Ed Miliband’s word-play — yes, “scripted” — was a good one. It may even prove devastating:
I think the short answer is that six weeks ago the Prime Minister was promising his Back Benchers a handbagging for Europe, but now he is reduced to hand wringing. That is the reality of this Prime Minister. The problem for Britain is that at the most important European summit for a generation, which matters hugely to families and businesses up and down the country, he is simply left on the sidelines. Is not the truth that we have a Prime Minister who is caught between his promises in opposition and the reality of government? That is why Britain is losing out in Europe
Today the Eurosceptic (that’s understatement taken to a new level) ConHome website has been running a Rolling record of Tory MPs’ comments on new EU Treaty. None are favourable to Cameron. This one is particularly notable:
5.30pm Paul Waugh reports that Edward Leigh said the following in a Westminster Hall debate this afternoon:
“We have had enough of reading of British prime ministers over the last 20 to 30 years in the days preceding a summit that ‘they will stand up for the British national interest’ and then coming back from a summit with a kind of Chamberlain-esque piece of paper saying, ‘I have negotiated very, very hard, I have got opt-outs on this and that and I have succeeded in standing up for British interests’ ‘
Waugh is worth watching and (having defected from the London Evening Standard, where he was restoring some degree of credibility) edits Politicshome, the other arm of “Lord” Ashcroft’s web presence.
If Tim Montgomerie at ConHome is nipping at shoe-heels, Waugh’s piece detects a knife closing on the jugular. It is entitled The 1922 Nuclear Option:
A room has been booked already for a Monday meeting of the ‘centre right group’, timed to discuss the next moves after the PM delivers his Commons Statement on the EU summit at 3.30pm.
Just as Cameron doesn’t want to give away his negotiating position in advance to Merkozy, neither do the Eurosceps want to give many clues ahead of Monday.
Yet there are alread some thoughts going around. One idea was for an EDM urging a repatriation of powers on the back of treaty process. I hear that David Davis and John Redwood were the candidates to table it, but there was some reluctance to go ahead unless well over 100 names could be guaranteed. A motion is also being mooted. We could even get an Urgent Question a few days after the PM returns.
But there is one nuclear option that is even being considered: putting in leadership challenge letters with the 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady.
Let’s be realistic here.
A challenge of any sort, however staged, however notional, however theatrical, would presage the end of David Cameron as Tory Leader, and — in the middle term — as Prime Minister.
It’s not been glad confident morning again! since he was seen to blow it in April, 2010, by failing to counter the LibDem surge and to choke off a terminal and badly-wounded Gordon Brown. Was it for this we spent £15 million? (And a stack more before the regulations kicked in.) Probably three times the amount Labour could afford. And a country mile beyond anything the LibDems could scrape together.
When the ConDem coalition was compacted, the gilt was already off the gingerbread. Any “sell-out” now to Sarkozy and Merkel (and anything less than bringing them back in chains attached to his triumphal chariot will be seen thus): Cameron forever compromised and diminished. In Tory Clubs and committee rooms across the country, where euroscepticism — if not EUphobia – is the norm, it would be The Lost Leader:
We shall march prospering,—not thro’ his presence;
Songs may inspirit us,—not from his lyre;
Deeds will be done,—while he boasts his quiescence,
Still bidding crouch whom the rest bade aspire:
Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more,
Waugh has it bang to rights (in this case, far Rights):
The real problem for Cameron has been a lack of party management in recent months. He blundered his way into the 81 rebellion and in recent days has been egging on some Eurosceps with the odd throwaway line.
The very latest was in the Commons in PMQs when, under repeated fire from his backbenches, he uttered this hint that he would repatriate powers over the City and other areas:
“I think there is an opportunity, particularly if there is a treaty at 27, to ensure some safeguards, not just for that industry but to give us greater power and control in terms of regulation here in this House of Commons.”
‘Greater power and control’? Really? That was a pretty sweeping statement by any measure.
Cameron flies by the seat of his pants. He “wings it”. He unfailingly shows all the attributes, and the weaknesses of the PR-man he was, and is.
loved him so, followed him, honoured him,
Lived in his mild and magnificent eye,
but, when he is seen to get this one (and/or the next one) wrong:
One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,
One more devils’-triumph and sorrow for angels,
One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!
Life’s night begins: let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation, and pain …
Next Wednesday, PMQs, we need another opening, terse, pointed question from Ed Miliband. It won’t be the killer. It will be another nail in the coffin.
What will kill this ConDem government isn’t the economy. It’s Europe.