David Cameron and Angela Merkel at the EU Council building in Brussels on October 25, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron only has himself to blame for the Tories' latest Europe row

After withdrawing from the centre-right European People's Party grouping, Cameron has no right to tell his MEPs not to flirt with the anti-Euro Alternative für Deutschland.

There was an article in Saturday’s Guardian regarding overtures made by Conservative MEPs in Brussels to the German anti-Euro party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a group that anticipates doing well in this year’s European elections. Rumour has it that the Tory MEPs are being egged on by Westminster backbenchers, with the ringleader in Brussels being Daniel Hannan (although in the article he refuses to confirm this). This is relevant to David Cameron because AFD is an explicitly anti-Merkel party, made up of many CDU defectors, and the alleged alliance building is scheming by those Tories who wish to see Cameron’s plan to renegotiate Britain’s place within the EU and then hold a referendum destroyed.

This may confuse some. Why would Eurosceptic Tories want to scupper the In/Out referendum they so desire? Because they want it on their own terms. They fear that Cameron will stitch up  somethingwith Merkel, oversell it back home and then stroll to victory in the resultant referendum when all three major parties back the campaign to remain in the EU. So uniting with Merkel’s enemies in the European parliament seems to be a good first step to preventing this from occurring.

The worst thing for Cameron is that this is yet another hole that he has dug for himself. The Prime Minister put this train of events into motion when he pulled the Conservatives out of the main centre-right grouping in the EU parliament, the European People's Party (EPP), and helped form the Eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) in the summer of 2009. Like most manoeuvres Cameron has made in regards to Europe, this was done to appease the Eurosceptics in his party; to silence them once and for all. And like all the other concessions he has made to this element, it has backfired spectacularly. It has strengthened the hand of those calling for Cameron to be more explicitly Eurosceptic. Given the fact that the Tory leader, in his heart of hearts, wants Britain to remain in the EU, this was a terrible error. Now, the fruit of that disastrous move is ripening. Had Cameron kept the Tories in the EPP he could have appealed directly to Merkel and other members of the group as a member himself; he could have told them to use the UK renegotiation for cover to make centre-right reforms to the single market that the EPP members themselves would have liked. Instead, he’s in a position where his party is flirting with an anti-Merkel populist party in Brussels. And what can he possibly do about it? He was the one who put them in the ECR in the first place, so what right does he have to tell his MEPs not to flirt with potential members of the grouping he established?

People have often asked why Tory MEPs like Dan Hannan, given their hard line Eurosceptic views, don’t simply join UKIP. While long term party loyalty is surely a factor, the tactical reason is that by remaining Tories they ensure the presence of British Eurosceptics in two EU parliament groupings: in the ECR and the even more anti-EU Europe of Freedom and Democracy (EFD) grouping that includes UKIP. They also get to try and ruin Cameron’s plans for a "stitch-up" from the inside.

Which brings us neatly back to the Alternative für Deutschland  bunch and the depressing thought that anti-EU parties will triumph in the upcoming elections. Those of us who care about the European project can only vote with our hearts and hope for the best come 22 May. 

Nick Tyrone works for the Electoral Reform Society but writes in a personal capacity. His articles can be found at www.nicktyrone.com

Nick Tyrone is Chief Executive of Radix, the think tank for the radical centre.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.