Thursday, 4 June 2015

What's Daniel Hannan Up To?

Daniel Hannan is a curious individual, of whom in some ways I am a huge admirer. Extremely eloquent, peppering both his writing and his speeches with the sort of classical and literary references which make me feel embarrassingly under-read, he is also fluent in French and Spanish and an author of several interesting books. In 2009 he became a YouTube sensation with his cutting "Devalued Prime Minister" speech in the European Parliament. He has been a staunch and so far as I can tell very genuine opponent of European integration for his entire adult life and is one of the few relatively prominent Tories to openly call for withdrawal from the European Union. What continues to puzzle me is how and why Hannan remains a Tory.

He was elected to the European Parliament in 1999 on the Conservative party list. At this time it was understandable why he would want to stand as a Tory. UKIP were non-existent, and the 3 seats they did win that year (their first) were a surprise, perhaps even to UKIP themselves, in Britain's first experiment with proportional representation on a national scale. The Tories meanwhile, led by William Hague and still reeling from their electoral meltdown in 1997, seemed to be heading very much in the right direction with strident opposition to further European integration and an uncompromising opposition to joining the Euro, which as many people now conveniently forget, was very much on the agenda at that time.

So far, so normal then. A Thatcherite conservative in the Conservative party. But in 2015 things have changed considerably. The Conservative party revived as a force in Westminster, all be it more by the floundering of it's opponents than any genuine renaissance. However it has also moved further away from nearly every position which Hannan has been vocal about. Cameron is the self described heir to Blair, unashamedly pro-EU and an unquestioning believer in man made climate change, the all consuming cult of the NHS. Cameron is visibly embarrassed by many in his party who share Hannan's views. Yet Hannan remains firmly loyal to the party.

The most obvious home for Hannan would be UKIP, with whom he appears to have far more in common. Indeed he has made sympathetic noises about the party, and when Farage and he claimed their seats at the 2014 European elections the two greeted each other as old friends. However he has comprehensively ruled this out in the past, claiming to still believe the Tories are the best lever with which to pry Britain from the European Union.

This view has been somewhat vindicated by securing the referendum on EU membership, however the form of that referendum and the fairness of it's conduct remains to be seen. Like many others I have serious doubts, and the farce of Cameron's negotiations is hardly encouraging. On the one hand it is encouraging to have people like Daniel in the Conservative Party who can go at least some way towards ensuring fair play. On the other hand, from outside the party, I doubt his ability to do this to any useful extent. Secondly it's hard not to feel that the presence of Hannan in the Conservative Party actually lends a degree of credibility to that party's supposed scepticism about the EU project which keeps alive amongst certain voters a completely unrealistic hope that the Tories will eventually take Britain out of the EU project.

It's worth noting here that Hannan is in a completely different situation from other prominent Tories who oppose our membership of the EU. John Redwood and David Davis spring to mind, but both are in safe Conservative Westminster seats, in the latter stages of their career, and both have carved out a useful niche for themselves within the party. Hannan is 43, a strong parliamentarian and a popular figure. Oxford educated and more than capable of holding his own in tough interviews, if he was after high office in the Tory party it's hard to imagine that he couldn't attain that now. If he holds out the hope of reforming the Conservatives from within then he must surely at some point in the not too distant future make the move across to Westminster politics.

My own theory is that Hannan is waiting his moment to bring the two parties together on the model of the Canadian 'Unite the Right' movement which he has talked about previously. However with the Conservative election victory last month it might well be that the moment for this has passed. And barring a miraculous turn around from the Labour Party then we seem assured of at least 10 years of the blue party.