David Cameron has said he will “rule nothing out” – meaning that he just might call for a No vote in a referendum on EU membership if his negotiations in Brussels come to nothing.
But Ken Clarke doesn’t believe a word of it. The pro-EU Tory, who has spent more years in government than any other living politician, is sure that Cameron is not so unprincipled as to sacrifice his lifelong support for the EU for the sake of clinging to office.
He said at a lunch organised by the Institute of Economic Affairs today that Cameron had promised a referendum for the same reason that Harold Wilson did 40 years ago – as a way of managing an unruly party. That has not stopped the right wing from putting him under constant pressure to go further, and make exit an inevitability.
Mr Clarke added: “The reason we have this anarchic situation with the public is most of the public don’t believe that any of the political establishment have a principle in their body.
“If you wish to confirm that you don’t have a principle in your body, then you only have to have some leading Conservatives campaigning for a No vote in a referendum, or forming a coalition with Ukip. It’s utterly preposterous. They would be treated, quite rightly, with disillusion and derision by ordinary members of the public.
“You would have me going bananas if I thought David Cameron was contemplating campaigning for a No vote. It was never his intention. There are limits to how far you can go to stand on your head.”
Cameron will be flattered to know that Ken Clarke thinks there is a man of principle in there, somewhere.
Murdoch’s new squeeze
Congratulations to the New York-based website Gawker for their forensic investigation into whether Rupert Murdoch has been tweeting while under the influence of alcohol. I am told that the personal unhappiness that caused him to send mysterious messages such as “Po” to his 558,000 Twitter followers can be traced to the break-up of his marriage to Wendy Deng. That is very understandable. How many of us in our adolescence did not take refuge in drink when our girlfriends or boyfriends dumped us?
But I am reliably told there is good news: new love has entered Rupert Murdoch’s life. And the Murdoch children do not mind because although she is almost 30 years younger than his 83 years, she is still past the age at which there would be any danger of more Murdoch children emerging from the relationship to claim their share of the inheritance.
The unkindest cut of all
There was a moment during the press screening of the forthcoming BBC 2 documentary Inside the Commons which produced a burst of cruel laughter from the audience of hacks.
Talking about the vastness of the building, the Tory MP Nicholas Soames described coming upon a bar of whose existence he was previously unaware during 30 years as an MP. No sooner had he said the word “bar” than the camera cut away to a shot of Charles Kennedy, who led the Lib Dems to their greatest political success, but whose career was cut short by a drink problem.
The first episode follows the progress of two newly elected women MPs, Labour’s Sarah Champion and the Tory, Charlotte Leslie, as they learn Parliament’s arcane rules and practices. After a rowdy Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms Champion exclaims: “The behaviour in there is just disgusting, really embarrassing, juvenile!”
She added that the offenders were “men in their fifties.” Ms Leslie explains that she went into politics because “I have always been angry. I feel like smashing brick walls down.”
The Environment minister, George Eustice, when challenged on what the Government has done to alert dog owners to legislation that will oblige to fit their pets with microchips announced that Dennis the Menace’s dog, Gnasher, has a new microchip. Actually, that news is two months old. It only shows that MPs do not read The Beano. Not that I am suggesting they should.
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