Iain Dale made an interesting point on his "Seven Days Show" podcast on Tory Radio this week. In a discussion about religion and its place in politics he mentioned that the only thing we have in the UK that is close to a religion relating to politics is Euroscepticism in the Tory party. He said:
If you actually came out at a selection meeting and said that you believed in a federal (European) union you just wouldn't get selected.
I suspect he is right. In fact I suspect that a prospective Tory candidate wouldn't even have to go that far in order to scupper their chances of selection. I would have thought that even a moderately Europhile position would be enough to do the job in most cases.
I wonder though if this will ultimately be damaging to the Tory party. It is true to say that the vast majority of its parliamentary ranks in the Commons are steadfastly Eurosceptic. There are a few exceptions but they tend to be people who have been MPs for a long, long time, probably most famously Ken Clarke. However there must surely be aspiring politicians out there who instinctively feel like Tories but who harbour warm feelings towards Europe and the EU. Perhaps even (horror of horrors!) the European currency. These people will either have to keep very quiet about their true feelings on this issue or choose another party if they wish to progress their career.
Now some, perhaps many Tories may think this is a good thing. But I wonder if one of the most Eurosceptic Tories would agree with them.
Daniel Hannan today writes on his Telegraph blog that as well as ethnic and other forms of diversity within political parties there should also be ideological diversity within them. I agree with Daniel here. It is the sign of a confident and mature political party that it can tolerate differences of opinion within its ranks.
It would appear however that the subject of Europe is one that has polarised opinion within one of our largest political parties. It seems to be a legacy of Margaret Thatcher's latter years as PM and the bitter splits that came to the fore in the party in the 1990s. I cannot see the former diversity of opinion on this in the Conservative Party returning any time soon and I think that will ultimately be to the party's detriment.