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' alliance with Merkel's enemy

The PM's decision to withdraw the Tories from the mainstream European People's Party made it inevitable that his party would form eurosceptic partnerships. 

David Cameron fought hard to stop the eurosceptic Germany party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) from being admitted to the Tory-led European Conservatives and Reformists group. The PM's hopes of a successful EU renegotiation depend on Angela Merkel and the German Chancellor was understandably appalled by the possibility of the Tories teaming up with a right-wing rival to the Christian Democrats (the closest thing Germany has to Ukip). 

But in defiance of Cameron's wishes, the group has voted to admit them, with some Conservative MEPs supporting the move. The latest arrival means that the ECR is now the third-largest bloc in the European Parliament, but that will be of no consolation to Cameron. His MEPs have shamlessly defied his authority and further weakened his standing with Merkel (already dented by his "threats" over Jean-Claude Juncker's bid to become EU commission president).

The line from Conservative HQ is that they are "very disappointed" that AfD (which opposes the euro and the US-EU free trade agreement) have been admitted against their wishes and that "the CDU/CSU remains our only sister party in Germany". But while that may be true, Merkel would be within her rights to conclude that she can't do business with a man who can't control his party. 

It's a point that Labour has been quick to make, with shadow Europe minister Gareth Thomas commenting:

This shows just how far David Cameron is being pushed around by his own party when it comes to Europe. We know he can’t control his Eurosceptic backbenchers on Europe, and now it seems he’s lost control of his MEPs too.

Just when the Prime Minister needs to maximise British influence in Europe, his MEPs have instead chosen to isolate themselves to the fringes of Europe and alienate our allies.

What started as a political management problem for David Cameron risks turning into a crisis between Britain and one of our most crucial European allies.

David Cameron can’t control his party over Europe, and now it is Britain’s influence and standing in Europe that is at risk of being undermined as a result. 

But while Cameron will do all he can to distance himself from the results, the truth is that he only has himself to blame (as Nick Tyrone has previously argued on The Staggers). His decision to withdraw the Conservatives from the mainstream European People's Party in 2009 made it inevitable that his MEPs and others would seek partnership with eurosceptic fringe parties (some, such as the xenophobic Danish People's Party, well to the right of the AfD). 

That move was the fulfilment of a pledge made by Cameron during the 2005 Conservative leadership election to appease eurosceptic MPs. But as so often, concessions designed to strengthen his hand have only succeeded in weakening it. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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The strange death of boozy Britain: why are young people drinking less?

Ditching alcohol for work.

Whenever horrific tales of the drunken escapades of the youth are reported, one photo reliably gets wheeled out: "bench girl", a young woman lying passed out on a public bench above bottles of booze in Bristol. The image is in urgent need of updating: it is now a decade old. Britain has spent that time moving away from booze.

Individual alcohol consumption in Britain has declined sharply. In 2013, the average person over 15 consumed 9.4 litres of alcohol, 19 per cent less than 2004. As with drugs, the decline in use among the young is particularly notable: the proportion of young adults who are teetotal increased by 40 per cent between 2005 and 2013. But decreased drinking is not only apparent among the young fogeys: 80 per cent of adults are making some effort to drink less, according to a new study by consumer trends agency Future Foundation. No wonder that half of all nightclubs have closed in the last decade. Pubs are also closing down: there are 13 per cent fewer pubs in the UK than in 2002. 

People are too busy vying to get ahead at work to indulge in drinking. A combination of the recession, globalisation and technology has combined to make the work of work more competitive than ever: bad news for alcohol companies. “The cost-benefit analysis for people of going out and getting hammered starts to go out of favour,” says Will Seymour of Future Foundation.

Vincent Dignan is the founder of Magnific, a company that helps tech start-ups. He identifies ditching regular boozing as a turning point in his career. “I noticed a trend of other entrepreneurs drinking three, four or five times a week at different events, while their companies went nowhere,” he says. “I realised I couldn't be just another British guy getting pissed and being mildly hungover while trying to scale a website to a million visitors a month. I feel I have a very slight edge on everyone else. While they're sleeping in, I'm working.” Dignan now only drinks occasionally; he went three months without having a drop of alcohol earlier in the year.

But the decline in booze consumption isn’t only about people becoming more work-driven. There have never been more alternate ways to be entertained than resorting to the bottle. The rise of digital TV, BBC iPlayer and Netflix means most people means that most people have almost limitless choice about what to watch.

Some social lives have also partly migrated online. In many ways this is an unfortunate development, but one upshot has been to reduce alcohol intake. “You don’t need to drink to hang out online,” says Dr James Nicholls, the author of The Politics of Alcohol who now works for Alcohol Concern. 

The sheer cost of boozing also puts people off. Although minimum pricing on booze has not been introduced, a series of taxes have made alcohol more expensive, while a ban on below-cost selling was introduced last year. Across the 28 countries of the EU, only Ireland has higher alcohol and tobacco prices than the UK today; in 1998 prices in the UK were only the fourth most expensive in the EU.

Immigration has also contributed to weaning Britain off booze. The decrease in alcohol consumption “is linked partly to demographic trends: the fall is largest in areas with greater ethnic diversity,” Nicholls says. A third of adults in London, where 37 per cent of the population is foreign born, do not drink alcohol at all, easily the highest of any region in Britain.

The alcohol industry is nothing if not resilient. “By lobbying for lower duty rates, ramping up their marketing and developing new products the big producers are doing their best to make sure the last ten years turn out to be a blip rather than a long term change in culture,” Nicholls says.

But whatever alcohol companies do to fight back against the declining popularity of booze, deep changes in British culture have made booze less attractive. Forget the horrific tales of drunken escapades from Magaluf to the Bullingdon Club. The real story is of the strange death of boozy Britain. 

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.