Cameron pulled in all directions on Europe

Ed Miliband accuses Cameron of leading the UK to the EU "exit" as David Davis demands two referendums.

Ken Clarke is one of the few prominent Conservative politicians still prepared to make the case for EU integration and he did it with gusto on the Today programme this morning. It was "complete folly" to put our membership at risk, he said, lamenting that the country had gone into "a nervous breakdown" over the subject. He dismissed the 53 Tory MPs who voted for a real-terms cut in the EU budget as "extreme Eurosceptics" and revealed that David Cameron had assured him that he was committed to continued British membership of the union.

"David Cameron assures the public, he’s always assured me, that he believes, as I do, that Britain’s place in the modern world has got to be in the EU.

It would be a disaster for our influence in global political events; it would be a disaster for the British economy, if we were to leave the EU. It damages our influence in these great critical events of the moment if we keep casting doubt on our continued membership."

Cameron, meanwhile, is being pulled in all directions on Europe today. In a speech at the CBI's annual conference, (which will also hear addresses from Cameron, Vince Cable and Boris Johnson), Ed Miliband will accuse him of allowing Britain to "sleepwalk towards exit" in a "betrayal of our national interest."

The Labour leader will say:

For more than three decades, our membership of the EU has seemed to be a settled question. Not any more.

Public scepticism about the EU has been on the rise for some time. Some cabinet ministers in this government now openly say we would be better off outside the EU.

And many of our traditional allies in Europe clearly think Britain is heading to the exit door. Those of us, like me, who passionately believe that Britain is stronger in the EU cannot be silent in a situation like this. I will not allow our country to sleepwalk towards exit because it would be a betrayal of our national interest.

He will add that were the UK to leave the EU, it would be "the United States, China, the EU in the negotiating room - and Britain in the overflow room. We would end up competing on low wages and low skills: an offshore low-value economy, a race to the bottom".

At the same time, Cameron's former leadership rival David Davis will use a speech at St Stephen's Club to call for the PM to offer not one but two referendums on Europe. The first would be a vote on what powers the government should seek to repatriate from Brussels, the second, to be held following the conclusion of negotiations, would be a vote on whether to remain in the EU.

Cameron is still expected to use a speech before Christmas to outline plans to hold a referendum after the next election on a "new EU settlement" for Britain, but Davis and other Tory MPs are growing increasingly impatient. As Davis said on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday: "Nobody believes it and why should they? The British public have been promised a referendum by the three major parties, and every single one has not delivered. Now, they may have their reasons, but they haven’t delivered and so the public feel they’ve been lied to – they won’t believe any more promises on referenda actually."

Elsewhere, the ever-helpful Boris Johnson uses his Telegraph column to warn Cameron that nothing less than a veto of the EU budget will do. He writes:

It is time for David Cameron to put on that pineapple-coloured wig and powder blue suit, whirl his handbag round his head and bring it crashing to the table with the words no, non, nein, neen, nee, ne, ei and ochi, until they get the message.

Yet a veto, by compelling the EU to set annual budgets through qualified majority voting, would almost certainly lead to a large increase in the UK contribution. If Cameron wants to make a eurosceptic gesture, it could prove a costly one.

David Cameron is expected to announce details of an EU referendum in a speech before the end of the year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.