I have been speaking in other constituencies in recent weeks, meeting Conservative members and voters. The overwhelming wish they have is to hold a referendum on the EU.
I explain to them the ideas behind the government’s welfare reform proposals. I set out the government’s plans to cut the administrative overhead of government, and to tackle bureaucracy. I talk to them about the education and health reforms. I explain the latest proposals to try to get the banks lending to foster a private sector led recovery, which we need. The questions will all be about Europe.
If I spend more time talking about the EU, the questions will still be about Europe.Many Conservative members understand just how much the EU dictates to us, and how the EU is now a major part of the problem we face.
Conservatives want the EU budget cut – not just the growth rate reduced, but big cuts in total spending. Many would simply like to be out altogether so we pay nothing. They want an assurance that UK taxpayers will not have to pay a penny to bail out the Euro, as we wisely stayed out following a big battle mainly waged by Conservatives in the 1990s to keep us out. They want the government to spend less, and they think cutting the amount we spend on the EU is the best place to start.
Conservatives want much less expensive regulation of our businesses. They understand that some steps have been taken on domestic regulation by the current government, but see also that the avalanche of new EU regulation overwhelms UK attempts to cut the overall burden.
Conservatives want less interference in the way we handle our refuse, undertake our diplomacy, fish in our seas, run our criminal justice and work out our environmental policy. The EU way for these things is rarely popular.
Conservatives recognise that we were right about the Euro. They see that if the Euro area presses on with a political union to try to buttress their errant currency, the UK cannot possibly be part of it. They recognise the reality. This means we need a new relationship with the EU. They want their leaders to say so.
Conservatives say that if we can have a referendum on the Alternative Vote, referenda on elected mayors, maybe a referendum on Lords reform, and if Scotland can have a vote on staying in the UK, why can’t the rest of us have the one referendum we want, a referendum on our relationship with the EU? Members in England want a better deal for England. They want the Conservative majority in England in the Commons to be allowed to make the calls for England in our increasingly devolved UK.
I am delighted the Prime Minister wishes to define Conservative views and policies for the next election. He should understand that in the party there is just one overwhelming preoccupation amongst members, like it or not. They know the EU is going wrong for us, and they want a new sense of direction, a way out of the troubles the Euro and the EU are bringing us.