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.

Ukip's Nigel Farage and Paul Nuttall. Photo: Getty
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Is the general election 2017 the end of Ukip?

Ukip led the way to Brexit, but now the party is on less than 10 per cent in the polls. 

Ukip could be finished. Ukip has only ever had two MPs, but it held an outside influence on politics: without it, we’d probably never have had the EU referendum. But Brexit has turned Ukip into a single-issue party without an issue. Ukip’s sole remaining MP, Douglas Carswell, left the party in March 2017, and told Sky News’ Adam Boulton that there was “no point” to the party anymore. 

Not everyone in Ukip has given up, though: Nigel Farage told Peston on Sunday that Ukip “will survive”, and current leader Paul Nuttall will be contesting a seat this year. But Ukip is standing in fewer constituencies than last time thanks to a shortage of both money and people. Who benefits if Ukip is finished? It’s likely to be the Tories. 

Is Ukip finished? 

What are Ukip's poll ratings?

Ukip’s poll ratings peaked in June 2016 at 16 per cent. Since the leave campaign’s success, that has steadily declined so that Ukip is going into the 2017 general election on 4 per cent, according to the latest polls. If the polls can be trusted, that’s a serious collapse.

Can Ukip get anymore MPs?

In the 2015 general election Ukip contested nearly every seat and got 13 per cent of the vote, making it the third biggest party (although is only returned one MP). Now Ukip is reportedly struggling to find candidates and could stand in as few as 100 seats. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall will stand in Boston and Skegness, but both ex-leader Nigel Farage and donor Arron Banks have ruled themselves out of running this time.

How many members does Ukip have?

Ukip’s membership declined from 45,994 at the 2015 general election to 39,000 in 2016. That’s a worrying sign for any political party, which relies on grassroots memberships to put in the campaigning legwork.

What does Ukip's decline mean for Labour and the Conservatives? 

The rise of Ukip took votes from both the Conservatives and Labour, with a nationalist message that appealed to disaffected voters from both right and left. But the decline of Ukip only seems to be helping the Conservatives. Stephen Bush has written about how in Wales voting Ukip seems to have been a gateway drug for traditional Labour voters who are now backing the mainstream right; so the voters Ukip took from the Conservatives are reverting to the Conservatives, and the ones they took from Labour are transferring to the Conservatives too.

Ukip might be finished as an electoral force, but its influence on the rest of British politics will be felt for many years yet. 

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