Mark, you are right that Britain’s Tories ought to be concerned about the relative weakness they showed in the recent vote. As you imply, a party that is meant to be on its way to a solid election victory in under a year ought to have done better than the Conservatives actually did (particularly as, thanks to the the distribution of votes in British parliamentary constituencies, the Tories don’t just have to win to secure a workable majority in a general election, they have to win well).
Nevertheless, there is an explanation for this that can give some comfort to the Conservatives. It stems from the fact that one of the two votes last Thursday was, of course, for the EU parliament, something that presented usually Conservative voters with an entertaining opportunity to show what they thought of Brussels (by voting UKIP) without running the risk that they would be helping the Labour party hang onto power. Come the general election, a good number of those voters will return to the Tory fold — so long as the Conservative Party can demonstrate sufficient euroskeptic credentials.
Quite what that word “sufficient” might mean is a complex topic that deserves a post of its own, but for now I note that this story is just the sort of publicity that Cameron needs:
The European Parliament’s centre-right grouping has declared war on David Cameron and said a new Conservative government must not be allowed to derail the Lisbon Treaty. The Tory leader has angered the European People’s Party (EPP) after pulling out of the grouping to form a new Eurosceptic bloc called the European Conservatives and Reformists. Mr Cameron’s pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon European Union Treaty, if it remains unratified by the Irish by the time of a British general election, has also alarmed the Brussels establishment as Labour goes into political meltdown.Joseph Daul, the chairman of EEP, the MEP for Strasbourg and a close ally of Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, has said the European Parliament’s number one priority must be defeating Conservative opposition to the Lisbon Treaty.”Even though the Conservatives have left, we will work to make sure the Lisbon Treaty comes into force at the end of the year. We regret all demagoguery and populism. We will do this even if David Cameron threatens a referendum,” he said. Wilfred Martens, the EPP president and former Belgian prime minister, implied that other EU governments are pressuring Gordon Brown to hold off an early election, before a second Irish referendum on the Lisbon Treaty in October.
That’s just another reminder of what the EPP hierarchy thinks of democracy. Shocking, really. Then again not.