By Tim Montgomerie
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Yesterday I argued that Cameron's Europe speech would bring four benefits to the Conservative Party. One of those benefits was a better relationship with the centre right press. There's plenty of evidence of that this morning. Here are key quotes from Britain's five centre right/ Eurosceptic newspapers:
- Daily Mail: "This was an historic day, which could yet mark a turning point in this country’s relationship with the EU. For the first time in the 25 years since Margaret Thatcher’s Bruges speech, a British Prime Minister openly called into question the founders’ ambition to forge an ‘ever closer union’ among the peoples of Europe."
- The Telegraph: "Many of the arguments in yesterday’s speech were made in another keynote address, delivered by Margaret Thatcher in Bruges in 1988. She, too, bemoaned Europe’s insularity, its lack of accountability, its drift towards federalism, all of which have accelerated since. What even she did not offer, however, was to let the people decide whether they wanted to stay in. In proposing that they should, Mr Cameron has taken an audacious and momentous step, and one deserving of the highest praise."
- The Express: "This newspaper has had its criticisms of the Prime Minister and would much prefer the in/out referendum to take place before the next election rather than two years after it. But nobody should deny that yesterday David Cameron did something genuinely bold. The question that many non-aligned voters will be asking themselves between now and polling day is why on earth they should trade in a Prime Minister who has shown high-level leadership qualities for an Opposition leader who has not? The fact is that Miliband isn’t even up to the job he’s got, let alone the post he aspires to fill."
- The Sun: "WHO should decide Britain’s future in Europe? David Cameron finally answered the question yesterday and promised us a referendum. He was immediately condemned by Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and Europhile grandees like Tony Blair. They do not want the people to have their say. It wouldn’t be in the national interest, they claim. But the truth is they do not trust us to come up with the “right” answer. Mr Cameron, by contrast, said the people must decide."
- The Times (£): "Mr Cameron is correct that the EU has become bloated and inflexible in a global marketplace where the penalties for such failings have grown, and that newly emerging nations will leave the European economies behind unless there is change. This was a speech with Europe’s interests at heart, not only Britain’s; and framing his argument in such a way gives the Prime Minister a chance of building an alliance inside the EU."
It is worth noting that the Tory operation has had a good few days. At the weekend the PM looked more tired than I'd ever seen him look before. The Algerian crisis had taken its toll. It must have taken its toll on the Downing Street and Foreign Office staff too. Despite this, an operation that is often attacked has performed brilliantly well. It's not just the welcome in the press – for which the PM's much-maligned Director of Communications, Craig Oliver, deserves proper credit. There's the constructive reaction from European leaders – notably Angela Merkel. There's the letter in today's Times (£) from a large number of very senior business leaders, welcoming the PM's approach. All of this reflects a lot of behind-the-scenes work.
What couldn't have been anticipated was Ed Miliband's very clumsy reaction. He gets ridiculed in the press this morning and rightly so. Thank you Ed. Your contribution was the icing on the cake.