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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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.