Will the Tory right revolt over Lisbon?

Can Cameron avoid another civil war over Europe?

"When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" So ran John Maynard Keynes's celebrated riposte. It is essentially this defence that David Cameron will employ when he breaks his pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.

He will argue that his promise was made at a time when the treaty was unratified. He will point out that he never promised a retrospective referendum. But it was still foolish of him to use the formulation "cast-iron guarantee" when promising a referendum to Sun readers back in 2007.

The arch-Eurosceptic Bill Cash articulated the thoughts of many on the right of the party when he said:

We need a full referendum on Lisbon as we were promised and as we voted in the House of Commons. No ifs or buts. This is about the government of the United Kingdom operating in line with the democratic wishes of the electorate.

Cameron should be able to ride out grass-roots discontent over Lisbon provided it doesn't spread to the shadow cabinet. In a fascinating column on Sunday, Peter Oborne identified William Hague as the man most likely to take on the Tory leader over Europe. He wrote:

Intellectually formidable, he is a very live alternative prime minister. More dangerously still, he no longer yearns for power and was only persuaded to return to front-line politics with difficulty. There is very little to stop Hague from resigning and, were he to do so, he could scarcely avoid becoming a very powerful focus of resistance to a Cameron premiership.

I would be surprised to see anything but resolute discipline before the next election; the Conservatives can't wait to get their hands back on those red boxes. But should Cameron fail to repatriate economic and social powers once in office, we could see another civil war over Europe.

ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie writes: "If Britain's relationship with the EU is fundamentally the same after five years of Conservative government, the internal divisions that ended the last Tory period in government will look like a tea party in comparison."

This may look like a piece of dispassionate analysis but it is also a clear threat. Those such as Montgomerie who favour EU withdrawal will maintain their pragmatic support for Cameron's stance only for so long.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Can Philip Hammond save the Conservatives from public anger at their DUP deal?

The Chancellor has the wriggle room to get close to the DUP's spending increase – but emotion matters more than facts in politics.

The magic money tree exists, and it is growing in Northern Ireland. That’s the attack line that Labour will throw at Theresa May in the wake of her £1bn deal with the DUP to keep her party in office.

It’s worth noting that while £1bn is a big deal in terms of Northern Ireland’s budget – just a touch under £10bn in 2016/17 – as far as the total expenditure of the British government goes, it’s peanuts.

The British government spent £778bn last year – we’re talking about spending an amount of money in Northern Ireland over the course of two years that the NHS loses in pen theft over the course of one in England. To match the increase in relative terms, you’d be looking at a £35bn increase in spending.

But, of course, political arguments are about gut instinct rather than actual numbers. The perception that the streets of Antrim are being paved by gold while the public realm in England, Scotland and Wales falls into disrepair is a real danger to the Conservatives.

But the good news for them is that last year Philip Hammond tweaked his targets to give himself greater headroom in case of a Brexit shock. Now the Tories have experienced a shock of a different kind – a Corbyn shock. That shock was partly due to the Labour leader’s good campaign and May’s bad campaign, but it was also powered by anger at cuts to schools and anger among NHS workers at Jeremy Hunt’s stewardship of the NHS. Conservative MPs have already made it clear to May that the party must not go to the country again while defending cuts to school spending.

Hammond can get to slightly under that £35bn and still stick to his targets. That will mean that the DUP still get to rave about their higher-than-average increase, while avoiding another election in which cuts to schools are front-and-centre. But whether that deprives Labour of their “cuts for you, but not for them” attack line is another question entirely. 

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

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