David Cameron has appeased Tory backbenchers for now - but may have fatally wounded his party

For most of the twentieth century, it was the centre-left that was split. After this week, the chances of Labour and the Lib Dems working together have risen sharply

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron’s offer of a referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU many years from now, in the event of a Conservative majority government, pending substantial renegotiations with the EU in advance, is so stuffed full of hypotheticals that it’s a wonder how much time we’re all devoting to it (yes, I know that includes me in writing this column). But amid all the uncertainties, one thing that can be said with reasonable confidence is that Cameron has reduced his chances of being Prime Minister after the next General Election.

This point was made with customary force by Steve Richards yesterday. As Steve – typically well briefed – put it: “Because of Cameron’s position on Europe, I do not believe the Lib Dems could form another coalition with the Conservatives”. Remember the Tories have a vast electoral mountain to climb to get a majority. Never mind the current polls; it’s their unpopularity with women voters, ethnic minorities, the north, and the public sector (before austerity has really kicked in) that means their chances are minimal.

Scars of history

So put together the low chances of a Tory majority, and the lower chances of Lib Dems forming another coalition with the Tories, and you can see why Steve may be right. But I think you can go further still. Look to history and I think you can say the other reason David Cameron may not be Prime Minister is that he may – may – not have a Conservative Party to lead. At least not in its current form.

Every Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher has been confronted with a Tory split over Europe, and eventually succumbed to it. Cameron is no different. This week Tory MPs roared with approval at his arrival in the Commons chamber. But what happens when, in private meetings, he tells them that he is in favour of Britain staying in the EU? He will quickly discover that Liam Fox, Douglas Carswell, John Redwood and David Davis want out – as do many others, each carrying precious votes and support with them.

Hasn’t Cameron – repeating the mistakes of Harold Wilson, Labour’s then leader, in 1972 – just formalised the beginning of a new phase in a decades-long Tory civil war over Europe? The difference is this time the latter have an attractive, well-funded, plausible home. It is called Ukip.

The progressive century

For most of the 20th century, it was the British centre-left that was split. The result was conservative dominance. Now a Prime Minister who wanted his party to “stop banging on about Europe” has offered Labour and the Lib Dems the chance to be reconciled and deliver a progressive century.

Whether they do so depends, to a disconcerting degree, on Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg burying their differences. Their relationship is now the most important in British politics. Recent reports suggest a thaw. It is so clearly in both Labour and Lib Dem interests to get together, and dance on common ground, that both parties should be clearing diaries to arrange dinner, wives and all, between their leaders. If they’re after a discreet venue, I live in Highbury and cook a mean tagine.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Seven per cent of young men have recently stopped using deodorant  

‘Sweaty-gate’ leaves a bad smell for PRs and journalists

Danny Rogers
Alison Parker and Adam Ward: best remembered before tragedy  

The only way is ethics: Graphic portraits of TV killings would upset many, not just our readers in the US

Will Gore
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory