David Cameron’s speech on the EU has put Ed Miliband between a rock and a hard place. True it was driven not by policy but by politics. Six months ago, the Prime Minister had no intention of promising an in/out referendum on the EU but his recalcitrant backbenchers and an insurgent UKIP forced him into a dramatic reverse ferret. His address, then, was less about outlining a sophisticated vision for the future of the EU (one that Cameron’s fantasy of an à la carte Europe, in which Britain picks and chooses which rules it obeys, does not represent) but simply about getting him through the 2015 general election.
On that limited basis, the speech may prove to be a success. The early reaction from eurosceptic MPs, such as Douglas Carswell, suggests that it will help to unify a Conservative Party that has been badly divided over the EU since the election.
The biggest long-term problem for Cameron remains that having promised a “fundamental change” in Britain’s relationship with the EU, he will struggle to persuade the eurosceptics in his party that it is in our interests to remain a member if he fails to deliver. The result would be the worst Tory split for decades as some cabinet ministers, such as Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson, argued for an ‘out’ vote, while others argued for an ‘in’ vote. But that, if Cameron wins a majority at the general election (and it remains a very large ‘if’), is not an issue he will have to face until long after 2015.
For now, the Prime Minister enjoys the distinction of being the only party leader to have promised to give the electorate a vote over the EU at some point in the near future. This leaves Labour and the Liberal Democrats, both of whom have argued that Cameron’s pledge is a rash one, in a difficult position. If they seek they match his offer at some point before 2015 (most likely in the form of a straight in/out vote, rather than one tied to renegotiation), they will look weak; following, not leading. If they do not, they will stand accused of denying the British people a say over an institution that has changed dramatically in the 38 years since the first and only EU referendum in 1975. Will Miliband and Clegg allow Cameron to be the only leader to stand up at the TV debates in 2015 and promise a referendum on the EU? Almost certainly not, which is why both must now work out how to climb down in the most graceful and painless way possible.
- David Cameron promises in-out EU referendum – video (guardian.co.uk)
- Cameron’s referendum vow: it’s blackmail, says Europe (theweek.co.uk)
- UK referendum on EU promised by Cameron (radionz.co.nz)
- Watch live: David Cameron faces MPs on EU referendum at PMQs (telegraph.co.uk)
Labour and Lib Dem peers joined forces on Monday to defeat David Cameron over plans to re-draw the electoral map, leading the Tories to accuse Nick Clegg of trying to “fix the next election” in his favour. The House of Lords voted to delay any change to number and size of constituencies from 2013 to 2018, a blow to Tory hopes of making the change before the next election. The government’s plans were defeated by 68 votes.
The vote was also the first time first time Lib Dem and Tory ministers have voted against each other since the formation of the coalition in 2010. In all, 72 Lib Dems voted against the Government with none voting in favour.
The proposed re-drawing of the map would likely benefit the Tories to the tune of 20 extra Commons seats. By siding with Labour against the plan, the Lib Dems aim to make it harder for Cameron to secure an overall majority in 2015.
Clegg decided to order his MPs to vote against the boundary changes after Tory backbenchers scuppered plans to reform the House of Lords. Angry Tory peers rounded on Clegg and the Lib Dems during the debate in the Lords, arguing the changes to the electoral map were not connected to reform of the House of Lords – but rather had been linked to the AV referendum.
Former Conservative Scotland secretary Lord Forsyth accused the deputy prime minister of a “double cross” given Cameron had delivered Tory votes for the referendum. “The prime minister risked the future of the Conservative Party as a party of government by agreeing to that [The AV referendum],” he said. “And yet here we have today, the Liberals still trying to gerrymander our constitution.”
Tory peer Lord Dobbs slammed Lib Dem peers for voting against the boundary review, telling them he would need the “telescope at Jodrell Bank” to find their principles and accused Clegg of trying to “fix the next election”.
Senior Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard said the Conservatives should not be surprised at the vote. “In countries across Europe where coalition is much more the norm, it is much more normal and people understand that different parties vote in different ways on some issues while agreeing on packages of measures where they can find agreement in what they both consider to be in the national interest,” he said.
Despite the Lib Dem pledge to vote against the changes and Monday’s defeat in the Lords, the prime minister has indicated he still intends to push it to a vote in the Commons. A No 10 spokesman said last night that Cameron still intended to hold a vote in the Commons to try to reverse the defeat. “The PM remains of the view that we should have fewer MPs to cut the cost of politics, and more equal size constituencies so that people’s votes have more equal weight,” the spokesman said.
Without Lib Dem MPs, Cameron is highly unlikely to have the votes he needs to win, as he would need to convince MPs from the other small parties, including the six SNP MPs, to vote with him. An alliance of Tories, the SNP and DUP members would number 317. There are 312 Labour and Lib Dem MPs
- Tory fury as Lib Dem peers join Labour to delay boundary review (guardian.co.uk)
- PM defiant after boundaries defeat (express.co.uk)
- David Cameron defiant over parliamentary boundaries defeat (independent.co.uk)
- Lords Vote To Delay Boundary Changes (news.sky.com)
(might be satire – but I’m not all that sure any more)
Conservative Party MPs were in shock tonight after the Liberal Democrats surprised everyone by not going back on a pledge they had made and decided to actually honour it instead.
In a separate development, leading Tories were also said to be unhappy about the vote in the House of Lords to delay a constituency boundary review that had been likely to gift the Tories 20 extra seats.
A clearly shocked Conservative spokesperson explained the reason for the party’s dismay at their coalition partner’s actions:
Obviously we knew that Nick Clegg had pledged to vote against boundary reform as a punishment for us not going through with Lord’s reform – but this is the Liberal Democrats we’re talking about for f**k’s sake! We never actually expected them to keep their promise!
The spokesperson also went to say they were also a…
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Yet again this morning, David Cameron was interviewed about a speech on the EU he still hasn’t given. Asked on the Today programme whether the over-hyped address had been completed, Cameron said it was “finished and ready to go” (subsequently amending this to “largely finished”).
Once again, he said that he would seek to reach a “new settlement” with the EU before seeking the “consent” of the British people for the changes, a clear promise of a referendum. In his speech, which is now due to be delivered on 23 January (having been pushed back from 22 January in order to avoid clashing with celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treatybetween France and Germany), Cameron will say that after the next election, a Conservative government would seek to repatriate significant powers from the EU before offering the voters a choice between the new terms and withdrawal.
As such, a referendum is now viewed by most as inevitable. Yet this pledge is dependent on an outcome that increasingly few believe is likely: a Conservative majority at the next election. A reformation of the coalition would likely scupper any plans Cameron has to bring back major powers from Brussels. In addition, it is unclear how Cameron will respond if he proves unable to secure the changes he wishes to see. This morning, he simply told John Humphrys: “I’m confident we will get the changes that we want, we’ll have a new settlement and then we’ll put that to the British people.” Given the obstacles to a referendum, it is surprising how many now speak as if it is a certainty.
Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats will immediately match Cameron’s pledge to hold an EU referendum, both arguing that it makes no sense to discuss a public vote until the eurozone crisis has been resolved. However, it is also true that they are unlikely to allow Cameron to go into the 2015 election as the only party leader willing to offer the public a say on Europe. The Lib Dems have previously supported an in/out referendum, while senior Labour figures, including Jon Cruddas and Jim Murphy, both argue that a vote should be held at some point in the future. In all probability, then, an EU referendum is coming. But no one should assume it will be Cameron who holds it.
- David Cameron to make historic speech on possible EU referendum this week (standard.co.uk)
- Ed Miliband: no referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU (telegraph.co.uk)
- Two voters in three want an EU referendum (telegraph.co.uk)
- I’ll vote my own way on EU – Pickles (bbc.co.uk)
(satire – probably)
Ronseal – the makers of wood stains and preservatives – has complained to the Advertising Standards Authority after a leading UK politician compared its products to a toxic, slippery coalition which can be fatal even in small doses.
The UK manufacturer made the complaint after a senior Conservative politician, Mr David Cameron, claimed at a press conference on Monday that Ronseal products were similar to a poisonous sludge he was using to whitewash and cover-up bad smells and stains known as ‘Coalition Politics’.
A spokesperson for Ronseal explained the reasons behind the complaint:
We know that some of our products can have a bit of a strong smell sometimes and shouldn’t be inhaled or imbibed in large amounts but it’s nothing compared to this coalition which stinks to high Heaven and has been proven to be toxic in even tiny doses.
However, Mr Cameron refuted the allegations. In a…
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Rail fares minister Simon Burns isn’t so worried about the tenth consecutive rise in rail prices because he shuns commuting by train in favour of a costly chauffeur driven government car.
According to the Mail on Sunday, the Conservative MP travels the 35 miles between his Essex home and Westminster using the £80,000 a year departmental car service.
The disclosure comes just days after inflation-busting average rises of 4.2% for regulated rail fares, which include season tickets, took effect for passengers.
A spokesman for passengers’ campaign group Railfuture told the newspaper: “It would be nice if the person who is setting these fare rises was also experiencing some of the congestion and overcrowding endured by ordinary, hard-pressed travellers.”
Burns reportedly defended his regular use of the Department for Transport pool car by saying: “I have given up my second home in London and I commute to and from work carrying classified papers which I work on during my journey.”
Cabinet Office officials confirmed that there are no restrictions on ministers taking the “red boxes” that contain their government papers on public transport.
Transport minister Stephen Hammond revealed details about the department’s travel arrangements in parliamentary documents.
He said: “With the introduction of a departmental pool car service on 1 April 2012, individual ministers are no longer allocated government cars.
“The Secretary of State (Patrick McLoughlin) and Minister of State use the pool cars on a daily basis.
“I use the pool cars occasionally and also use the top-up service as business requires it.
“The Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Norman Baker, used the car on an extremely occasional basis for journeys of less than three miles, the last date being 20 November 2012.”
Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who uncovered the arrangement through a parliamentary question, told the Mail on Sunday: “This looks to be an extremely poor use of taxpayers’ money, and a very bad example for a minister to set.”
- Minister lets car take the strain (standard.co.uk)
- Rail fares minister shuns commuting for £80,000-a-year departmental car (telegraph.co.uk)
- Anger as Simon Burns, minister in charge of rail fares, uses chauffeur-driven car for work (standard.co.uk)
- Minister lets car take the strain (express.co.uk)
- Anger as rail fares minister Simon Burns uses chauffeur-driven car for work (standard.co.uk)