Wednesday saw the biggest Tory rebellion of the coalition as backbench MP’s successfully passed an amendment calling for a cut in EU spending. The Government had expected to be increasing spending, but only in line with inflation, bringing the total increase to approximately £4.4bn by 2020. Though Tory rebels joined forces with Labour to defeat the Government by 307 votes to 294, hoping to twist the Prime Ministers arm at the summit in Brussels later this month. It seems as though the Eurosceptics have won this round, but has the actions of a rebellious party done more harm than good?
The intentions of the Tory rebels are clear, and they aren’t without good reasons and rationale. In a time where cuts are affecting public services across the country, it’s clear to see a case for not increasing the EU’s budget, and for one very good reason. The bill isn’t cheap. The Treasury estimates we contributed £8.9bn for the 2010-11 financial year. Also, as one of the 13 member states that make a net contribution, the UK spends more than it receives when it comes to the EU budget. Taking ‘not being able to afford it’ out of the equation, increasing spending when it comes to the EU just isn’t fair. Nevertheless, the political implications may have just been overlooked. After what’s already been a bumpy few weeks for Downing Street, the rebellion hasn’t come at a good time. Labour’s support screams shameless opportunism, and speaks more for their interest in shaking the Government, rather than their interests for the country.
When it comes to Labour’s track record on EU spending, it seems strange the Tory rebels had their support in the beginning. From 1997 to 2010, Labour increased its spending above the rate of inflation, making the UK’s net contribution rise by almost 50%. It’s a reasoned conclusion to say that Labour has made a calculated move on this occasion, one designed solely to embarrass the Government. Foreign Secretary William Hague criticised Labour for voting in favour of a spending reduction, knowing they made increases while they were in power, describing it as ‘cheap politics’. The damage to the party is already being compared to the Major Government during its split over the Maastricht Treaty. Ed Miliband has continued the theme of Labour opportunism and already taken the chance to attribute the Tory rebellion to a ‘weak’ David Cameron. It can be quite apparent that the political fallout will largely overshadow any weight the passing of the amendment has.
The Chancellor has said yesterday that the Government will listen to Parliament, but will essentially do what it was planning on doing in the first place; get the best possible deal for Britain it can. And, since 17 Member states are net beneficiaries, getting a cut in EU spending may not be as realistic as the Tory rebels think. In fact, a spending freeze in real terms may be the best UK can hope for. If the outspoken discontent of the Tory rebels is the only product of the ‘fright night’ budget vote, it will be one vote they may choose to forget when it comes to the election in 2015.
Nobody votes for split parties, unity is paramount. This rebellion has put that in jeopardy, and given fuel to a fire that Labour will encourage to keep on burning. It should have been trust in their own Government, rather than the opposition, that came first. While the efforts of the rebellion may have had the greatest intentions at heart, the spoils of war may be much more tangible than any cause they were fighting for.