Sometimes constituents ask me whether the Coalition will last until 2015. Or how I think the second half of this parliament will work out. My response is that I believe it will go the distance, and that we will carry on much as we have since May 2010 - with one very big ' question mark. Its been hovering there since the beginning. Europe. It is simply not possible to know how this issue will play out. If I had been leader of the Conservative Party over the last five years, I would have done the same as David Cameron, and done my best to prevent 'Europe' rearing its destructive head. The unknown is how much longer can this continue. I fear not very long at all. This is where the uncertainty lies.
I can hear the thunder of angry disagreement about the UK's relationship with the EU rolling ever closer. The Prime Minister is soon to enter the ring to take on the 'integrationists' while the surrounding seats are being taken up by the 'sceptics' and the 'outers'. No-one slips blows as well as David Cameron, but even Mohammed Ali was caught in the end. What sort of a new relationship between the UK and the EU can he negotiate to be in a position to offer an In/Out referendum - if he were to decide that is the best way forward.
My first experience of public political debate was in 1975, when I argued for the withdrawal of the UK from the then EEC. I thought it would become a undemocratic, expensive bureaucracy. Was on the losing side. In 1990s I was ferociously opposed to the UK entering the Euro - believing it may well collapse in armed conflict in Europe again. I well recall being called an 'extremist' at an NFU public panel meeting. On the winning side that time - though the growth of militarist groups in some European states suggests that the concern about conflicts was not that fanciful. What sort of 'detached status' or 'associate membership' can be negotiated - if at all? We really do not know. I have just read a book about the life of Disraeli, who managed to emerge smelling of roses from the unlikeliest of political middens. I do think if anyone can pull off an acceptable compromise, David Cameron can.
But its going to be an interesting few weeks on the EU front. We MPs will be sitting in the front row seats. I will be there to hear the Prime Minister report back. After that I may be able to answer my constituents about the future of this parliament with a bit more certainty.