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.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty