By Paul Goodman
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In the aftermath of last spring's AV referendum campaign, I wrote that David Cameron was lucky –
- That David Davis fought an underwhelming leadership campaign.
- To become Conservative leader when he did, towards the end of a governing cycle for Labour.
- That Gordon Brown didn't call an election in the autumn of 2007.
- Having not won the last election, to gain enough seats to leave his party as the only viable coalition partner for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats.
- That his Deputy's volte-face on tuition fees helped to doom the Yes to AV campaign.
- To have no obvious Cabinet successor.
- To face no clear right-wing leadership from the Tory backbenches.
His luck also seems to have held this morning over Stephen Hester's bonus. Were the RBS Chief Executive to resign, the Prime Minister would be besieged on two fronts: damned on the one hand for not stopping Hester's bonus, and damned on the other for not defending it. The crisis that would rock RBS would give the story the legs to run and run.
However, Hester appears to be willing to stay. If so, the RBS story will thus retreat from the headlines. Public blame will thus cling less to Cameron than would otherwise be the case. Deprived of a Parliamentary debate he would probably have won – and several days of consequent publicity – Ed Miliband's opportunity to exploit the situation will vanish.
Unlucky Miliband. Lucky Prime Minister – again. (By the way, I can now add to my list his luck in Labour choosing a leader who voters may have written off.) Will his luck also hold out over Europe? During the run-up to the autumn's EU summit – as in that before the spring's AV campaign – his leadership looked briefly under threat.
An agreement of the 27 without at least a solitary gain for Cameron on the repatriation of powers would have put him in serious difficulty with his party. This was largely because a treaty in such circumstances would have meant a Commons bill, and a bill would have provided a platform for sustained revolt – Maastricht-style.
This morning, it is reported that Iain Duncan Smith and Boris Johnson have both warned the Prime Minister not to do a Grand Old Duke of York by casting a veto last year and waiving it this week – by not challenging the European Court's power to police the F.U. The 81 Conservative MPs who backed a referendum – plus many others – will doubtless be simmering too.
But since there no bill looks to come before the Commons in relation to the F.U, backbench opportunities to challenge Cameron are relatively limited. The Conservatives are more buoyant in the polls than they expected to be at this stage in the Parliament. The Prime Minister is not exactly popular – no holder of his office ever is – but his own ratings are very far from disastrous.
A vote on more money for the IMF, coupled with backsliding on the veto, would provide the conditions for a major revolt. For the moment, however, Cameron's luck is holding on. Ronald Reagan was the Telfon President. I sometimes wonder if Cameron will turn out to be a Teflon Prime Minister.