24 Oct 2011

Europe referendum vote – now is not the time, says Cameron

David Cameron just told his backbenchers that now is not the right time, at a time of economic crisis, for the Europe referendum vote.

“When your neighbours’ house is on fire” you should help to put out the fire, stop it reaching your own house and not walk away, he said. Labour did its best to maintain a disruptive rumble throughout the PM’s words but even without that there was no sense of a Blair-style mood-changing moment.

Any switching that happens amongst rebels will be down to being monstered in private, not won over by rhetoric on display in the Commons chamber on the basis of the performances so far.

At the meeting with parliamentary private secretaries, switched to the PM’s office in the Commons, I understand that several PPSs asked challenging questions of the PM – including Jake Berry, Mark Simmonds, Mark Lancaster, Stewart Jackson and Aidan Burley. A few, like Mary Macleod, asked somewhat more supportive questions.

Lord Tebbit is one of the ghosts of Maastricht that David Cameron is trying to banish with today’s tactics. He wasn’t an MP at the time of the debates but Lord Tebbit was a regular presence in the Commons back-rooms offering spiritual leadership to the rebels. Two decades on, this is his message, in a Channel 4 News interview, to would be rebels.

Lord Tebbit: “The question one has to ask is, is it likely that a new leader would come from those who are intimidated by the three line whip into reneging on what they truly believe, or whether it will be those who voted against the government, whether somewhere there is someone who is making a reputation, a) that he can stand up to authority, and secondly that he listens to what his constituents are saying and says I will act for my constituents regardless of what the party does.

Me: “That sounds like a call to arms.”

Lord Tebbit: “I think it’s a call to standing firm, and I very much regret that suddenly the prime minister tossed out of the second floor window of Number Ten an edict that these people would be crushed; if they’re any good they won’t be crushed.”

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