The official Downing Street line is that David Cameron is “very happy” about the latest Conservative row over Europe because it will remind voters of his pledge to hold an in/out referendum by 2017.
Nice try, but if you believe that, you’ll believe anything. The Tories’ internal divisions are damaging and show that the Prime Minister, like John Major before him, is being buffeted by events and not in control of his own party.
In public, Tory Eurosceptics insist they are merely trying to help Mr Cameron win the trust of voters at a time when they don’t believe politicians’ promises. In private, they admit they don’t trust him to deliver his pledge, so they are trying to nail him to it.
Mr Cameron hoped his announcement in January of a referendum would get the Tory Europhobes off his back until 2015 and keep the UK Independence Party at bay. Neither has happened. Tossing bones to the Eurosceptics doesn’t work. They demand red meat and their appetite is never satisfied.
The man who told the Tories to stop “banging on about Europe” has been sucked into banging on and on about it as he tries to restore order to a fractious party still needlessly obsessed with the issue.
If he announced that a referendum were to be held tomorrow, some Eurosceptics would criticise him for not holding it yesterday.