The quiet man turns up the volume

Iain Duncan Smith warns that he will resign if forced to vote against his eurosceptic views again.

In this week's NS politics column, Conservative MP Jesse Norman insists that Tory MPs remain "remarkably united, not divided, over the EU issue". But everything we're hearing suggests that the reverse is true. Iain Duncan Smith is reported to have had "an extraordinary stand-up row" with chief whip Patrick McLoughlin, warning him that he will resign if he is ever forced to vote against his eurosceptic principles again. "If you ever put me in this position again, that's it," he said.

The truth is that the Tories are as divided over Europe as ever, it's just the nature of the division that has changed. The divide used to be between the europhiles (Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Chris Patten, Ian Gilmour, Geoffrey Howe et al) and the eurosceptics (everybody else) but it's now between the eurosceptics and the eurofanatics.

There is no easy way to heal this division. Duncan Smith was reportedly "extremely unimpressed" with Cameron's handling of the issue but it's hard to see how a one-line whip or a free vote would have helped matters. Indeed, without a three-line whip, the rebellion would likely have been even larger. As Lord Ashcroft noted yesterday:

Others have blamed "party management", as though imposing only a one-line whip and allowing many more Tory MPs to cast an apparently cost-free vote for the referendum motion would not have created even bigger problems (and led to just as many complaints about "party management", no doubt from the same people).

ConservativeHome's Tim Montgomerie has suggested that a referendum on EU membership is the only way of "bringing closure" to the decades-long split in the party. But would the eurosceptics really go quietly if the vote went against them? After all, despite a 67 per cent vote in favour of EEC membership in the 1975 referendum, Labour still called for withdrawal in its 1983 manifesto.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Jeremy Corbyn's Labour conference speech shows how he's grown

The leader's confident address will have impressed even his fiercest foes. 

It is not just Jeremy Corbyn’s mandate that has been improved by his re-election. The Labour leader’s conference speech was, by some distance, the best he has delivered. He spoke with far greater confidence, clarity and energy than previously. From its self-deprecating opening onwards ("Virgin Trains assure me there are 800 empty seats") we saw a leader improved in almost every respect. 

Even Corbyn’s firecest foes will have found less to take issue with than they may have anticipated. He avoided picking a fight on Trident (unlike last year), delivered his most forceful condemnation of anti-Semitism (“an evil”) and, with the exception of the Iraq war, avoided attacks on New Labour’s record. The video which preceded his arrival, and highlighted achievements from the Blair-Brown years, was another olive branch. But deselection, which Corbyn again refused to denounce, will remain a running sore (MPs alleged that Hillsborough campaigner Sheila Coleman, who introduced Corbyn, is seeking to deselect Louise Ellman and backed the rival TUSC last May).

Corbyn is frequently charged with lacking policies. But his lengthy address contained several new ones: the removal of the cap on council borrowing (allowing an extra 60,000 houses to be built), a ban on arms sales to abusive regimes and an arts pupil premium in every primary school.

On policy, Corbyn frequently resembles Ed Miliband in his more radical moments, unrestrained by Ed Balls and other shadow cabinet members. He promised £500bn of infrastructure investment (spread over a decade with £150bn from the private sector), “a real living wage”, the renationalisation of the railways, rent controls and a ban on zero-hours contracts.

Labour’s greatest divisions are not over policy but rules, strategy and culture. Corbyn’s opponents will charge him with doing far too little to appeal to the unconverted - Conservative voters most of all. But he spoke with greater conviction than before of preparing for a general election (acknowledging that Labour faced an arithmetical “mountain”) and successfully delivered the attack lines he has often shunned.

“Even Theresa May gets it, that people want change,” he said. “That’s why she stood on the steps of Downing Street and talked about the inequalities and burning injustices in today’s Britain. She promised a country: ‘that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us’. But even if she manages to talk the talk, she can’t walk the walk. This isn’t a new government, it’s David Cameron’s government repackaged with progressive slogans but with a new harsh right-wing edge, taking the country backwards and dithering before the historic challenges of Brexit.”

After a second landslide victory, Corbyn is, for now, unassailable. Many MPs, having voted no confidence in him, will never serve on the frontbench. But an increasing number, recognising Corbyn’s immovability, speak once again of seeking to “make it work”. For all the ructions of this summer, Corbyn’s speech will have helped to persuade them that they can.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.