Nick Clegg speaks with Douglas Alexander and Ed Miliband before Angela Merkel addresses both Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Lib Dem decision not to guarantee EU referendum offers relief for Labour

Miliband's party will not be left as the only one that "doesn't trust the people".

After recent murmurings that the Lib Dems could come out in favour of a guaranteed in/out EU referendum, there is relief among Labour that Nick Clegg has resolved not to do so. At a meeting of the parliamentary party last night, Lib Dem MPs agreed that the party would stick to its current stance of only holding a vote in the event of a further transfer of powers to Brussels. Tim Farron on the left and Jeremy Browne on the right were among those arguing for a referendum, but Clegg prevailed.

Had the Deputy PM changed his stance, it would have been harder for Ed Miliband to defend his refusal to promise a referendum, with Labour cast as the only party that "doesn't trust the people". Now, with both parties committed to only holding a vote if more sovereignty is passed to the EU, they will be able to team up to present Cameron's arbitrary timetable as a threat to business and to the national interest.

But while the Lib Dems have moved away from a referendum, Unite has moved towards one. The trade union's executive has warned that Labour's failure to support one is "likely to be an electoral millstone", arrguing that "the issue can never be resolved except on the basis of a clear democratic mandate". A motion on the issue will be voted on at the Unite conference in Liverpool today. But while the union's move will embolden those in Labour who have long argued for a referendum, such as Tom Watson and Keith Vaz, there is no prospect of Miliband changing his stance. As I have outlined before, the Labour leader believes that a guaranteed vote is wrong in both principle and practice, and is not prepared to risk the opening years of his government being dominated by an issue that could result in a premiership-ending defeat.

One remaining nuance that separates the Lib Dems' stance from that of Labour is that Clegg believes the conditions for a referendum are likely to be met in the next parliament. Miliband, however, does not. Expect this subtle but important difference to receive more attention as the future of Britain's EU membership comes under ever-greater scrutiny.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Grant Shapps on the campaign trail. Photo: Getty
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Grant Shapps resigns over Tory youth wing bullying scandal

The minister, formerly party chairman, has resigned over allegations of bullying and blackmail made against a Tory activist. 

Grant Shapps, who was a key figure in the Tory general election campaign, has resigned following allegations about a bullying scandal among Conservative activists.

Shapps was formerly party chairman, but was demoted to international development minister after May. His formal statement is expected shortly.

The resignation follows lurid claims about bullying and blackmail among Tory activists. One, Mark Clarke, has been accused of putting pressure on a fellow activist who complained about his behaviour to withdraw the allegation. The complainant, Elliot Johnson, later killed himself.

The junior Treasury minister Robert Halfon also revealed that he had an affair with a young activist after being warned that Clarke planned to blackmail him over the relationship. Former Tory chair Sayeedi Warsi says that she was targeted by Clarke on Twitter, where he tried to portray her as an anti-semite. 

Shapps appointed Mark Clarke to run RoadTrip 2015, where young Tory activists toured key marginals on a bus before the general election. 

Today, the Guardian published an emotional interview with the parents of 21-year-old Elliot Johnson, the activist who killed himself, in which they called for Shapps to consider his position. Ray Johnson also spoke to BBC's Newsnight:


The Johnson family claimed that Shapps and co-chair Andrew Feldman had failed to act on complaints made against Clarke. Feldman says he did not hear of the bullying claims until August. 

Asked about the case at a conference in Malta, David Cameron pointedly refused to offer Shapps his full backing, saying a statement would be released. “I think it is important that on the tragic case that took place that the coroner’s inquiry is allowed to proceed properly," he added. “I feel deeply for his parents, It is an appalling loss to suffer and that is why it is so important there is a proper coroner’s inquiry. In terms of what the Conservative party should do, there should be and there is a proper inquiry that asks all the questions as people come forward. That will take place. It is a tragic loss of a talented young life and it is not something any parent should go through and I feel for them deeply.” 

Mark Clarke denies any wrongdoing.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.