A winner then, a loser later. Photo: Getty Images
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David Cameron moves the EU referendum back - is he turning into John Major?

Downing Street has squashed talk of a second referendum under pressure from the party's Eurosceptics and Labour. Is it 1992 all over again?

Downing Street has ruled out an early referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union under pressure from Conservative backbenchers and the Opposition. 

Although the Referendum Bill currently making its way through the Houses of Parliament guarantees a referendum by 31 December 2017, Downing Street staffers were keen to avoid holding the referendum in midterm. May 2016 was eyed as a possible date, setting up "a day of seven elections" - elections to the devolved legislatures in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, local elections in England, police and crime comissioner elections, and the Mayoral contest in London alongside the referendum. However, Newsnight reveals, that plan has been shelved, either setting up a referendum later on in 2016 or holding off until 2017. 

The move will reassure combatants on both sides. As Carwyn Jones, the Welsh First Minister, told the New Statesman in a recent interview, holding the contest in May would mean that Welsh voters would have "four ballots, with four different electoral systems", and could scupper any hope of a joint pro-European campaign: "You can't attack Plaid Cymru one day and share a platform with them the next". But it will also cheer Eurosceptics, who feared that a quick referendum would see the contest defined as Ukip against the rest, leaving them little chance of taking Britain out of Europe. "We don't have our best suit and tie on yet," fretted one Eurosceptic MP recently. 

The reality is that it is pressure from that quarter, not concern from the devolved legislatures or pressure from Labour, that has forced Cameron's hand. It all feels more reminiscent than he would like of the last time the Conservatives won a majority, in 1992. Then, as now, it briefly looked as if Labour would never govern again, before European division torn the Tory party apart. That Cameron, at the peak of his powers, has already been forced into two European U-Turns, delaying his plans to scrap the Human Rights Act, and lengthening the timetable for the referendum, suggests the same may happen to him,

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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Why Prince Charles and Princess Anne are both wrong on GM foods

The latest tiff between toffs gives plenty of food for thought.

I don’t have siblings, so I was weirdly curious as a kid about friends who did, especially when they argued (which was often). One thing I noticed was the importance of superlatives: of being the best child, the most right, and the first to have been wronged. And it turns out things are no different for the Royals.

You might think selective breeding would be a subject on which Prince Charles and Princess Anne would share common ground, but when it comes to genetically modified crops they have very different opinions.

According to Princess Anne, the UK should ditch its concerns about GM and give the technology the green light. In an interview to be broadcast on Radio 4’s Farming Today, she said would be keen to raise both modified crops and livestock on her own land.

“Most of us would argue we have been genetically modifying food since man started to be agrarian,” she said (rallying the old first-is-best argument to her cause). She also argued that the practice can help reduce the price of our food and improve the lives of animals - and “suspects” that there are not many downsides.

Unfortunately for Princess Anne, her Royal “us” does not include her brother Charles, who thinks that GM is The Worst.

In 2008, he warned that genetically engineered food “will be guaranteed to cause the biggest disaster environmentally of all time.”  Supporting such a path would risk handing control of our food-chain to giant corporations, he warned -  leading to “absolute disaster” and “unmentionable awfulness” and “the absolute destruction of everything”.

Normally such a spat could be written off as a toff-tiff. But with Brexit looming, a change to our present ban on growing GM crops commercially looks ever more likely.

In this light, the need to swap rhetoric for reason is urgent. And the most useful anti-GM argument might instead be that offered by the United Nations’ cold, hard data on crop yields.

Analysis by the New York Times shows that, in comparison to Europe, the United States and Canada have “gained no discernible advantages” from their use of GM (in terms of food per acre). Not only this, but herbicide use in the US has increased rather than fallen.

In sum: let's swap superlatives and speculation for sense.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.