There is another aspect of David Cameron’s EU speech worthy of consideration. Peter Oborne yesterday mapped out with characteristic vigour why its long-term consequences could be terrible for the Conservative party. Others argue, in the wake of Mr Cameron’s commitment to offer an in-out referendum, that he has given the party a cause and a position to rally around. But here’s another point made to me by several people yesterday: where does this leave Mr Cameron’s modernisation project?

Think back to his conference speech in 2006 when he was a new leader who wanted sunshine to win the day. Back then he was explicit: Europe was a turn-off for the voters – the Tories should not mention it. “While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life – we were banging on about Europe,” he said. “For years, this country wanted – desperately needed – a sensible centre-right party to sort things out in a sensible way. Well, that’s what we are today. In these past ten months we have moved back to the ground on which this Party’s success has always been built. The centre ground of British politics.”

Where is that sensible centre-right party now? It’s hardly surprising that some Tories are worried: on immigration, on welfare, recently on crime and now on Europe Mr Cameron has been adopting positions that would have jarred back when what he was trying to do was to make the Tories, well, less Tory. He rejects the suggestion some make that his lunge towards gay marriage – which kicks off in Parliament today – is modernising move calculated to allow him to adopt more traditional poses on other issues.

That’s a tad unfair. The global debt meltdown, the euro crisis, and the absence of growth have changed everything about the Europe debate. His political weakness vis-a-vis his increasingly militant backbenchers has also forced his hand. Cameroon modernisation is indeed in doubt. But on Europe he has adopted a position that is, above all else, supremely modern.

Does David Cameron’s Europe speech signal the end of Tory modernisation? – (blog)
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