Cameron comes home to another Europe revolt

The PM's truce with his backbenchers is under increasing strain.

"He's sold us down the river". So said one party leader of David Cameron's new EU stance. Except the leader in question wasn't Ukip's Nigel Farage but Ed Miliband, speaking on ITV's Daybreak this morning. The Labour leader has annexed the language of betrayal from the Conservative right. He went on: "I'm going to be asking him in the House of Commons today what exactly has he agreed to, what protections has he got for Britain." Do his words, combined with the threat to vote against additional UK funds for the IMF, herald the long-awaited rebirth of Labour euroscepticism?

Whatever the answer turns out to be, it's not hard to see why Miliband is keen to maximise Cameron's political discomfort. The Prime Minister will return from Brussels today to a Conservative revolt over his decision to allow EU countries to use the European Commission and the European Court of Justice to enforce their new "fiscal compact". The Prime Minister's "veto", you'll recall, was supposed to prevent just such an outcome. The government continues to warn of legal action if Britain's interests are "threatened" by the new treaty (in other words, that the single market is undermined) but it's still a U-turn by any measure.

So, what explains this outbreak of pragmatism? In a phrase, Cameron has put economics before politics. The priority, he insists, is to resolve the eurozone crisis by ensuring the swift implementation of the new treaty. It's hard to see how the pact, committing EU members to German-style austerity, will aid European recovery but Cameron's intentions, at least, are good. As the PM commented yesterday:

The key point here for me is what is in our national interest, which is for them to get on and sort out the mess that is the euro. That's in our national interest.

But his backbenchers, many of whom are appalled that the UK is collaborating in the establishment of a fiscal union, don't accept Cameron's logic. The PM's willingness to allow the EU 25 (everyone except the UK and the Czech Republic) to use EU-wide institutions renders his veto meaningless, they argue. Here's Tory MP Douglas Carswell:

I don't see how the veto is really a veto if we allow the fiscal union members to form and to then find ourselves subject to the EU institutions being used to govern that.

With 20 MPs reportedly meeting in Edward Leigh's office last night, we can except plenty of dissenting voices when Cameron delivers his statement on the summit at 3:30pm in the Commons. But what the revolt currently lacks is a frontbencher, Iain Duncan Smith, say, or Owen Paterson, to tighten the noose on the Prime Minister. Until such a figure publicly intervenes, Cameron will probably be able to muddle through. But less than two months on from his celebrated "veto", the truce he struck with his MPs is under increasing strain.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Labour's purge: how it works, and what it means

The total number of people removed will be small - but the rancour will linger. 

Labour has just kicked off its first big wave of expulsions, purging many voters from the party’s leadership rolls. Twitter is ablaze with activists who believe they have been kicked out because they are supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. There are, I'm told, more expulsions to come - what's going on?  Is Labour purging its rolls of Corbyn supporters?

The short answer is “No”.

If that opener feels familiar, it should: I wrote it last year, when the last set of purges kicked off, and may end up using it again next year. Labour has stringent rules about expressing support for other candidates and membership of other parties, which account for the bulk of the expulsions. It also has a code of conduct on abusive language which is also thinning the rolls, with supporters of both candidates being kicked off. 

Although the party is in significantly better financial shape than last year, it still is running a skeleton staff and is recovering from an expensive contest (in this case, to keep Britain in the European Union). The compliance unit itself remains small, so once again people from across the party staff have been dragooned in.

The process this year is pretty much the same: Labour party headquarters doesn’t have any bespoke software to match its voters against a long list of candidates in local elections, compiled last year and added to the list of candidates that stood against Labour in the 2016 local and devolved elections, plus a large backlog of complaints from activists.

It’s that backlog that is behind many of the highest-profile and most controversial examples. Last year, in one complaint that was not upheld, a local member was reported to the Compliance Unit for their failure to attend their local party’s annual barbecue. The mood in Labour, in the country and at Westminster, is significantly more bitter this summer than last and the complaints more personal. Ronnie Draper, Ronnie Draper, the general secretary of the Bfawu, the bakers’ union, one of Corbyn’s biggest supporters in the trade union movement, has been expelled, reported for tweets which included the use of the word “traitors” to refer to Labour opponents of Corbyn.  Jon Will Chambers, former bag carrier to Stella Creasy, and a vocal Corbyn critic on Twitter, has been kicked out for using a “Theresa May” twibbon to indicate his preference for May over Andrea Leadsom, in contravention of the party’s rules.

Both activities breach the letter of the party’s rules although you can (and people will) make good arguments against empowering other people to comb through the social media profiles of their opponents for reasons to dob them in.  (In both cases, I wouldn’t be shocked if both complaints were struck down on appeal)

I would be frankly astonished if Corbyn’s margin of victory – or defeat, as unlikely as that remains in my view – isn’t significantly bigger than the number of people who are barred from voting, which will include supporters of both candidates, as well as a number of duplicates (some people who paid £25 were in fact members before the freeze date, others are affliated trade unionists, and so on). 

What is unarguably more significant, as one party staffer reflected is, “the complaints are nastier now [than last year]”. More and more of the messages to compliance are firmly in what you might call “the barbecue category” – they are obviously groundless and based on personal animosity. That doesn’t feel like the basis of a party that is ready to unite at any level. Publicly and privately, most people are still talking down the chances of a split. It may prove impossible to avoid.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.