mark Harper, the immigration minister, describes the initiative as “an alternative to being led away in handcuffs.”

David Cameron seems to be taking more and more leaves out of a right-wing popularist handbook, and is increasingly shadowing the behaviour of a party he once described as a collection of “fruitcakes” and “closet racists”. With the prospect of UKIP repeating their recent electoral success in next year’s European elections, the Prime Minister is trying to out-populist the champions of populism.

Irony died when Mr. Farage condemned this hard-line approach to immigration as nasty, but whilst his criticisms are ironic, there is truth in what he is saying. This campaign simply is nasty, divisive and pointless. Sure, it hammers home the message that the Conservatives are tough on immigration, but is it the right sort of tactic a responsible government should humour? The costs are sure to outweight the short-term electoral benefits.

Firstly, the campaign can be easily criticised as ‘nasty’ racist propaganda. Left-wing commentator Sunny Hundal drew obvious similarities between the Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ slogan and the rhetoric of the National Front and BNP. Whilst the adverts are not racist themselves, should the government be so brazen about promoting and pandering to the voices of the fringe right?

Secondly, why is a subject as delicate as immigration being handled so coldly and with such brashness? Instead of approaching it with some tactfulness, the government has made a habit recently of trying to look tough on immigration and coming across divisive. Earlier this month the Home Office controversially tweeted there will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants with the new immigration bill’ alongside a picture of a dark-skinned man being led in to the back of a van by armoured policemen. Are whistle-dog tactics such as this wise at a time when British institutions are still accused of being racist?

In response to the launch of the billboard campaign, the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London held an ‘emergency tension-monitoring’ meeting with Home Office officials and warned that the initiative had created ‘a sense of apprehension, tension and confusion’ amongst its clients. For a ‘compassionate conservative’, Cameron has acted consistently callously in regards to immigration…

As well as being nasty and divisive, the effectiveness of such a campaign is doubtful. As Bishop Patrick Lynch identifies, the demographics of undocumented migration have changed in recent years. The vast majority of illegal immigrants are people who overstay the terms of their visas, especially students. So instead of parading around pseudo-fascist slogans in ethnically diverse boroughs of London to pick up the odd dissatisfied voter, the government ought to focus on working with institutions dealing with immigrants and our own border control to solve this issue. Prominent Conservatives such as Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi back a one-off amnesty policy that would provide a boost to the economy coinciding with tougher border policies.

There are ways to solve the illegal immigration puzzle without resorting to the language and the tactics of the far right. Unfortunately this suggestion was rejected by the party hierarchy, who’ll have next year’s European elections in mind and irrationally fear a repeat of UKIP’s 2013 summer surge.

So whilst trying to appear strong and tough on illegal immigrants, the government in reality has come across nasty, divisive and incompetent. Over a decade ago, the current Home Secretary once bemoaned that some people thought the Conservative Party was “the nasty party.” One way of rectifying this would be to avoid decrepit political stunts such as this.

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Getting below the skin of democratic reform

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 10.15am

The world is a-turning. The classes shift from lower, middle and upper to under, indebted and hereditary. Real power slips through MPs’ hands into those of constitutional lawyers, NGOs and financiers. Voters are confused and apathetic, confronted with a menu of social democrats donning different ribbons, that lack either the ideas, the conviction or the courage to extract the UK from debt-ridden paralysis.  

It is in this precarious environment that democracy has to be protected. If this sounds melodramatic, consider it is complacency that has reduced us to this position. I am often accused of pessimism but I would argue, with Spengler, that i am not a pessimist - pessimism means seeing no more duties.

Parliament has become little more than an acting pit, its real purpose - the coordination of interests - occurs behind the scenes. As Charles Moore recently noted in Standpoint, politics has been reduced to an:

"all-consuming pseudo-science of trying to guess what people want and then find ways of pretending to give it to them."

Man in this barren environment uproots himself for money despite risk of grave anomie, and allows as compensation his public and private  responsibilities to plummet. Into this vacuum has seeped a state that continues to increase exponentially in size.

The global flipside has been fluid labour - i.e. immigration - encouraged by political elites who sell a Benetton advert and hide behind an aegis largely composed of rhetoric invoking diversity and inclusivity while pursuing cheap labour and the postponement of overly-optimistic pension plans.

The elites told us they loved everyone when they in fact saw everybody as equally worthless unless contributing to their own net-worth. Anybody who did not appreciate their own country becoming alien to them in matter of decades was turned into a social leper overnight by being turned into the modern equivalent of a witch - a “racist” - a word that has become such an invidious tool.

Social entropy has defiled the national fabric. Technology and urbanity has distanced us from ourselves, each other and our environments, to the point where large numbers of sybaritic younger generations who have never known any better feel vaguely apathetic about annihilation

A point that recalls Toynbee’s admission: “Civilisations are not murdered, they commit suicide”.

I harbour much hope though. UKIP’s success at council level demonstrates the seams are distressed. It is in times of crisis that the biggest and best opportunities come about. A national debate on the lifeblood and symbol of our people, our sovereignty - our parliamentary democracy - needs to take place.

Douglas Carswell MP has already started us out along a certain path with his iDemocracy. I would take his principle and extend it towards its natural conclusion. I think political parties are no longer required, they are an anachronism in an age where identities are so fluid that parties feel obliged to be concrete but alienate people with their packages or become hypocritical fudges incapable of enacting any manifestos. These parties have created what Francis Fukuyama calls a "vetocracy" - systems where myriad actors have just enough power to veto, dilute and delay decisions but no single actor has enough power to push through an agenda.

Instead we should take parties, which have morphed into a single cartel with different franchises, out of the equation. Most people have an eclectic smorgasbord of views that are very compromised by the current menu. Why not compile a government file that can be shared via an online cloud in which under the subtitles of ENERGY, DEFENCE, HOUSING etc, people add solutions, answers, resolutions, policy ideas which, after the civil service has redacted, the electorate vote on either all together at a certain time or spread out over a period?

Logistics are a bit irrelevant once the principle is admitted. After policies have been elected, people who believe their lives, their beliefs, their actions, their thoughts most fully represent certain issues or approaches that are popular can put themselves forward to execute proposals.

Referendums should be used, in a similar manner to the Swiss, for issues of great importance, and politicians should be paid in proportion to past and current salaries and posts. Politicians would also be forbidden to take up post-political jobs in which it was decided figures were trading on past public service. In all matters but defence and policing small, directly accountable councils, parishes and townships would replace the monolithic behemoths that are today’s councils.

Direct democracy, devolution and decentralisation are the three Ds that will power Britain into the 22nd century as a leader instead of a relic.

If all this sounds rather ridiculous, scary and fanciful, I can assure you that the nation has undergone far greater changes in its history and will do again. When it’s done so, it’s usually been for the better.

Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower

Human Rights Act: Some questions for Mr Grayling and Mrs May

Craig Prescott 10.51am

Over the weekend, Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, indicated that a Conservative majority government could repeal the Human Rights Act. Meanwhile, Theresa May, the Home Secretary, has suggested withdrawing from the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) itself.

These are two very different things, and there is some muddled thinking involved here; but if both were to be pursued the policy could be called ‘Withdrawal and Repeal’.

As Mr Grayling has admitted himself, there needs to be a lot of work put in to the detail (to put it mildly). But as work towards possible 2015 manifesto pledges starts, here are some questions and issues that need to be considered.

  1. Why? It can’t be for political advantage. At the last election, 3.1 per cent of people voted for a political party who advocated ‘Withdraw and Repeal’, namely UKIP. By contrast, a combined 52 per cent of the electorate voted for Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who did not. Whatever Mr Grayling and Mrs May may think, the electorate has shown time and time again disinterest in tinkering with constitutional matters. This does not look like a massive vote winner to me, in face of more pressing matters such as living standards and the broader economy.
  2. Replacement? A British Bill of Rights has been suggested, but to what end? The content of such a Bill of Rights is likely to be similar, if not identical, to the content with one or two additions (such as a right to a jury trial) to make such a document ‘British’. Take a look at the Articles incorporated into English Law by the HRA, the Right to Life, Prohibition of Torture, Prohibition of Slavery and Forced Labour and the Right to a Fair Trial and so on. Would you like to live in a country that does not provide in law for these  protections? As one of the finest judges of recent times, Lord Bingham stated in his book the Rule of Law, countries that do not make such protection in law tend not to the best of places to live. Belarus or North Korea? Another issue is how are the courts going to interpret any such legislation. Experience before the HRA suggests that on the whole, the courts will take notice of the ECHR, as they do of other international treaties and case-law for interpretative guidance.
  3. Leave it to Parliament? If ‘Withdrawal and Repeal’ is pursued, then the position will be more akin to the days before the HRA, but without a route of appeal to Strasbourg. This is a dangerous option, as it risks pitting the courts and Parliament in direct opposition. It is easy to think that human rights began with the HRA, but that neglects the strong - if imperfect - vein in the common law that protected people’s rights before the HRA. One could go back to the 17th century, but during the 1990s the courts began to recognise at common law certain rights as being of ‘fundamental’ status, such as access to justice. This fundamental status means that the courts require strong signals from Parliament before the courts hold that they can be interfered with. This is an open-ended category of right, creating a clear risk of an ongoing conflict between the courts and Parliament, potentially giving more scope to the courts, the exact opposite of what the Lord Chancellor, Mr Grayling, wants. Such an approach would be destined not to end well.

There are other issues to consider. The devolved institutions are required under the devolution framework to comply with the ECHR at all times. Any amendment of this requirement is likely to require their approval, which the Commission on the Bill of Rights indicates will not necessarily be forthcoming as approval of the ECHR is generally seems to be higher outside of England than within it. (This raises concerns that the Conservative Party becoming ever more an English, and not British Party). Further, the EU is engaged in an ongoing process to become a signatory to the ECHR, meaning that even if ‘Withdraw and Repeal’ is pursued, the ECHR will still be a highly relevant to UK law as long as Britain remains a member.

All of the above is not to say that the human rights architecture of the UK and Europe is perfect. Far from it. There are issues over the length of time it takes to hear cases, and the number of appeals possible in human rights litigation are both issues about which courts themselves have voiced concerns. A close look at the process shows that the vast majority of the time, it is these problems which lie at the root of problems with human rights. After all Abu Hamza still got deported to America. Is it really necessary to embark on such a hazardous journey, jeopardising a central tenet of the unwritten constitution that Parliament and the courts respond to each other in a dialogue and understanding, to solve a problem which for the vast majority of the electorate is simply not there?

Ultimately, the problem that Mr Grayling as Lord Chancellor (who has a duty to uphold the rule of law) needs to grapple with is that some human rights are innate in the liberal democracy to which he wishes to belong and to strengthen. Any human rights apparatus constructed does not create rights but merely recognises them.

Craig Prescott is a member of the School of Law at the University of Manchester. Follow him on Twitter @craigprescott

Immigration, integration and Labour’s credibility crisis

Andrew Thorpe-Apps 1.48pm

In a recent speech in Tooting, Ed Miliband outlined plans to ensure that frontline staff in the state sector are able to speak ‘proficient’ English. It is part of achieving what he labelled a ‘connected nation’ rather than a ‘segregated one’.

“If we are going to build one nation, we need to start with everyone in Britain knowing how to speak English. We should expect that of people that come here. We will work together as a nation far more effectively when we can always talk together.”

The Labour leader is correct in highlighting the importance of comprehensible English. It is a sad reality that the language skills of many nurses and care workers are below par. Frequently, concerns are raised by the sick and elderly that they cannot communicate with their carers.

Language skills are crucial if new immigrants are to integrate into society. Without proficiency in English, how can you communicate with your neighbour? How can you communicate with your children’s teachers? A common language enables immigrants to advance their careers and improve their lives. A life where you can have no social interaction with the majority of people around you is surely no life at all.

Without the ability to communicate across ethnic and racial lines, separation sets in. Separation leads to isolation, and those who are isolated will have no chance at social mobility. Isolation also creates ignorance, suspicion and prejudice regarding other groups.

A good example of the dangers of segregation can be found in Tower Hamlets. Lutfur Rahman, the borough’s independent mayor, has implemented policies which see public funds diverted into Bengali-only drugs projects, arts projects and youth projects. What is more, many of these groups are merely a front for Mr Rahman’s extremist allies – the Islamic Forum of Europe. Incredibly, Tower Hamlets also pays for British-born children, who have grown up speaking English, to learn Bengali.

However, while we should applaud the main thrust of Mr Miliband’s Tooting speech, a note of caution must be urged. This is not the first time Labour have spoken about the need for immigrants to learn English. David Blunkett, speaking in 2004, said that immigrants would have to achieve a ‘minimum standard in English’. Jacqui Smith said in 2007 that immigrants must ‘integrate into our country, learn English and use our language’. As recently as 2009, Phil Woolas stated that ‘immigrants must learn English’.

Yet the last Labour government presided over increasingly segregated communities and allowed entry to vast numbers of immigrants with only rudimentary English. Today, almost one million children in Britain do not speak English as their first language at home. There are also around one million households where no one speaks English at all.

The current government inherited a shambolic immigration system which had long been abused. Net migration under the last 10 years of the Labour government was 2 million people, a figure equivalent to the combined population of Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool. Theresa May has gradually reformed the system, closing down 180 bogus colleges in the process.

Ed Miliband has admitted that the last Labour government believed integration would happen ‘automatically’. He conceded that, when in government, Labour failed to take voters’ concerns about the impact of immigration seriously. In fact, for much of Labour’s time in office, political correctness was so entrenched that anyone who mentioned immigration was open to accusations of racism.

In his speech, the Labour leader was expected to make a ‘full apology’ for Labour’s failures on immigration and tackling segregation – but apparently he ‘forgot’.

If Ed Miliband genuinely wants to make amends for Labour’s disastrous immigration record, he should drop his opposition to the government’s immigration cap and its crackdown on bogus students.

But the reality is that Labour’s open-door immigration policy was no mistake. It was a deliberate attempt to create a new constituency of grateful Labour voters. To a large extent, it has worked – roughly 80% of ethnic minority voters supported Labour at the last election.

Even if Ed Miliband is genuine in his plans, he is wrong to think that putting more money into English language courses will solve the twined problems of segregation and integration on its own. Also, if history is anything to go by, this sudden focus on the promotion of English may be little more than a tactical manoeuvre to win over disaffected white working-class voters.

Frankly, it is difficult to see how Labour can ever regain credibility in this area.

Follow Andrew on Twitter @AG_ThorpeApps

As the West declines it reverts to its roots

Henry Hopwood-Phillips 11.04am

"I think the twenty-first century will be decided by how we handle the identity crisis." - Bill Clinton, November 2012

Few people when pressed are able to pin the genesis of Western Civilisation to a date; fewer still can name its father figures; and what it is “Western” in relation to seems to constitute an enigma on the scale of the Holy Grail.

So it must come as no surprise that even fewer people outside quirky historical circles have encountered the critiques of Spengler, Guenon, Evola and A. J. Toynbee that refer to its decline.

Decline is not terribly complicated. The idea of Rome, Jerusalem and the Rhine still loom large in the European imagination. Civilisation is at its heart an article of faith; so when Jerusalem was doubted, out of the equation a substitute had to be found. Faith was installed in Reason.

Nietzsche famously destroyed the hubris of this imposter in the late nineteenth century. Philosophy since can be quite accurately dismissed as a footnote to Nietzsche. Lurching French constitutions have reflected the philosophical listlessness. Ideologies, distorting life through various reductionist lenses and pummelling it into all-embracing systems, features as a despairing response to the Prussian; attempts to create new faiths on thin air.

The attempt at vertical distention in the Age of Ideology was aborted in favour of a rather less impressive horizontal extension. Globalisation, the civilisational equivalent of a belly-flop, coincides with post-modernity in much the same way that the Age of Imperialism coincided with the West’s last crisis of faith: the Reformation.

In the absence of metanarratives into which identities can be anchored, the West now experiences existentialism. This is a big word the French use for feeling depressed in nasty cafes.

These trends have huge political ramifications. States that could once assume loyalty on racial, historical and cultural grounds can no longer afford to do so. The old building blocks of nation, geography and family look to go the same way as fealty in the feudal system or membership to a parish. New networks, environments, images, identities, peoples; some superficial some not, are being connected, generated and subscribed to at a increasingly rapid rate.

The practical political responses have been twofold. The movement towards unity focuses less on constructing civilisational life than on decreasing discomfort, controlling the fallout, and managing material decline. It concentrates on subduing conflict and increasing wealth. Its means are technocratic and it is heavily reliant on the creation of an international bureaucratic class. Its systems are currently underdeveloped but already display tentative totalitarian tendencies. Identity is its weak card. Diversity is publicly applauded but in private internationalists would prefer that irrational identity were relegated to the same private sphere religion was consigned to in the Enlightenment period.

The atomistic movement, in contrast, places heavy emphasis on identity and homogeneity. Decentralisation, democracy, accountability and liberty all flow from the axiom of “us”. It is a return to the building blocks of Europe. The ghosts of feudalism return: Catalans, Basques, Scots, Sicilians, Venetians, Cornish, Walloons and Flemish all want their identity back. These centrifugal trends are exacerbated by poorly controlled immigration - a phenomenon symptomatic of a collapse in unifying faith. Immigrants, having displayed a tendency to vote en bloc for leftist parties in order to topple status quos perceived to be historically prejudicial, now seek to raise their own flags in the Western graveyard.

The end result is that at a time when national identities are becoming terminally fractured, international infrastructure remains rudimentary. At a time when homogeneity is emerging as important, identities are becoming more fluid. Perhaps the solution to the identity crisis Bill Clinton bewails is the berthing of a primary identity in micro-communities in which basic needs such as homogeneity, resources and security are established.

Yet there will be an extension of “self” into other plastic identities in the international arena. The polar extremes of localism and internationalism will be joined in the hyperconnectivity of the next age and Europe will be returned to its constituent parts.

Follow Henry on Twitter @byzantinepower

Tories and Lib Dems should reaffirm their commitment to coalition, not drift increasingly apart

Nik Darlington 1.48pm

Well that was a pretty petty, squabbly piece of PMQs earlier. So instead of talking about it here, this is a heads-up for a speech being given next week by the chairman of the Health Select Committee, Stephen Dorrell.

Mr Dorrell, a former Cabinet minister and a patron of the TRG, will be making a concerted and forthright case for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition.

First we were told that the coalition would fall apart within weeks; then we were told that the Lib Dems would not support strong policies to reduce the deficit; now the sirens are saying the Lib Dems will topple the coalition prior to polling day.

There has certainly been a growing apart. Cabinet ministers of the two parties have certainly taken on a renewed air of partisanship. Today, Nick Clegg makes a speech in the City of London claiming that his party has been reining in the Tories’ anti-business policies on immigration, energy and Europe (there’s undoubtedly truth in the first point, quite a bit in the second, and possibly so on the third). It is only the latest in a series of efforts at ‘differentiation’.

Like the fog sitting over central London of late, there is also something of a fog over the memories of many Tories (including MPs). The Conservative party did not win the 2010 General Election. Gordon Brown’s Labour party most definitely lost it. The Liberal Democrats most definitely did not win it. Yet nor did anyone else.

The Coalition, to give it a grand capital ‘C’, was the best solution to the muddled outcome given the dire straits the country was - and to some extent still is - in.

It still is the best solution. Not only that, it is the only solution. Remarkably too, it has been a historically stable solution. The most significant rebellions of this Parliament so far have been within the Conservative party itself, not the governing parties as a whole.