Heseltine challenges Cameron on Europe

Big beast predicts that Eurosceptic alliance will end

Today's Times reports that Lord Heseltine believes the Conservatives will have to ditch their far-right allies and return to the European People's Party if they win power.

Is there any chance of this happening? Almost certainly not. David Cameron's Euroscepticism continues to insulate him from right-wing dissent and keeps grass-roots Tories onside. Heseltine's prediction is a case of of the wish being father to the thought.

As I've noted before, the Conservatives' pro-European wing has been vanquished. It lacks the capacity to force a policy reversal. Cameron may well further alienate Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, but given his emphasis on political consistency, he is unlikely to cite Keynes's dictum: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"

In fairness, it is doubtful that Heseltine himself believes Cameron will back down. It's far more likely that his intervention is designed to prompt Europhile dissent elsewhere in the party. In any case, such mischief-making proves that Hezza doesn't regard his position on Europe as a barrier to his return to government.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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What the "critical" UK terrorist threat level means

The security services believe that Salman Abedi, was not a lone operator but part of a wider cell.

Following the Manchester bombing, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (an inter-agency organisation comprised of 16 different agencies) has raised the UK's threat level from "Severe" to "Critical", the highest possible level.

What does that mean? It doesn't mean, as per some reports, that an attack is believed to be or is definitely imminent, but that one could be imminent.

It suggests that the security services believe that Salman Abedi, was not a lone operator but part of a wider cell that is still at large and may be planning further attacks. As the BBC's Dominic Casciani explains, one reason why attacks of this sort are rare is that they are hard to do without help, which can raise suspicions among counter-terrorism officials or bring would-be perpetrators into contact with people who are already being monitored by security services.

That, as the Times reports, Abedi recently returned from Libya suggests his was an attack that was either "enabled" - that is, he was provided with training and possibly material by international jihadist groups  - or "directed", as opposed to the activities of lone attackers, which are "inspired" by other attacks but not connected to a wider plot.

The hope is that, as with the elevated threat level in 2006 and 2007, it will last only a few days while Abedi's associates are located by the security services, as will the presence of the armed forces in lieu of armed police at selected locations like Parliament, cultural institutions and the like, designed to free up specialist police capacity.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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