Uncomfortable questions must be faced

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The Independent Online
I felt pain on hearing the figures at 5.20 yesterday. I saw the hopes of defeating Mr Blair diminish. The past fortnight has been fun but it has changed little. I suppose we ventilated some of our worries but the parliamentary Tory party is not much good at thinking. Its strengths are emotional. The forces of complacency were nourished. The Tory party can go back to its sleepwalking, untroubled by the swamp ahead of it.

The moment that I will remember most from the campaign is the meandering nonsenses from Brain Mawhinney when he was invited, as a Major spokesman, to name any independent nation that did not have its own currency. He mumbled and stumbled. He hummed and he hawed. He gave no answer. He cannot. Its currency is one of the defining characteristics of a nation.

The ballot was meant to have cleared the air, lanced boils and performed other services to the British cliche industry. It will do so only until October, when the political season opens up again. The air will be fetid and stale. The pus will be back in the boil.

The UK will be sucked in further to the power of the Belgian Empire. The Tories will lose more by-elections and more local elections. By autumn we will wonder why we fell for John Major's clever feint.

The boobies of the 1922 Committee have agreed to absolve the Prime Minister from any future challenges. So either he goes of his own volition or the electorate retires him. It is a glorious practical joke that Humphrey Berkeley pulled on the Conservative Party when he devised the post-Douglas Home machinery that we have an annual challenge in the diary. My hunch is that the 1922 Committee's undertaking to allow no further election will mature into resentment before this parliament is ended. The Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election will give us the electorate's view of yesterday's charade.

I wonder how many of those loyalists who thought they served their own interests will now be beheaded by the whips? I keep being surprised by how self-serving and venal MPs can be. Most computed their own short-term career interests. Only a few dozen worried about the European horizon.

Tories of all people should operate on men as we find them, not as they should be. Those of us who think the UK's renunciation of its independence is a huge error will need to engage the self-interest of MPs and give up our fruitless invocation of law or logic or economics. The European Union is a customs union that is mutating into a federal bureaucracy. It masquerades as favouring liberalisation of trade but hampers it whenever it can. There is no democratic lever on the Commission. It is a perfect authoritarian tool.

Last night the mood in the corridors and bars was uniformly jolly. The Tory MPs think they have solved a problem. The Labour MPs think they have won the election. The truth is Mr Major has merely completed a smart defensive manoeuvre and changed nothing.

I do not see how the apres-Maastricht processes can take us anywhere other than future Euro-tensions and conflicts. The policy dilemmas have not been resolved. I cannot quite imagine what will become of John Redwood. I imagine his graceful acceptance of defeat will allow his reincorporation quickly. In the meantime, he can enjoy his enhanced status and do some adverts for Jaguar cars and cricket jumpers.

I suggested he send every wobbly MP an Ecu coin in the morning post yesterday. It would have jolted a few of them into realising monetary union is not a mere abstraction, and as it dawned in the House, they would all have their souvenir to remind them the Prime Minister had evaded, while Mr Redwood had told, a truth.

My hunch is that the party will have to split over the European Union or perhaps force the EU to admit the non-members, to dilute and impede its operations. It is churlish not to congratulate Mr Major on his success, but can we now resume the argument? As for myself, I promise to do my very best as Governor of the Falkland Islands.

The writer is MP for Billericay.