Ed Davey: this is a pro-European coalition

Lib Dem Energy Secretary claims the government is more pro-European than Labour was.

For those Tories convinced that David Cameron has sold out to the europhile Lib Dems, Ed Davey's interview with Rafael Behr [which appears in this week's New Statesman] is powerful evidence. The Energy Secretary declares that the coalition may come to be seen as "more constructive, more engaged and indeed more pro-European than its Labour predecessor".

He mischievously adds:

It's not just Liberal Democrat ministers but Conservative ministers who are really engaged with their European counterparts.

Some of the relationships that he [Cameron] is building are very important. What the coalition government is showing time and again is that by engaging with Europe you actually look after Britain’s national interest more effectively.

His comments are tailor-made to provoke a eurosceptic backlash against Cameron - many Tory MPs are still furious that the Prime Minister hasn't delivered on his promise to "repatriate powers" from Brussels.

Elsewhere, Davey insists that Britain could still join the euro in the future [if not before 2020]:

You’d be an unwise person to ever rule something out totally.

You just don’t know what’s going to happen and given the uncertainties in our economy, I think it would be reckless to rule any of your options out.

It's notable that the Lib Dems are now the only one of the three main parties not to rule out euro membership. For Labour, Ed Balls has declared that "there's no possibility anytime in my lifetime of a British government joining the euro", while the Tories have long ruled out membership of the single currency. 

But Davey is far from the only political figure to suggest we could still give up the pound. Here's a list of some of the most notable.

Tony Blair, 13 November 2011

"I think we will join the euro. I think the chances are the euro will survive because the determination, particularly of the French and the Germans, is to maintain the coherence that they've created in Europe."

Michael Heseltine, 20 November 2011

"So should Britain join the euro now? Of course not. But we should not exclude the possibility. This is what separates us from the eurosceptics. We still say that if it becomes in Britain's interest to join we should. They say that even if it were in Britain's interest to join we shouldn't.This could -- sooner than we think -- become much more than just an academic question."

Paddy Ashdown, 21 November 2011 (£)

"If and when the economic circumstances were right and to Britain's advantage, we should certainly consider doing so [joining the euro]."

Peter Mandelson, 14 November 2011

"He [David Cameron] should say that while it was right for Britain not to join the single currency as it was previously constructed, if Germany were to act responsibly, Britain would peg sterling to a reformed euro and in the long run even consider joining the regime."

Ken Clarke, 25 July 2011

"Certainly nothing is going to happen in the next decade but I find never say never in politics is a very good rule".

Energy Secretary Ed Davey said it would be "reckless" to rule out euro membership.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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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