By Paul Goodman
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I argue in today's Telegraph that the Prime Minister's outlook on the EU was formed by his experience as a special adviser under the Major Government, and that although he's a more supple politician than Sir John his plight is even worse, for the following reasons:
- Unlike Sir John, he hasn't won an election.
- He thus has the Liberal Democrats to deal with in government…
- …Not to mention UKIP outside it.
- Almost three in four party members back withdrawal from the EU…
- …As do a growing number of Conservative MPs.
- Inside Cabinet, George Osborne, with one eye on a future leadership campaign, is angling for a referendum commitment. Outside it, Boris Johnson, Mr Osborne’s rival – and the Prime Minister’s, too – is beating the drum for one.
I go on to ask: in that case, why doesn't he embrace a renegotiation referendum with open arms? There are three main answers. He will be worrying –
- That a referendum commitment will drag Europe to the centre of the next election – thus boosting UKIP.
- That he could lose a referendum if voters use it to punish the Government generally, and not vote on Europe specifically.
- That the Germans tell him to get lost. What would he do then? Must he then hold the In-Out referendum that would split his party? And which way would he himself jump?
I then close by repeating that Mr Cameron will have to concede a referendum whether he wants one or not, and flog one of my nautical metaphors to the point of exhaustion:
"Prime ministers and party leaders command for a while. While they do so, they may seem to be in control of events, commanders steering a mighty fleet. But the truth is that David Cameron’s European policy is a puny vessel at the mercy of a tempest – of the interplay between the economic blizzard in the eurozone and the hardening instincts of his party. Slowly but relentlessly, he is being driven towards the referendum commitment he would rather avoid. He has no choice in the matter. To bang on about Europe is his fate."