Jim Sillars: Clowns? You’re having a laugh

The German opposition leader says that two clowns won the Italian election. In Eastleigh, “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” – David Cameron’s description of UKIP – were the real winners. Who are the real clowns, and why are the fruitcakes surging up the polls in England? Step forward the Brussels elite on one hand, and Cameron on the other.

Brussels bigwigs are boasting that the eurozone crisis is no more. They are in denial about the basic structural flaw with that economic entity, and unmindful of the social disaster to which their blunders have condemned millions of Italian, Spanish, Greeks and Portuguese. Those economies are getting worse, not better. Unemployment rates, especially among the young, are outrageous. Poverty is rising like a rocket.

Only clowns would believe that if you drive millions out of work, slash wages and every benefit to the bone, and cause an economy to collapse, you create the basis of recovery. That is what the EU elite believes and is practising in the southern countries, all because they will not, even now, admit that they made a blunder when they set up the eurozone.

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The idea that you could create a single currency, with a single interest rate policy, covering countries as diverse and different as Germany, the Netherlands, Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal was lunacy. While they continue to get their big salaries, big pensions and big expanse of account cash, they are totally insensitive to the pain and misery they are 

The question now is whether the Italians will continue to contest the issue of austerity with the European Commission in Brussels and the Germans who effectively control its 
eurozone policy? The problem for the Italians is that most of them want to remain in the euro, while rolling back from the cuts.

But if they remain in the euro, Germany rules. If the Italian economy gets worse, and its borrowing costs rise again, it can only get help from the European Central Bank if it formally asks for it. But if it formally asks, then it is the German parliament which will vote on it because it is the final paymaster.

The only sensible way out for the Italians – as with the Greeks, Spanish and Portuguese – is to leave the euro, go back to their old currencies, devalue them and default on their debts. But as long as they want to stay in the euro, that escape is not available. So, there are clowns in Italy, too – 
millions of them.

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But what of Cameron, the man who declared himself the “heir to Blair”? He intended to do to the 
Conservatives what Blair did to Labour, to be seen as a man in conflict with his party.

Blair, by making Labour repudiate Clause Four of its constitution, deliberately being seen to slap his lefties across the chops, ensuring that in doing so he was seen to be sucking the socialist life out of the party, set himself out as a leader at odds with his activists. He, with his New Labour, was the moderniser, they were yesterday’s men to be despised and disposed of.

Cameron set out, as he put it, to detoxify the Tories, turn them from the nasty party into a modern, moderate set of metropolitan luvvies. To do so, to underscore the change from the past, he deliberately set about kicking his local parties and their members where it hurt, by repudiating the values that they regarded as the glue holding society together. Their pain, and their departure from membership in droves, over the same-sex marriage policy is the latest episode in Cameron versus his own party.

Cameron is not the first Tory prime minister to dislike his own party members. Churchill didn’t like them because they didn’t like or want him at first. When he entered the House of Commons on his first day as prime minister, Tory MPs were silent. It was his coalition partners on the 
Labour benches who cheered him.

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Harold Macmillan didn’t like the Tory grassroots, either. He was liberal in his outlook, while they were hangers and floggers.

Ted Heath wasn’t greatly fond of them for the same reasons. But whatever their views were in private, none of them made the mistake of ignoring the local association membership, or alienating them by forcing policies down their throats they found abhorrent.

All of these party leaders knew that they needed members, to raise cash, get councillors elected as a means of getting strength in communities, and above all mobilise at ground level to canvass and work at elections.

Margaret Thatcher, who did like them, gave them what they wanted, made them a vast army of helpers at elections.

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Cameron’s strategy to pick fights with his own supporters has seen party membership halve during his leadership. He forgot this like-dislike business is a two-way street.

They don’t like him and, as he found out to his cost at Eastleigh, the members and Tory voters just walked away – and with UKIP holding to old Tory values, they didn’t have far to walk.