David Cameron set to confound his critics over Lisbon…?

Labour Matters compares David Cameron’s 2007 pledge (in The Sun) to give the people of the UK a referendum come what may, and this morning’s presser from campaign headquarters which shows the leader of the Conservative party. They rather leap on Paul Waugh’s conclusion that the first gives ‘Honest Dave’ no wriggle room:

“Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM, a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations.?

Now if the Treaty is ratified by then, to what end would a referendum be called you might ask? To “un-ratify” it? Ratting on an international treaty in the first few months of government would not be an auspicious start to a Tory government. Of course.

However the presumption amongst Cameron’s critics is that both he and the Tory party would automatically line itself up behind a NO vote. Yet, as Tory hack Matthew Parris revealed on Any Questions last night, he wants a referendum. And he wants to vote Yes.

In today’s Telegraph, Ken Clarke gives some indication as to how Cameron is planning to stage manage the climb down (with the help of some amnesia within the MSM no doubt):

A few months ago he appeared to let the cat out of the bag in an interview when he said that if the treaty was ratified before the election, the Tories would give up the fight. It drove his eurosceptic enemies to distraction: they want Mr Cameron to deliver a referendum come what may.

Mr Clarke urges his critics to stay quiet this weekend. He does not want a return to “the most absurd civil war” of the 1990s when the party “destroyed” itself over Europe. It would be a “disaster”. Under Mr Cameron the party is not interested in “punch-ups”.

If Gordon Brown ratifies Lisbon it could be viewed as a dead issue; and Cameron’s 2007 promissory note held to have expired. If the Tory leader really does want to hold a referendum in order to demonstrate his open and democratic credentials (and justify his often vituperative attacks on the Labour leader; it is not a forgone conclusion that the people of the UK will say No.

Remember too that the 1975 referendum, held two years after the UK entered the EEC, effectively killed off Labour’s own, once dominant eurosceptic wing.

It may be that Mr Cameron plans to do the very same thing at a time of his own choosing… And, in the process, kill off several hoary old birds with the very same stone Wilson used back in the 70s… He can stand magisterially above the fray, and let the Ken Clarke europhiles side with Labour and the Lib Dems to rout his own eurosceptics on a battlefield of their own choosing…

He’s a canny boy that Call-me-Dave fellah… Cute, and light on his feet. And, as he has demonstrated in the past, he can show the necessary nerve at moments when it counts.

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  • Balls.

    Cameron can’t call a referendum and stay neutral. Impossible. And he can’t campaign yes.

    So I just can’t see how it can happen like this.

  • Looks like he would be standing above the ruins of his party were he to call one to me.

    Likely he would not go for a referendum if the Czechs and Poles have ratified by the time of the Election. He leaves that option in his bold declaration (LOL) and the successionists & co should not be pleased.

    It does seem likely that the General Election will allow Brown to say that Labour’s moderate policies (No Euro, no shadowing the Euro @ a silly level) are middle of the road, and Chameleon would have been a disaster, as he would have been in other fields of Government. (G20, supporting the banks esp Northern Rock, VAT, Income tax)

    And, largely thanks to Brown and his cohort of World Leaders, there is no Great Depression . . .

    However Chameleon’s clearest statement is true: it would be Very hard for him to win the next election, requiring a swing of seats the Conservatives have not managed since the Great Depression.

  • This is superceded by his letter today. The position hasn’t changed at all. And to the best of my knowledge, the bill giving ratification to Lisbon has received Royal Assent already.

    It would require a repeal act, wouldn’t it?

  • Europe and fiscal stimulus are two areas where an opposition party has very different incentives than the party in government.

    In the election campaign (assuming treaty is in force in Jan), Cameron will:

    (i) Lambaste Labour for having screwed the British voter by not offering a choice on Lisbon.
    (ii) Announce some grand-sounding policy by which he is going to realign Europe to the Conservative vision.

    After the election, he’ll work through the new Lisbon structures – complaining about them when they don’t work; claiming credit for improving them when they do.

    On fiscal stimulus, Cameron would have undoubtedly applied some if he’d been PM. And he won’t turn the spigot off too quickly once in power.

    Cuts though will be blamed on Labour mismanagement and there be lots of melodramatic sucking of teeth about how – once he got a proper look at the books – the country was even more bankrupt than he would have believed.

    It’s called politics.

  • Thereyouarenow

    I cannot see any sane leader of the Tory party stirring up old divisions on Europe.

    The Tories spent years in civil war about Europe.
    The electorate of that time were not so interested.

    In the new economic reality maybe the british electorate may also hug Europe a little closer.
    There is nothing like feeling insecure to remind some people about some economic realities.

    A little (actually a lot) financial insecurity send the Irish electorate scurrying for the European comfort blanket.

  • DC

    I’m hearing VAT is going up to 20% and on food etc at a lower level. Eugh.

    If I were Brown, I would call this election for end of Feb as UK has little borrowing power left via the money markets, hence the cuts are nigh.

    But then again I did argue strongly that Brown should have called an election around the time of Crewe and Nantwich by-election. With the suspicion that Cameron would be blown in quickly and crushed under the necessity to act quckly but very very surely. My odds were in favour of Cameron messing it up of course within one term.

    Sadly Brown has taken the shitty end of the Blair years’ stick, in part his own fault of that there is no doubt, but Brown’s past faults may be matched with Cameron’s future flaws. I’m thinking his foreign policy error re flying over and backing Georgia, ropey isolationist stance towards a Europe actively regrouping and tightening around the powers of France and Germany, and fiscal cuts on public services that are going to affect the non-tory plebs. Jobs for the boys and heartless cuts for the public service plebs.

  • JD

    I cannot see any sane leader of the Tory party stirring up old divisions on Europe. The Tories spent years in civil war about Europe.
    The electorate of that time were not so interested.

    The Tories settled the matter when they withdrew from Europe’s mainstream centre right group – the Christian Democrat EPP and set up a new Euro-sceptic European Conservative group.

    The possibility of exploiting a collapsed Lisbon process to forge a two tier Europe may have passed, but it is for a new Tory government to make their own luck in trying to re-negotiate aspects of Britain’s membership – rather than look for other countries to forge a two tier Europe.

    I’m sure if a Tory led government asked to with withdraw from the EU (which Lisbon now clearly provides for) the “Inner Core” (mostly Euroland) would be happy to oblige.

    So Dave – do you have the balls for that?

  • Dave

    A referendum isn’t going to happen in the UK. The Czech president will have to sign it after the his country’s court resolves the present challenge. That is probably 2 months away. A UK general election is probably 7 months away. The timeline lets Cameron off the hook.

    Political parties promote the interests of political parties, and the EU creates lots of well-paid jobs for political parties. Considerations such as the national interest or what the public want are always secondary considerations to a self-serving politcal class.

  • Jimmy Sands

    “If Gordon Brown ratifies Lisbon”

    The UK ratified the treaty over a year ago. Cameron is trying to extricate himself from the corner into which he has painted himself. The comparison with 1975 is well made in that the referendum option was “in or out”. It’s the only referendum that could be offered at this stage. He’s going to have to disappoint the flat earthers at some stage, and his refusal to do it now is a mistake borne of cowardice which will return to haunt him.

  • Chameleon will continue to wriggle, even after he has been despatched next year. He doesn’t need any room to do so.

    He says he is anti Lisbon and Lisbon is about to be de facto.

    He is anti most of the economic measures which have worked pretty well.

    He is a natural ex-pat.

    I wonder which island they will settle on, unlikely to be one of the British Isles.

  • Greenflag


    ‘I cannot see any sane leader of the Tory party stirring up old divisions on Europe.’

    Probably true but amidst the backbenchers and the Daily Mail ‘lobby’ of the Tory Party there are plenty of little englanders /yukers ? who will stir and spin for whatever titbit they can find 😉

    Party discipline may not hold until E day especially not if Gordon Brown starts to claw back some support . The Tories are hitched to the neo conservative economics which are now seen to have waned . John Maynard Keynes is lookig like he had a better grasp of economics and how to make economics work for the broad mass of he people instead of just for a favoured few old Etonians.

    Cameron looks like he’ll be out of step with the EU and at a time when the latter is pulling out of recession earlier than the UK .

  • Paddy Matthews

    Remember too that the 1975 referendum, held two years after the UK entered the EEC, effectively killed off Labour’s own, once dominant eurosceptic wing.

    Nitpick: It “effectively killed off” Labour’s eurosceptic wing so effectively that they took Labour into the 1983 election promising a withdrawal from the EEC without the bother of a referendum.

    It was the result of that election that killed them off.

  • “it is not a forgone conclusion that the people of the UK will say No. ”

    Oh yes it is. This is not 1975, when the EU/EEC was mainly a commercial union.

  • Crataegus

    Nothing is a foregone conclusion other than any such referendum would destroy the Conservative Party.

  • Mick Fealty


    It’s a fair nit pick, but come on, the 83 manifesto was 700 pages long and far from being a single, coherent pitch from the leadership it simply consisted of all the resolutions arrived at the party’s 1982 conference.

    If Blair turned out a control freak as a PM and Labour leader it was partly because he’d been scarred by the way the manifesto he first came to Parliament on has been put together.

    Labour’s own ’75 referendum was the key event, since it killed off, at party leadership level at least, any illusion that the EEC had been unpopularly foisted upon the British people.

    The manifesto simply finished off ‘the beast’…

    As an addendum, UKIP reported during the last Euro election campaign that many of the defectors coming to them last time were from Labour this time. So I don’t assume the sentiment is dead. If it is at the moment politically insignificant on the left, it may not always remain so.

  • Mick Fealty


    Welcome back. I was just recently bemoaning the fact we don’t see you as much as we used to.

  • Alternatively, is the divide in the Tory Party entirely over Europe? Or is the EU-thing merely the most evident symptom of other, perhaps more-profound divisions?

    Cameron is a “modernizer”. He is not particularly liked or respected in the wilder, wider fringes of the Right (Cf: ConHome passim).
    * Can the likes of Dan Hannan be kept muzzled?
    * Will John Redwood stay on message?
    * Will Blasted Boris, as the voice of the City, stay with the hymn-sheet when the cuts (Crossrail?) hit?
    * What odds Mad Nads Dorries climbs out of her box — particularly if she is denied a job in government to match her self-importance?
    * How does a Conservative Party in government reconcile “Unionism” with devolved assemblies?
    * Will workfare, forcing the unemployed into low-paid jobs, play with middle-class families, when that means university-educated sprogs and sprogesses sweeping streets?
    * Which way public opinion when all those public schools opt into the “free school” model, and the State is seen to be subsidizing privilege?
    * Or when the cuts bite in education and health (look carefully at what Cameron’s “ten points” actually say)?
    * And that half-pledge on allowing a hunting vote on the first session? on that one, Cameron’s damned in the towns if he does, and damned in the shires if he doesn’t.
    * What happens in Afghanistan? As long as British troops are in theatre, casualties will be inevitable; and there’s no way that can be represented as another “Gotcha!”

    Don’t hold your breath.

  • Paddy Matthews


    It’s a fair nit pick, but come on, the 83 manifesto was 700 pages long

    37, according to Roy Hattersley.

    and far from being a single, coherent pitch from the leadership it simply consisted of all the resolutions arrived at the party’s 1982 conference.

    EEC withdrawal wasn’t a minor throwaway issue – it had been one of the major disputes during the 79-82 period and one of the main causes for the foundation of the breakaway SDP.

    To quote the Conservative manifesto of 1983:

    “The Labour Party wants Britain to withdraw from the Community, because it fears that Britain cannot compete inside and that it would be easier to build a Socialist siege economy if we withdrew.

    The European Community is the world’s largest trading group. It is by far our most important export market. Withdrawal would be a catastrophe for this country. As many as two million jobs would be at risk. We would lose the great export advantages and the attraction to overseas investors which membership now gives us. It would be a fateful step towards isolation…”

    Labour’s own ‘75 referendum was the key event, since it killed off, at party leadership level at least, any illusion that the EEC had been unpopularly foisted upon the British people.

    Not really. The anti-Europeans were able to dictate matters between 1979 and 1983. It was only after the election that they were rudely awakened, and it wasn’t until the arrival of Jacques Delors that Labour became strongly pro-EU.

  • The prognosis for an anti European Tory Party, based on Labour’s experience from 1983 onwards, is 3 more lost elections.

  • Oh, and “No Referendum” means – (minus) 5% for the Tory vote, and Ten More Years!

  • Mick Fealty


    Yes to all of that. My point is that the seminal moment was the referendum; 83 represented profound political eclipse.

  • That’s at least five references to the situation in 1983. If we are seriously looking for analogies, might I suggest checking out Dennis Kavanagh’s Thatcherism and British politics: the end of consensus? ?. The really significant bit comes around page 300-1 (and is accessible via Google Books).

    I found myself recognising an impending party crisis in this bit:

    Among more radical monetarists and free marketeers there is considerable disappointment about how much the government has not done to shift the middle ground. Such critics point to the incontrovertible global figures on growth of taxation and state spending. If the success of the mobilizing government is to be seen in the accomplishment of goals, then Mrs Thatcher has had only mixed success. An explicit goal of the Thatcherite programme was the containment of public expenditure and reduction of the burden of taxation. The government has clearly failed on both counts.

    Cameron, then, promises to achieve — and in one Parliament — what Thatcher could not deliver.

    Meanwhile, do not dismiss Labour too lightly. The Party’s learning curve after 1983 was steep. This time round there isn’t the loony lefty baggage to be decanted. While there isn’t the vast resentment Thatcher provoked by wilfully destroying 1½ million manufacturing jobs, nor is Cameron able to mobilise the petit-bourgeois power-bloc to which her Poujadist appeal was directed. Nor can the Tory press exploit antagonisms the way they did against the GLC and other Labour authorities.

    In extremis, Labour will find the balls to revisit the Foch principle: Mon centre cède, ma droite recule. Situation excellente, j’attaque.

  • Paddy Matthews


    The Labour Party went from accepting membership of the EEC (with an anti-membership minority) in the 75-79 period to being hostile to membership (with a pro-membership minority) afterwards.

    No matter how it’s spun, the referendum didn’t kill off Europhobia; it took a catastrophic defeat eight years later to manage it.

  • And, be it noted, the growth in taxation would have been significantly greater had Mrs T not sold a lot of the family silver, including some pieces, like Exeter’s Water, which the state did not actually own.

    This refers: http://www.ifs.org.uk/bns/bn26.pdf to the fiscal implications which true blues should find embarrassing, but some do tend to be a bit blue nosed too . . .

  • My previous post was intended to address the issue of the Labour Party and Europe: because of noises off, I lost focus and went off at a tangent.

    For the period up to 1991 there was John Gaffney’s study (still available on line) which summarised most of the to-ings and fro-ings. What has changed is that, to the great distaste of the Little Englanders, Labour is not split the way the Tories are. Time and again Tory bloggers fret over the UKIP threat. Labour is not driven the same way. Curious how the Labour Party has come to, at least, tolerate Mandelson and Europe alike.

    Why? Because there simply isn’t any other way to go.

    Only two other options exist: isolationism or Atlanticism. Neither of those are sellable in the left-of-centre market place. Note that does not exclude serious deviation from the “ever closer union” line.

    Once upon a time there was Europhobic momentum from the trades union bosses. Now, remind me how Bob Crow’s NO2EU vanity project went: around 1% of the vote, as I recall.

    That’s all folks! Over and out.

  • It was substantially Niel Kinnock and his “modernisations” which switched the Labour Party towards acceptance of the EEC.

    Average members began to accept that some of their keenest prejudices were not acceptable to the leadership.

    This has continued – vide the Bomb, Iraq.

    In some ways the Labour Party has learned to be the “Broad Church” oft spoken of by folk like eric Heffer (who was pro Europe in the ’60s).

    The Tories are attempting a similar transformation.

    Likely to take a while longer.

  • Long evening with lady and three daughters in West End brasserie (fancy name for a pub, one that doesn’t serve real beer, with over-priced food).

    Forgive — hic! — any consequences. All views expressed here are open to subsequent sober review.

    Quietzapple @ 07:18 PM is right on the main drift of his argument. I would put the change-of-mood, at least in thinking Labour circles, rather earlier.

    Until ’75 I was a convinced anti-marketeer (the OED’s earliest citation for “Eurosceptic” is from The Times of 11 Nov 1985). That view was formed in the context of the first Irish application to join the EEC, which puts me back in or before November 1963. I spoke on “No” platforms in the 1975 Referendum campaign. Yet, come the day, I defaulted on voting: the only time in my franchised life. Quite frankly, the balance of argument had undermined my pre-conceptions. Even the fire of Peter Shore and the plugging consistency of Ron Leighton (I still have his campaigning pamphlet somewhere) didn’t hold together.

    I suspect I was not unique.

  • The 1983 Leadership election which Niel Kinnock (Against) won handsomely ran Hatters 2nd (pro), and Eric Heffer (by then against) and Peter Shore (Religiously against).

    I think, Malcolm, you were moving in advanced circles in the ’70s.

    On Europe the Tories may have reached Labour’s position in 1992 or so imho.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Will workfare, forcing the unemployed into low-paid jobs, play with middle-class families, when that means university-educated sprogs and sprogesses sweeping streets?

    Malcolm, I am no friend of the Conservative Party, but you completely made this part up. Students haven’t been able to claim the dole for a very, very long time.

  • Comrade Stalin @ 10:43 PM:

    Noted. Accepted. Excuse loose expression.

    The intent was to propose what comes after graduation, after the College of Law (or any of the post-grad money-machines) has taken the moolah, and spat out yet another over-qualified would-be professional, with £30,000 debts, onto the job market. The “learned” professions are fully staffed. Even schools no longer sweat buckets over recruitment. One magnificent success of these years of Labour government is to ensure we have more than enough media and computer wannabes.

    So — what next? Golf course management? Highway hygiene? The call centre? All on minimum wage, of course (if that, too, isn’t abolished).

    I wanted to suggest that may well be part of Diddy Dave’s nemesis. After all, what sold comprehensives to the emerging middle-class was when they realised their brats might not be of the 16% selected for grammar schools.

    Out of every difficulty comes an opportunity: law of the dialectic, my friend.

  • abucs

    I think the EU is now one step closer to the success story of the former Yugoslavia.

  • Sounds like the breakdown is in the mind of the stray poster . . .

    A more likely parallel would be in the ranks and leadership of any Tory Government its billionaire owners might foist on us not least because Chameleon now has the unifying strength for his party of a Tito, without whom Jugo would never have survived for so long.

    Doubt we shall have to wait beyond Chameleon’s defenestration for the Tory pogroms thopugh . . .

  • abucs

    “Sounds like the breakdown is in the mind of the stray poster . . .”

    Where else could the warning of a future event possibly be ? :o)

  • It might have been in the prospects of the EU, but no.