The use of Britain’s veto at the European Union (EU) summit last week has triggered a huge row within the ruling class.
The row casts a sharp light on the weakness of the coalition government.
David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both been driven by internal party considerations. Cameron had to placate the hard right of the Tories that opposes the EU on petty nationalist grounds.
Clegg initially backed Cameron’s handling of the summit. But senior Liberal Democrats were furious at the use of the veto. That forced Clegg into attacking Cameron over the weekend.
At the root of all this lies the Tories’ failure to win the 2010 general election outright. Cameron’s position relies on both the pro-EU Lib Dems and his anti-EU Tory backbenchers.
In October some 81 Tory MPs broke ranks with the government to push for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.
Cameron wants to keep these rebels on side.
That’s why he invited a group of Tory MPs to his country house Chequers on Friday evening after the summit. They cheered him as “the heir to Margaret Thatcher”.
Others in the “Eurosceptic” camp include City bosses who fund the Tory party.
But other sections of the ruling class are as virulently pro-European as some Tories are against. These include manufacturing bosses—half of Britain’s exports are to the EU.
That’s why New Labour figures such as Peter Mandelson and Lib Dem grandee Paddy Ashdown rebuked the Tories for putting party considerations above the “national interest”. By “national interest” they mean, of course, the interests of their favoured sections of capital.
The Lib Dems are not in a position to leave the coalition.
But the war of words ratchets up the pressure on the government in the wake of the 30 November strike.
And Cameron has bought popularity in his party at a high price.
None of this suggests anyone in the government has a coherent solution to the economic crisis.
And the cracks are bound to widen as the crisis gets worse.