Cameron to deliver EU speech in the Netherlands this Friday

Downing Street confirms a date for the PM's long-delayed speech on "the future of the EU and the UK's relationship with it".

After months of speculation, Downing Street has finally confirmed a date for David Cameron's EU speech. The PM will deliver his long-delayed address on "the future of the EU and the UK's relationship with it" in the Netherlands this Friday. Cameron originally intended to give the speech on 22 January but was forced to change the date after Angela Merkel's office complained that it clashed with celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the Élysée Treaty (or Treaty of Friendship) between France and Germany.

Tory MPs were promised an address from Cameron on Europe as long ago as last June but when the speech failed to materialise, this was changed to "before Christmas". When this deadline too was missed, Cameron ill-advisedly remarked at a press gallery lunch in Westminster: "Thanks for reminding me that my Europe speech remains as yet unmade. This is a tantric approach to policy-making: it’ll be even better when it does eventually come."

The PM has now raised expectations so high that he will struggle to meet them. It is clear that Cameron will pledge to seek the repatriation of powers from the EU before offering voters a choice between this "new settlement" and withdrawal in a referendum midway through the next parliament. But to satisfy Tory MPs he will also need to show that he has a plan ready if other EU members refuse to play ball.

David Cameron leaves Number 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Benn vs McDonnell: how Brexit has exposed the fight over Labour's party machine

In the wake of Brexit, should Labour MPs listen more closely to voters, or their own party members?

Two Labour MPs on primetime TV. Two prominent politicians ruling themselves out of a Labour leadership contest. But that was as far as the similarity went.

Hilary Benn was speaking hours after he resigned - or was sacked - from the Shadow Cabinet. He described Jeremy Corbyn as a "good and decent man" but not a leader.

Framing his overnight removal as a matter of conscience, Benn told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "I no longer have confidence in him [Corbyn] and I think the right thing to do would be for him to take that decision."

In Benn's view, diehard leftie pin ups do not go down well in the real world, or on the ballot papers of middle England. 

But while Benn may be drawing on a New Labour truism, this in turn rests on the assumption that voters matter more than the party members when it comes to winning elections.

That assumption was contested moments later by Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Dismissive of the personal appeal of Shadow Cabinet ministers - "we can replace them" - McDonnell's message was that Labour under Corbyn had rejuvenated its electoral machine.

Pointing to success in by-elections and the London mayoral election, McDonnell warned would-be rebels: "Who is sovereign in our party? The people who are soverign are the party members. 

"I'm saying respect the party members. And in that way we can hold together and win the next election."

Indeed, nearly a year on from Corbyn's surprise election to the Labour leadership, it is worth remembering he captured nearly 60% of the 400,000 votes cast. Momentum, the grassroots organisation formed in the wake of his success, now has more than 50 branches around the country.

Come the next election, it will be these grassroots members who will knock on doors, hand out leaflets and perhaps even threaten to deselect MPs.

The question for wavering Labour MPs will be whether what they trust more - their own connection with voters, or this potentially unbiddable party machine.