Václav Klaus has made a habit of saying things others shy away from saying, but it doesn’t seem to have done him much harm in the popularity stakes. Quite the opposite: the 73-year-old ardently Eurosceptic free-marketeer has legitimate claims to be regarded as the most successful ‘true blue’ conservative politician in Europe over the past 25 years. He was, after all, prime minister of the Czech Republic from 1992 to 1998 and then his country’s president for a further ten years, from 2003 to 2013.
So when we meet after a typically hearty Serbian lunch – at the International Science and Public Conference in Belgrade – I am keen to ask if he has any advice for David Cameron and the British Conservative party.
‘I was invited to a conference last year in Windsor which was called the Conservative Renewal Conference,’ he says. ‘I made a speech in which I asked the question: “Do you really need a renewal – or don’t you think it would be sufficient to have a return?” My speech stressed the need to return to standard conservative ideas and approaches. I am afraid the current leadership of the Conservative party are not exactly doing that.’
Klaus’s message clearly resonates more with activists than with the serial ‘modernisers’ at the top of the party. ‘After I had finished my speech, two or three older ladies came up to me and said, “It was like Maggie’s speech!” So I find the Conservative party now rather confused in its ideas. The party is playing with the green ideas in a way I can’t accept.’