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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Mark Sampson's exit leaves the FA still trying to convince itself of its own infallibility

Football's governing body won't be able to repair the damage to its reputation in silence.

By the end, it appeared as if Mark Sampson was weathering the storm.

Despite personal reflections that the uproar and scandal that has surrounded his recent tenure as England women's football manger was taking a toll, he seemed, as of Tuesday night, firmly ensconced in the post he had held since 2013.

Player Eniola Aluko’s claims of bullying and racism against the coach – given little backing from teammates and, on balance, disregarded by consecutive enquiries – remained a persistent story, yet talk of a fresh investigation were trumped in importance by Sampson’s continued presence at training and in the dugout.

The BBC’s occasionally rabid attachment to proceedings gave the saga prolonged oxygen, but when Sampson seemed to retain the FA’s support – taking charge of the Lionesses’ 6-0 win over Russia on Tuesday night – the worst appeared to be over.

With hindsight, the vultures were simply sharpening their talons.

Sampson’s sacking – less than 24 hours after that Russia game – came after a report was unearthed detailing a historic complaint against him from his time coaching Bristol Academy – a job he left to take up the England post.

In what has long become customary, the FA received these claims nearly four years ago yet failed to act definitively – initially concluding that their new coach was “not a safeguarding risk”. However as the recent crisis depended, the full details of these initial accusations were allegedly not revealed to senior leadership.

Confirming Sampson's departure on Wednesday, FA chief executive Martin Glenn carried a pained expression reminiscent of former incumbent Mark Palios, who, in another entry in the annals of great FA crises, resigned in 2004 as a result of an affair with FA secretary Faria Alam.

Glenn will hope that his own head is not sought in the weeks ahead as his conduct throughout the Sampson saga is probed.

It also marks yet another turbulent 12 months for the beleaguered governing body, who almost exactly a year ago to the day, parted company with England men’s coach Sam Allardyce after just a single game in charge – the former Bolton and Sunderland coach getting the bullet as a result of transfer advice offered to undercover journalists.

The Allardyce departure was handled with uncharacteristic efficiency – a symptom, perhaps, of the initial scepticism behind his appointment rather than any particular reflection on his crimes.

With clear-eyed judgement, it is difficult not to have a portion of sympathy for Sampson – who, cleared by those investigations, maintained the very visible backing of his squad – right up until Wednesday’s bitter denouement.

That he’s been paid in full for the three-year contract signed last summer speaks for how soft a line the FA took on the events that forced the sacking – hoping, perhaps, for as quiet an ending as possible for both parties.

Regrettably, for the FA at least, considerable damage to their reputation will not be something they can repair in silence – not in an era where women’s football enjoys such a high profile in the national consciousness and the body continues to mark itself an easy target for criticism. 

The exact contents of those 2014 allegations and that report are sure to be known down the line – non-disclosure agreements willing – but are as of now only conjecture and innuendo.

Without details, it’s difficult to know how hard to judge Sampson. The facts of his performance on the pitch mark him out as having been an accomplished coach. That is no longer the exclusive measure of success.

Detractors will murmur darkly about there being no smoke without fire, while his supporters will point to the unique nature of the job and the often confrontational elements of its duties.

Sampson, at 34, is still a relatively young man and may be able to coach again once the rancour has subsided – although with a reputation severely bloodied, will look on the two-year salary windfall with some gratitude.

Despite Glenn’s insistence that his former manager is “clear to work” in the sport, it’s hard to envisage his career ever resuming in the women’s game.

The FA itself is again left rudderless as it tries to convince itself of its own infallibility. Flabby management structures and the perception of being an antiquated country club – valid or not – will be revisited with relish.

Perhaps positively, it could herald a more honest conversation behind what success looks like for the national game as a whole. Inclusiveness and development of a robust culture are often the first words to disappear from the vocabulary once on field results start to falter.  

For once, the identity of the next coach is not the urgent dilemma facing the FA.

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