The Sketch: The problem with these nutters is that they're not that nuts


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The Independent Online

"I t could be the Corn Laws for the Tory party," one of the more sceptical sceptics said yesterday. He was referring to the great principle of free trade vs protectionism that tore the party apart – and for all the best reasons – in the 19th century.

The personal, the political and the principles are operating equally on this issue of Europe, and even more over there than in Westminster. If the Tory back bench feels unloved, unstroked and unmassaged imagine how Mrs Merkel feels. She's financing the trillion-dollar debts of people who call her fat, frumpy and an "un****able ****-****".

One of the Desert Fathers was happy yesterday to give his concise history of disaffection.

Prefacing it with the fact that every officer of the 1922 committee voted against the Government, he said: "The rebels were more in number than the entire Liberal Democrats and yet we are completely without influence, we are marginalised and treated like dirt. We know they [Cameron and Osborne] despise us for being old and clapped out and we hate them." He reconsidered that. "We hate them in a jolly way."

That is a difference from the 1990s, when the sceptics ate locusts and waved bones in the wilderness. The new lot are urbane, even debonair and their instincts are turning out to be increasingly mainstream.

So they feel snubbed by their rich, glamorous leaders; shut out from the Coalition high table by Coalition makeweights; maltreated by the outrage of the Government trampling over back bench business. And the result is a mass breaking of the whip by a large proportion of the party early in their careers.

All are amazed at what Cameron has done. "Ted Heath put the actual European Accession Bill through on a free vote," one marvelled.

"If he really wants to repatriate powers, why are we opting into things we don't have to?" another asked. "Are we?" "All the time. Seventeen since the election."

Maybe Cameron really doesn't have the stomach for it. Sceptic positions taken in opposition are much harder to carry through in government. I remember him making Prince Valiant declarations in Berlin at a Merkel press conference. She just smiled at the idea of him repatriating powers.

Actually it was more of a smirk. "You'll learn," it seemed to say. Maybe he has already.