A Triumph for David Cameron

John Rentoul
david cameron getty 300x225 A Triumph for David Cameron

(Getty Images)

That’s the blog post I would like to write – not because I am a cheerleader for the Prime Minister but because it would be a challenge. But, despite Dan Hodges’ best effort to explain why Ed Miliband has blown his chance (Times, pay wall), it doesn’t seem possible to explain how this week’s EU referendum positioning has been good for Cameron.

Benedict Brogan wrote the other day that, although the Conservative Party had gone crazy over Europe, it was all the Prime Minister’s fault. Which is an interesting analysis, but the only example of what Cameron should have done differently was that he shouldn’t have hinted, just before the local elections, that he wanted a Tory Bill for an EU referendum in 2017 brought forward soon.

I am not convinced. The Tory party seems beyond reason. When Douglas Carswell appears to be the sensible wing of the Eurosceptic movement, you know something has gone wrong. (Carswell briefly suggested yesterday that Tory MPs should not vote for today’s Bill, but found himself in a minority among the Eurosceptics.)

That said, Cameron has conspicuously failed to turn his challenge into an opportunity. But you have to wonder if the greatest political leaders in recent history (Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair) would have been able to do a much better job. The party is so deeply divided between the inners and the outers that the compromise position – negotiate better terms and then decide – cannot hold, and the party has become close to unleadable.

Update: Mind you, if the Ipsos MORI poll putting Labour’s lead at three points is not an outlier, perhaps letting the Tory party bang on about Europe was Cameron’s judo plan all along.

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  • Whigphilosophie der Geschichte

    Perhaps surprisingly, not all members of the public are entirely ignorant of how the electoral system works. In this case what matters is whether defections from Conservative to UKIP reduce the Conservative vote below the magic FPTP hurdle. I would accept that this is an exaggerated exectation for various reasons (mid-term protest voting, local elections not representative of future general elections, issue exploited to legitimise existing Tory euroscepticism temporarily papered-over by Cameron before the 2010 election, etc, etc) but it does not amount to UKIP having to win seats to effectively deny them to the Tories.

    As it happens, and should my opinion on the matter concern you, I don’t believe that FPTP is undemocratic.

  • Whigphilosophie der Geschichte

    I recall Blair and even Kinnock getting more mileage out of the issue. Which wasn’t difficult, given that Tory dissent to the point of self-destructive insurgency against the leadership on this issue is entirely self-referential. What does matter, I believe, is Labour offering a credible alternative to just keeping their heads down and hoping nobody puts them on the spot while the rioting inmates take over Cameron’s asylum. There is a tactical calculus to this, but it reeks of caution, indescision and opportunism – all of which come at the expense of providing a clear lead in public.

  • Pacificweather

    I agree that it is the UKiP defections that are important for all three parties and it is ironic that many of those who voted for UKiP this month will be the same people who have denied them a chance of winning a seat in Parliament. In the election for her second term, Mrs Thatcher lost nearly two percent of the vote but gained 58 seats so geography is more important than votes. With the right strategy UKiP could surprise us but for the reasons you state I doubt they can become a game changing party. FPTP is certainly a post code democracy.

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