David Cameron models himself on Tony Blair. He doesn't do imitation very well. Any honest reading of the history of New Labour reveals that one of the strengths of the former Prime Minister was his ability to shift his party by challenging its received wisdom. It is difficult to see a single issue where David Cameron has done this. And today he's launched a very familiar campaign which mines the Tories' obsession with Europe once again. It seems to be a very deep mine indeed.
He's called for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Had John Major held a referendum on the Masstricht Treaty or had Margaret Thatcher done so on the Single European Act- both far more substantial shifts in our relationship with Europe- then Mr Cameron's pleas may be worth listening to. They didn't and so we can safely walk on by.
It's an old Tory trick to try to turn discussion about the European Union into a neurotic discussion about institutional rules. But it's the issues that count. If you care about prosperity, the environment, security, and other issues of a trans-national nature then how exactly can we get by without strong cooperation with our European partners? In other words, the EU matters because we can't fight crime, support business and jobs, and address major environmental challenges without it.
We will see if the Czech Republic, Poland and Ireland ratify the Lisbon Treaty this year. We will also know within just over a year if David Cameron is in office. The simple question for him, is if he wins the next election will he seek to re-negotiate the Lisbon Treaty thereby plunging the UK onto the margins and creating an ongoing institutional crisis in the EU rather than getting on with dealing with the serious issues we face? If he fails to answer then this campaign is just political posturing. If he says that he would seek to re-negotiate the Treaty then he is willing to sacrifice Britain's self interest for his party's obsession with the EU.
And don't rule that out. Remember, he is taking his party out of the European People's Party much to the chagrin of Angela Merkel. Just as the lunatic fringe beckons for the Tories in the European Parliament, it would beckon for the nation as a whole if Mr Cameron failed to reverse his knee-jerk anti-europeanism. He claims that he is a 'progressive' yet he is more than happy to link up with the rabidly homophobic Polish Law and Justice Party in the Parliament. It seems there are two ways of interpreting this: he is weak and captive to his party's prejudices or he is not what he says he is. Neither bodes well for Britain should he become Prime Minister.
Even if he followed through on his barmy anti-europeanism, it wouldn't loosen Brussels' influence on our politics. It would simply mean that we have less influence over the decisions that affect us. We would be left sitting by the fax machine waiting for new Brussels Directives to arrive, without any influence on their content. Even worse, without influence in Europe, we lose our world influence. Does Mr Cameron seriously believe that President Obama will have any real strategic interest in a strong relationship with a UK that has no influence in the EU? Of course not.
So what's it to be Mr Cameron? Will you continue this self-indulgent pandering to your party's prejudices or will you lead your party to a position that is actually in this nation's interests? From the evidence of the campaign he has just launched, it is to be supine posturing. Ready to lead?