Andrew Grice: Friends abroad, but David Cameron has blood-scenting rivals at home

Inside Westminster: Cameron’s strategy could only work if Eurosceptics trust him. They don’t, and it hasn’t

It has been a topsy-turvy week. David Cameron headed off to the United States for a trip that should have been a spin-doctor’s dream. It turned into a nightmare. He was dogged by events back home as Eurosceptic Conservative MPs caused mayhem in his absence.

Their craving for a referendum on Europe created the crazy spectacle of no Conservative MPs voting for the Queen’s Speech in its entirety, even though it is the legislative programme of a Tory-dominated government. Tory ministers abstained on an amendment regretting the absence of an EU Referendum Bill in the Speech, while 114 Tory MPs defied Mr Cameron by backing the amendment.

Only the Liberal Democrats fully supported the Coalition’s programme. “This is the first time I have voted for a prime minister to defend him from his own party,” said Sir Menzies Campbell, the former Lib Dem leader. A Queen’s Speech is an opportunity for a government to secure positive media coverage. The Tories have managed to turn this one into another omnishambles.

Mr Cameron and his aides repeatedly insisted they were “very relaxed” because this chaos highlighted his pledge to hold an in/out referendum on Europe by 2017. The Prime Minister was anything but “very relaxed”. Every spare second of his team on the three-day visit to the US was spent on the phone to Downing Street dealing with the chaos back home. He even had to send one of his spin doctors back to London to help fight the media firestorm.

Normally, a visit to the White House is a chance to look the statesman on the world stage. But Mr Cameron was in the bizarre position of pushing a historic EU-US trade deal when his hosts knew his own party was obsessing about leaving the EU. On the day he left for Washington, two Cabinet ministers, Michael Gove and Philip Hammond, told interviewers they would vote to withdraw if a referendum were held now. They didn’t need to answer the question. The official line was: there isn’t going to be a referendum until 2017. Their answer showed they have an eye on the Tory leadership race that would follow an election defeat in 2015. It is now respectable for Tories to talk about quitting the EU. The rules of the game changed two weeks ago when Lord Lawson, the former Chancellor, advocated withdrawal and warned that Mr Cameron was unlikely to secure the “new settlement” he seeks with the EU.

So Mr Cameron had to ask the US President to endorse his strategy. Mr Obama obliged, saying: “You probably want to see if you can fix what’s broken in a very important relationship before you break it off.” That would have produced positive headlines after days of being dominated by Tory splits over Europe. But Mr Cameron managed to eclipse his own good news by rushing out a draft EU Referendum Bill in an attempt to head off the Queen’s Speech revolt. That was seen, rightly, as a panic measure. To make matters worse, it didn’t work, since half of Tory backbenchers still rebelled over the Speech.

Mr Cameron should not have been surprised. Eurosceptics are never satisfied – whether Tory MPs or in the UK Independence Party. They always come back for more. The Prime Minister’s big speech on Europe in January, promising a 2017 referendum, was designed to kick the issue beyond the 2015 election. It failed. “We didn’t shoot Ukip’s fox; we fed it,” one insider admitted yesterday. Nor was the appetite of Tory MPs satiated. Some demanded two referendums – one before the general election and one afterwards. And 2017 was too late for others, even though the great renegotiation of Britain’s membership terms has not even started, and there is no knowing when it will finish.

There was a logic to Mr Cameron’s strategy, as the Tories could portray themselves as the only major party promising an in/out referendum on Europe at the next election. But it could work only if Tory Eurosceptics trusted him to deliver it, and shut up. They don’t, and they haven’t. They suspect he rather likes being in coalition and fear their party cannot win a majority in 2015. So they have been trying to nail him to his referendum pledge by demanding legislation before the election to guarantee one afterwards. Their constant pressure makes him look weak. To keep them at bay, he has had to throw his weight behind a Private Member’s Bill promising a 2017 referendum, ensuring his MPs keep banging on about Europe for the next 12 months. Labour and the Lib Dems will point to that while they focus on “jobs and growth”.

The Conservatives have a new anti-Labour attack line: “Same Old Labour.” We can expect to hear it a lot. It is clever, signalling that Ed Miliband has not changed his party and has lurched to the left. It was also meant to be an antidote to Labour’s “Same Old Tories” slogan. After their week of madness, it is the Tories who deserve the “same old, same old” label.

News
scienceExcitement from alien hunters at 'evidence' of extraterrestrial life
Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Sport
sport
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
News
Jermain Defoe got loads of custard
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux, Redhat, Solaris, SAN, Puppet

£55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

.NET Developer

£600 per day: Harrington Starr: .NET Developer C#, WPF,BLL, MSMQ, SQL, GIT, SQ...

Data Centre Engineer - Linux / Redhat / Solaris / Puppet / SAN

£65000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A financial software vendor at the forefro...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape