David Cameron speaks during his press conference on the EU in Brussels earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron admits that the Treasury kept him in the dark over £1.7bn EU bill

The PM found out about the demand several days later than George Osborne. 

Aside from his visible fury at the EU landing him with a bill for an extra £1.7bn in membership contributions, the most notable thing about David Cameron's press conference in Brussels was his admission of a communication breakdown inside the government. While Cameron only learned of the budgetary demand yesterday, he confirmed that the Treasury knew of it several days earlier:

The first that I saw of it was yesterday, Thursday, and my instant reaction was to look at the other countries that are being treated in this way and to form an alliance with them and put a stop to this European Council so it could be properly discussed and an emergency meeting of finance ministers could be established.

Yes, the Treasury had this information a little bit earlier but I don't seek to single people out and say 'Why didn't you tell me this?' or 'Why didn't you tell me that?'.

When this information comes in the first thing they do is try to check it and sort it.

I think, frankly, it is a bit of a red herring. You can all do 'Who knew what whens' and all the rest of it but actually, frankly, you don't need a Cluedo set to know that someone has been clubbed with the lead piping in the library.

George Osborne revealed on Sky News earlier that he was "told on Tuesday", while Danny Alexander said he was informed of it "over the past couple of days". "It's something that's only formally been handed over in that period." One wonders if Cameron is as content with his ministers keeping him in the dark as his public comments suggest.

While the timing of the demand and the order for payment by 1 December has come as a surprise, the request itself should not have done. The Treasury knew months ago that the British economy had been reclassified as around £10bn larger than previously thought (owing to the inclusion of illegal activities such as prostitution and drug dealing) and that a higher EU membership fee would result. 

And for all Cameron's protestations, the government will surely pay up (if likely later than 1 December). The demand is entirely consistent with the principle that member states should contribute according to ability to pay. The complaint from the Tories that the UK is being "punished for success" is no more acceptable than a individual complaining that they are being forced to pay more tax when their income rises. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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