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 associate director, external affairs, at Centre Forum.

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What Donald Trump could learn from Ronald Reagan

Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement.

“No one remembers who came in second.” That wisdom, frequently dispensed by the US presidential candidate Donald Trump, came back to haunt him this week. Trump’s loss in the Iowa Republican caucuses to the Texas senator Ted Cruz, barely beating Senator Marco Rubio of Florida for second place, was the first crack in a campaign that has defied all expectations.

It has been a campaign built on Trump’s celebrity. Over the past eight months, his broad name recognition, larger-than-life personality and media savvy have produced a theatrical candidacy that has transfixed even those he repels. The question now is whether that celebrity will be enough – whether a man so obsessed with being “Number One” can bounce back from defeat.

Iowa isn’t everything, after all. It didn’t back the eventual Republican nominee in 2008 or 2012. Nor, for that matter, in 1980, when another “celebrity” candidate was in the mix. That was the year Iowa picked George H W Bush over Ronald Reagan – the former actor whom seasoned journalists dismissed as much for his right-wing views as for his “B-movie” repertoire. But Reagan regrouped, romped to victory in the New Hampshire primary and rode a wave of popular support all the way to the White House.

Trump might hope to replicate that success and has made a point of pushing the Reagan analogy more generally. Yet it is a comparison that exposes Trump’s weaknesses and his strengths.

Both men were once Democrats who came later in life to the Republican Party, projecting toughness, certainty and unabashed patriotism. Trump has even adopted Reagan’s 1980 campaign promise to “make America great again”. Like Reagan, he has shown he can appeal to evangelicals despite question marks over his religious conviction and divorces. In his ability to deflect criticism, too, Trump has shown himself as adept as Reagan – if by defiance rather than by charm – and redefined what it means to be “Teflon” in the age of Twitter.

That defiance, however, points to a huge difference in tone between Reagan’s candidacy and Trump’s. Reagan’s vision was a positive, optimistic one, even as he castigated “big government” and the perceived decline of US power. Reagan’s America was meant to be “a city upon a hill” offering a shining example of liberty to the world – in rhetoric at least. Trump’s vision is of an America closed off from the world. His rhetoric invokes fear as often as it does freedom.

On a personal level, Reagan avoided the vituperative attacks that have been the hallmark of Trump’s campaign, even as he took on the then“establishment” of the Republican Party – a moderate, urban, east coast elite. In his first run for the nomination, in 1976, Reagan even challenged an incumbent Republican president, Gerald Ford, and came close to defeating him. But he mounted the challenge on policy grounds, advocating the so-called “Eleventh Commandment”: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Trump, as the TV debates between the Republican presidential candidates made clear, does not subscribe to the same precept.

More importantly, Reagan in 1976 and 1980 was the leader of a resurgent conservative movement, with deep wells of political experience. He had been president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 1940s, waging a campaign to root out communist infiltrators. He had gone on to work for General Electric in the 1950s as a TV pitchman and after-dinner speaker, honing a business message that resonated beyond the “rubber chicken circuit”.

In 1964 he grabbed headlines with a televised speech on behalf of the Republican presidential candidate, Barry Goldwater – a bright spot in Goldwater’s otherwise ignominious campaign. Two years later he was elected governor of California – serving for eight years as chief executive of the nation’s most populous state. He built a conservative record on welfare reform, law and order, and business regulation that he pushed on to the federal agenda when he ran for president.

All this is to say that Reagan’s candidacy was built on more than his celebrity. By contrast, Trump not only lacks experience as an elected official, he isn’t part of any organised political movement – which enhanced his “outsider” status, perhaps, but not his ground game. So far, he has run on opportunism, tapping in to popular frustration, channelled through a media megaphone.

In Iowa, this wasn’t enough. To win the nomination he will have to do much more to build his organisation. He will be hoping that in the primaries to come, voters do remember who came in second. 

This article first appeared in the 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war