There has been a deluge of commentary as of late about David Cameron, who joins Tony Blair as one of the most widely reviled ex-Prime Ministers that Britain has ever had the misfortune to suffer. Alongside the widespread ridicule, there has been much criticism of the state he left Britain in after he stepped down. What there has been far less coverage of, though, is the deep rot that his boundless arrogance and ambition left in the European Union.
In 2009, in order to shore up his eurosceptic credentials and defend himself from a leadership challenge by the right wing of his party, Cameron set up a group called the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (ACRE). There are ten groups like this, which are called European political parties. They exist to foster relationships between like-minded MEPs and political parties across Europe, facilitating cooperation on transnational issues.
The issue with Cameron’s decision is that he, like always, failed to fully consider the potential long-term implications of his actions. Unsurprisingly, this seems to be a result of blindness created by his unrelenting desire for power. A group designed to facilitate the cooperation of Conservatives already existed called the European People’s Party (EPP). In leaving the EPP, Cameron distanced the British Conservative Party from most centre right parties across Europe, including Angela Merkel’s CDU in Germany.
In doing so, the Tories embraced and empowered an entirely different brand of party across Europe. The most well known of these of these is probably Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD). Some of the more notorious founding members include Law and Justice, the right-wing nationalist party currently governing Poland and Erdogan’s increasingly autocratic regime in Turkey. In order to fend off potential leadership challenges, Cameron abandoned any semblance of principle and invigorated the far right across Europe.
If we look to ACRE today, things only seem to be getting worse. Now the third largest party in the European Parliament, it will soon be able to act as a bulwark against the liberal ideals that the EU claims to fight for. The party is currently bringing together the smaller, more fragmented right-wing groups that exist in the European Parliament. The level of decency required to join seems to have reached an all-time low, exemplified by the recent decision to admit the explicitly islamophobic party Vox, a fringe party in Spanish politics known for chanting ‘Make Spain Great Again’.
Which brings us neatly to the regional partners boasted by this party. Perhaps unsurprisingly, ACRE’s two most significant regional partnerships are with the Republican Party in the United States and the governing Likud party in Israel. Effectively, Cameron set in motion the development of a global right-wing alliance in order to placate an extremist tendency within the British parliamentary Conservative Party.
Without a doubt, this isn’t what Cameron intended. If anything, though, that makes the process more sinister. If these are the events that the British ruling class can set in motion accidentally, what kind of havoc could they wreak if they set their mind to it? Crucially, this question is not merely academic. The extremist fringes in Cameron’s party were motivated in part by a desire to fend off Ukip. Now that UKIP has imploded, that political space is being occupied by the far more pernicious groups associated with Tommy Robinson.
Cameron’s failings have taught us many lessons, but none more important than that we must be constantly vigilant of the rightward drift of the British Conservative Party. Farage pushed him to create ACRE – what can we expect in response to Robinson?