David Cameron: Trouble ahead? Photo credit: Bisgovuk
MPs are preparing to vote today on a motion calling for a referendum on Britain’s EU membership. David Cameron has imposed a three-line whip on Conservative MPs to vote against the motion. Who will be the winners and losers, whatever the result?
Bad strategy. Writing in The Independent, Mary Ann Sieghart argued that Cameron’s hardline stance is a mistake, with Conservative Cabinet ministers and MPs alike “absolutely infuriated” that there is no free vote on the motion. “If Cameron had allowed a free vote today, he would have given the right of his party a chance to let off steam harmlessly. He would have strengthened his hand in EU negotiations while still retaining control of the timing and subject of any referendum,” she wrote.
People power? What’s more, Sieghart said that the fact the debate was triggered by an e-petition meant Cameron should have thought more carefully about how imposing the whip would come across to voters: “It’s tantamount to sticking two fingers up to the public,” she wrote. Indeed, a Telegraph View agreed, pointing out that the vote would not have been binding to the government anyway, but should have been “an opportunity for backbenchers to have a say on an issue of great importance to their own constituents”.
Party versus people. An Express editorial comment piece went even further, suggesting Cameron was forcing Conservative MPs to choose between their party and the people they serve: “It is a tactic which makes a mockery of the democratic process.”
But do the people care? Writing in The Telegraph, Matthew D’Ancona argued that the British public, while mainly eurosceptic, is not actually all that interested in the EU; he cited an Ipsos/MORI survey that found “Europe/EU” ranked 16th in a list of issues important to the electorate. D’Ancona said that Cameron has correctly identified that “banging on” about Europe will not win over voters: “It is not just ‘splits’ over Europe that the Tories should avoid. It is shrillness,” he wrote.
Cameron will rethink EU. In fact, D’Ancona suggested that Cameron would be willing to have a referendum on Britain’s EU membership in the future, but that the prime minister recognises that this is not the right time: “The eurozone emergency is precisely the wrong moment to force this debate. Marriage counselling is pointless when the couple’s house is on fire,” he said.
Too little too late? According to Ballots & Bullets, if the predicted number of Tory MPs do rebel, Cameron will have broken a new record: “All the signs therefore are that Monday will produce the largest Commons rebellion of Cameron’s premiership – and the largest ever rebellion by Conservative MPs when in government over the issue of Europe.” But writing in The Independent, John Rentoul predicted Cameron would still win out: “He will win the vote, assert his authority over his party and appear strong on the television news. Not for the first time, he understands politics better than his opponents do,” said Rentoul.