Cameron promises: no more EU U-turns

The PM insists that the date of the referendum "isn't going to change". But will Tory MPs allow him to keep his word?

After one of his most difficult weeks since becoming prime minister, David Cameron put in a polished and assured peformance on the Today programme this morning. The most notable line came on Europe, with Cameron declaring, "It doesn't matter the pressure I come under from Europe, or inside the Tory party, this policy isn’t going to change. The date by which we hold this referendum isn't going to change." That was a clear signal to Tory MPs that any demands for a "mandate" referendum or for an early vote on Britain's EU membership will be rejected. But having capitulated so many times before, first by promising to hold an in/out referendum and then by drafting a bill to enshrine it in law, it is an open question whether Cameron will prevail on this occasion. Here, for instance, is what he said about a referendum in October 2011: "It's not the right time, at this moment of economic crisis, to launch legislation that includes an in-out referendum. This is not the time to argue about walking away."

On gay marriage, having largely remained silent on the issue all week, Cameron finally took the opportunity to make a passionate conservative case for the policy. "I think it's important that we have this degree of equality and I say that as someone who's a massive supporter of marriage," he said. He spoke of "young boys in schools today, who are gay, and who are worried are about being bullied" who  would see that "the highest parliament in the land has said that their love is worth as much as anyone else's and they'll stand that little bit taller today." 

After recent speculation that the Tories are planning for an early divorce from the Lib Dems, Cameron said that it was "absolutely" his "intention" for the coalition to remain in place "right up until polling day". 

More broadly, he used the interview to hammer home what will be the Tories' message up until the general election, that they are "fixing the economy, reforming welfare and delivering more good schools". If Cameron can maintain that focus, he still has a chance of winning the next election. The question now is whether his party will allow him to do so. 

David Cameron speaks at a press conference at the EU headquarters on February 8, 2013 in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Helen and Stephen discuss what was left out, watered down and generally squished around in the Queen's Speech - from prison reform to fox hunting - and what kind of stage it sets for the coming parliamentary term. Will Labour's stance on immigration have to change? And what Brexit deal could secure a parliamentary majority? Clue: it's a royal mess.

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Helen on domestic violence: "The big lesson of the last couple of weeks is that the involvement of domestic violence in Terror has finally made (slightly more men) take it slightly more seriously. As actually now it becomes part of an anti-radicalisation process."

Stephen on Conservative strategy: "If you look at the back end of the Conservative government in the 90s: when your parliamentary situation is rocky, the best way of dealing with that is just for parliamentary not to sit all that much. Don't bring the pain."

Helen on Brexit: "There is an interesting complacency about the dominance and attractiveness of the British economy [...] whereas actually our economy has recovered quite badly and our productivity is still quite low. I wouldn't be that smug about the British economy."

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