Cameron copies neither Blair nor Thatcher, but Major and Wilson
Nigel Lawson’s advice to David Cameron came too late. In an interview with Steve Richards, my esteemed colleague, on BBC Radio 4 The Week In Westminster, Lord Lawson advised the Prime Minister to model himself on Margaret Thatcher rather than Tony Blair. He said: “I do think he has a lot to learn from her.”
Unfortunately, Cameron, in his hugely significant interview with The Daily Telegraph on Thursday this week, had already chosen to model himself on John Major and Harold Wilson. This is the important passage:
He wants to negotiate a “new settlement” with the EU with powers returned to Britain. But Mr Cameron will not countenance leaving the EU and says he would never campaign for an “out” vote in a referendum.
“I think it would be bad for Britain,” he says. “When I look at what is in our national interest, we are not some country that looks in on ourself or retreats from the world. Britain’s interest – trading a vast share of our GDP – is to be in those markets. Not just buying, selling, investing, receiving investment but also helping to write the rules. If we were outside, we wouldn’t be able to do that.”
He adds: “It comes back to this, who are going to be the winning nations for the 21st century? If your vision of Britain was that we should just withdraw and become a sort of greater Switzerland, I think that would be a complete denial of our national interests.”
The crucial part – that he would never campaign for an “out” vote in a referendum – is in indirect speech. I understand that he was asked by Robert Winnett, the Telegraph political editor, if he would ever campaign for an “out” vote, and replied with a definite, “No.”
It was the wrong answer. It passed like a silent shock wave through the Conservative back benches. There are not many overt Better Off Outers among Tory MPs, as I have noted before, but there are many “renegotiators”. How many of them are covert Better Off Outers, who know that openly advocating withdrawal from the EU is incompatible with ministerial office, I do not know. But most of them, even if they want Britain’s future to be in the EU, want the toughest possible negotiating position, and they realise that announcing in advance that you will not walk away from a deal is weak.
So Cameron has succeeded in further dividing his party – on the same issue on which it was divided under Major, only at a different point on the spectrum. We used to think that the Tory party had been united in Euroscepticism with the departure of all the big pro-Europeans from the shadow cabinet before 2010, and despite the return of Kenneth Clarke. But now it has divided again, not on whether the UK should keep the option of adopting the euro, but on how it should respond to its crisis.
And Cameron ends up in the same position as Wilson, of advocating a token renegotiation of the UK’s terms of membership and hinting at a referendum, as in 1975, to endorse the status quo.
Photograph: Rex FeaturesTagged in: david cameron, euro, euroscepticism
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter