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Cameron's anti-Europe decision: was it a good one?

As the UK prime minister appears before the House of Commons, his decision has inflamed tribalism over Europe.

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Britain Prime Minister David Cameron gives a press conference after talks gathering European Union (EU) heads of State or government during an European Union summit at the EU headquarters, early on December 9, 2011 in Brussels. (Eric Feferberg/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — Call it a veto, call it something else: the aftershocks of David Cameron's refusal to participate in the EU's attempt to rescue the floundering euro zone continue to rattle the Europe's political tectonic plates.  It also seems to have severely rattled his coalition government. 

Cameron appeared before Parliament this afternoon to make a statement about last week's EU summit. Usually the Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, would be seated just beside him, but this afternoon he was not in the House of Commons. His absence spoke volumes about the potential rift in the coalition caused by Cameron's decision. 

The Liberal Democrats are the most pro-European party in Britain and Clegg, whose mother is Dutch and whose wife is Spanish, is about the most Europeanized MP in Parliament.  His absence will have tongues wagging about how long the coalition will last.

That that will not bother Cameron's supporters but it will worry pro-Europeans. The fall-out from last week's events has amplified tribalism over Europe to a level that British politics hasn't seen in a decade.

Words by the hundreds of thousands — vituperative, sarcastic, vehement — have poured out of the veins of commentators over the last three days.

There are no shades of gray in the articles still spewing forth. Headlines like "Cameron's Act of Crass Stupidity" jostle up against others like, "EU is Angry Because We Were Right."

More: British PM Cameron to defend EU treaty veto in parliament

On the right, the backing for Cameron is unanimous. Janet Daley, at The Daily Telegraph is a perfect example.

Daley, like many Cameron supporters, is caught in a bind. The plan that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the others have agreed to put in place calls for balanced budgets and strict deficit limits. You would have thought that was something she would praise. After all, the Conservatives are trying to eliminate Britain's structural deficit. They are failing on current figures, but they're still trying. But when something comes from Europe it has to be wrong, at least according to the right wing of the Conservative party.

"Is this what those eastern European countries that have so recently been liberated from Soviet domination dream of: the freedom to submit their tax and spending plans to a claque of unelected commissars in Brussels?"

Bureaucrats, yes, but commissars? Daley was on the radical left when she was an undergraduate at Berkeley. She must know there is a difference between a commissar and an unelected bureaucrat. But no insult is too absurd when the anti-European right is in full cry.

More measured praise for Cameron and criticism of the EU came from historian Niall Ferguson — living proof that not all Harvard professors are liberals.

In an article in The Times and reprinted at The Daily Beast, Ferguson praises Cameron and then attacks Merkozy's grand plan for solving the euro zone crisis via a new agreement on debt and deficit rules.

"This, in sum, is the founding charter of the United States of Europe." But Ferguson doubts the US of E will ever be born because of those bureaucrat/commissar types Daley has identified.

More: Requiem for a euro zone bailout

"The Eurocrats have exchanged a Stability and Growth Pact — which was honored only in the breach — for an Austerity and Contraction Pact they intend to stick to. The United Kingdom has no option but to dissociate itself from this collective suicide pact, even if it strongly increases the probability that we shall end up outside the EU altogether."

Economist and journalist Will Hutton, Principal of Hertford College, Oxford, provided the view from the left in yesterday's Observer. Hutton notes the Conservative Party's long history — two centuries and counting — is "built on its cultural attractiveness to parts of the English middle class ... rather than on its political judgments, which have, over the centuries, been almost continuously wrong, especially in foreign policy."

Hutton, then lists the major Tory mistakes going back to the days when George III was the king.

"It was wrong to resist revolutions in France and the US; wrong to go slow over abolishing the slave trade ... wrong to embrace appeasement in the 1930s; wrong to