David Cameron at the EU headquarters on February 8, 2013 in Brussels. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron's appeasement of the eurosceptics hasn't worked, but he had no alternative

Had the PM refused to promise a referendum, he would likely have been deposed as Conservative leader.

When David Cameron pledged to hold an in/out EU referendum in the next parliament, having long opposed one, the hope was that it would solve his Europe problem. Tory optimists predicted that the commitment would unite the party, end the seepage of votes to Ukip, and allow Cameron to focus on more salient issues such as the economy (the EU does not even make it into the top ten of voters' concerns). 

It has not worked. A year and a half on from Cameron's pledge, a Conservative MP, Douglas Carswell, has defected to Ukip, protesting that Cameron cannot be trusted to deliver a referendum (this despite him having promised to resign as prime minister if he fails to do so), Ukip is still riding high in the polls at around 15 per cent, and the PM is again being forced to bang about Europe (with MPs now demanding that he declares his willingness to campaign for withdrawal). 

The lesson many draw is that Cameron was foolish to even try and appease the anti-EU brigade. Rather than being sated by concessions from the Conservative leadership, they simply bank them and come back for more. Short of a unilateral nuclear strike on Brussels, nothing will satisfy them.

All of this is true, but it is far from clear that there was a better alternative available to Cameron. Had he refused to promise an EU referendum, he would likely have suffered earlier defections to Ukip and even have been deposed as Conservative leader. His party would be even more divided than it currently is and Nigel Farage would be able to grandstand as the only man prepared to allow voters to have their say on EU membership. 

The reality is that the Tories' Europe wars will only be resolved when the public either vote for withdrawal in a referendum (giving the Better Off Outers what they want), or vote to stay (providing a democratic justification for Britain's continued membership). Since Cameron hopes to achieve the latter outcome, the best strategy is the one he has chosen: renegotiation followed by a referendum (the model that worked for Harold Wilson in 1975).

The logical alternative to a strategy of appeasement would have been one of aggression, and that is not a road that Cameron could have taken with any confidence. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.