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
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
people
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Sport
Greg Dyke insists he will not resign as Football Association chairman after receiving a watch worth more than £16,000 but has called for an end to the culture of gifts being given to football officials
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
Latest stories from i100
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

PMLD Teaching Assistant Required - Nottingham

£50 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Nottingham: We are currently looking to ...

IT Support Technician (2nd Line / Server Support) - Bedford

£24000 - £26000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: 2nd line IT Support Techn...

Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Would you like to have a b...

Year 3 Teacher

£100 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: KS2 TeacherWould you like ...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments