The strange death of the Tory European

The division was once between Europhiles and Eurosceptics; now it is between Eurosceptics and Europh

From the Conservative conference

"To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle," wrote George Orwell. And so it has been with the Conservatives and Europe. By reporting the story as another predictable Tory split on Europe, most of the media have missed the extraordinary historical shift that has taken place under David Cameron. Past Conservative divisions over the European Union pitched Europhiles against Eurosceptics; this one has pitched Eurosceptics against Europhobes.

The Conservatives' pro-European wing, which once produced figures of the stature of Michael Heseltine and Ian Gilmour, has been well and truly vanquished. Ken Clarke remains a lone Europhile figure in the shadow cabinet, but he has been increasingly sidelined by the leadership.

Let us recall how extraordinary this state of affairs is. It was a Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillan, who first applied for membership of the European Economic Community and another Conservative prime minister, Ted Heath, who eventually took Britain into the EEC.

Margaret Thatcher may now be lionised by Daniel Hannan et al, but she signed the Single European Act, and in her ferocious Bruges speech she still declared: "Our destiny is in Europe." Even the beleaguered John Major prevailed over the "bastards" in his cabinet and passed the Maastricht Treaty into law.

Here in Manchester, the most popular stall in the central complex is that of the Tories' sinister Eurosceptic alliance, the European Conservatives and Reformists. The disgraceful Michal Kaminski, head of this ragbag coalition, has been free to strut around the city without a hint of dissent from the party's "liberal" wing. The debate over whether Cameron should hold an absurd retrospective referendum on the Lisbon Treaty obscures a simple fact: that never again will the Tory party provide a home for Europeans. The choice now open is between varieties of prejudice.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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