Sunday 19 May 2013
How symbolic it was, writes Booker, that just when those 114 Tory MPs were voting to deplore the omission from the Queen’s Speech of any mention of an in/out referendum on the EU, the EU's finance ministers in Brussels were voting for UK taxpayers to give another £770 million to this year's agreed EU budget, with a further £400 million to follow.
George Osborne had gone over to Brussels determined to resist this additional demand, but was derisively outvoted. UK taxpayers must therefore fork out a further £1.2 billion, making a mockery of that ancient and jealously guarded rule that money can only be taken off them by agreement of the House of Commons.
The previous week, our Government, in the Queen's Speech, could only scrape together proposals for a mere twenty new Bills, when not long ago Parliament could regularly pass up to 200 Bills in a session.
But this is because so much of our lawmaking has now been outsourced to our real government in Brussels (the European Parliament website lists over 1,300 "legislative acts" being considered in its current session). The MPs we elect to Westminster have no more control over that than they do over the EU's decision to filch another £1 billion of our money.
A measure of just how far the power has drained from our emasculated Westminster Parliament is the sight of our politicians now resentfully stumbling around in a fog, arguing one way or another about some possible referendum, without really grasping any of the realities of the situation in which we now find ourselves. We see them falling into three main groups.
The first includes all those unreconstructed Europhiles who think it pointless even to discuss a referendum because the polls show "Europe" way down the list of issues voters think important. Oddly enough, the last thing such people want to explain to those voters is that the EU is now the chief engine of our government, let alone what an unholy mess it is making of all it touches.
A second large group, led by Mr Cameron, favours the "have our cake and eat it" option. They admit that Britain's position is desperately unsatisfactory, but kid themselves into thinking that we can remain a member of the EU while somehow renegotiating the return of some of those powers we have given away.
But they are baying for the moon, ignoring the most sacred rule on which it has steadily accumulated its powers for 60 years: that once power is given away to the centre, it can never be handed back. The "reformed" EU they babble of is one that does not and cannot exist.
Still further across the spectrum are those dreamers demanding an in/out referendum as soon as possible, because they want us to get out. What they overlook is that, if such a referendum were held in the foreseeable future, the "yes" vote to stay in would win overwhelmingly, because a) no one has yet offered a properly worked out and positive vision of how well Britain could fare if we were to leave, and b) the leaderships of all the major parties, most of the media – led by the BBC – and big business would campaign to keep us in.
Because of the absence of a positive alternative, it would be only too easy to scare voters into thinking that we would be left miserably out in the cold, losing half our trade and all that influence that we enjoy sitting around in Brussels being outvoted by our 26 colleagues.
In short, we might be just like Norway and Switzerland, the two most prosperous countries in Europe, outside the EU but free to do more of their trade with it than we do. In many ways they actually have more influence on its affairs than Britain, through belonging to those global bodies that now make many of the rules on which we are represented only by the EU.
Scratch away at what Mr Cameron's lot think they are after, and what it really comes down to is that they want us to be allowed to continue trading with the EU, like Norway and Switzerland, but without all that suffocating political baggage that goes along with the EU's drive to "ever-closer union".
The only way they can get that is by invoking Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, which alone could compel the EU to sit down with us to negotiate precisely the sort of a deal they want. But the snag is, of course, that we can only open that door by saying we want to leave: the very last thing Mr Cameron is prepared to do.
He wants to have his cake and eat it, Booker concludes – a dish that is simply not on the menu.
Sunday 19 May 2013
There is an amount of wibbling over the announcement of an EU requirement to serve olive oil in restaurants in labelled, non-resealable bottles. In particular, we get complaints that the measure is "authoritarian and damaging to artisanal food makers", and condemnation of unaccountable technocrats (see comments).
What is interesting, though, is that this proposal has been on the table for some years, as a way of increasing the support for the quality end of the industry, and reducing fraud. Marked, single-use bottles, it is felt, will reduce the amount of product adulteration, and thereby up the purchases of higher-grade product.
The Italians were calling for non-refillable bottles in 2009 and two months ago passed the so-called "Mongiello Law" – on which the EU law is modelled – which requires single-use bottles or packs. Meanwhile, the Portuguese industry has been using non refillable bottles in restaurants since 2005, with positive results.
Nevertheless, it is easy for the media to get renta-quotes from up-market Belgravia restaurants, and the statutory eurosceptic, about "EU bureaucrats", but they are missing the mark.
The measure was only proposed by the commission after prolonged lobbying by producer organisations and after evidence of its effect in at least two countries. As to the law itself, it was passed not by EU bureaucrats but by member state officials, acting on instructions from their own governments, working through the mechanism of the food industry Management Committee.
In the committee, the measure was backed by fifteen member states, mainly the Mediterranean olive producers, including Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Spain and France, but also with the support of Ireland and Poland. Britain abstained and opposed were mainly northern states, amongst which were Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Yet, for all the hyperventilation of the Telegraph Media Group Ltd, it concedes that the Spanish Association of Bars, Cafes and Restaurants has supported this new law. "Now we will be able to guarantee the quality of extra virgin olive oil on the table," said a spokesman – exactly the point made by an embarrassed commission spokesman on Friday, himself insufficiently briefed to tell the full story.
And despite his inadequacy as a spokesman, given the widespread problem of olive oil adulteration which even the loss-making Guardian has noticed, he did have a point.
Saturday 18 May 2013
Grassroots Conservative activists are "mad swivel-eyed loons" who are forcing Tory MPs to take extremist positions opposing gay marriage and Europe, one of David Cameron's closest allies has said.
That was according to the Telegraph Media Group Ltd,which is now asking who the Tory is behind the "slur". Sources close to the centre, however, are suggesting that the perpetrator is Andrew Feldman, Chairman of the Conservative Party & Chairman of the Party Board.
If it is him, of course, he is toast. But his intervention raises serious questions as to the relationship between the Tory leadership and the constituency parties. Up to press, it has only been UKIP which has been on the receiving end of the Tory lash, but if the hierarchy is going to war against its own members, this represents a development of some significance.
The broader issue is that it signifies an authoritarian streak emerging in the party management, where the duty of the members is seen to be to fall into line with the dictates of the party leaders. Gone is any idea that the wishes of the members should be taken into account.
To that extent, one can see why Mr Cameron is very much in tune with the EU ethos, where top-down management is the preferred style and democracy takes a back seat. If that it is attitude, though, party leaders would have been better advised to spend more effort on keeping their view secret.
The much put-upon party activists are not going to take kindly to being told what their leadership really thinks of them.
Saturday 18 May 2013
It should not pass without comment that, the day after the House of Commons tortured itself on the question of reducing the power of the EU, François Hollande was addressing 400 journalists in the Elysee Palace, to announce that he wanted to establish an economic government for the eurozone.
It almost goes without saying that British coverage of this has been slight and, with French media guarded by paywalls, one of the better reports comes from Die Welt. Hollande is under pressure, it says, the economy is limping, and the poll numbers are bad. And now he dares to rush forward and announce a Europe-wide campaign.
This, incidentally, was the second major press conference of his term and it took two hours forty minutes for Hollande to entertain his audience of 400, plus his entire cabinet.
Given continuously declining popularity ratings and depressing economic data, the expectations from Hollande's encounter was not just limited to the press, says DW. The unemployment rate has exceeded the previous record of three million, the European Commission has granted a two-year delay, so that France's budgetary objectives may be met by 2015 and, since the beginning of the week, the country has been officially in recession.
This was confirmed after a meeting with the Commission last Wednesday, when Hollande admitted that growth in France would probably be zero. That would mean that he is not going to fulfil his most important promise - to reverse the trend in the labour market by the end of the year. Nevertheless, Hollande promised at his press conference that he would try everything to achieve a turnaround.
It is against this background that, in the manner of a magician pulling a king-sized lapin out of le chapeau, Hollande decided to embark on his European adventure.
Enter now Reuters which tells us that "European officials" gave a lukewarm response to president's lapin.
Proposals for an "economic government" for the eurozone, complete with its own budget and a full-time president were, they say, not exactly nouveau, having been in circulation for some time.
Since Hollande's "sweeping vision" also encompasses "a harmonised tax system" and "eurobonds", two ideas roundly rejected by the other half of the motor of integration, there is something of a suggestion that il se fout de ta gueule.
In two hours forty minutes, however, the president did manage a few soundbites of his own. "It is my responsibility as the leader of a founder member of the European Union ... to pull Europe out of this torpor that has gripped it, and to reduce people's disenchantment with it", he said.
"If Europe stays in the state it is now, it could be the end of the project", he then said, before then dealing with the troublesome rosbifs. "Europe existed before Britain joined it", Hollande purred, only then to remark that, "I hope Britain stays in the European Union but I don't want to decide for the British".
That sounds suspiciously like, cela nous est complètement égal, but – to judge from the British coverage - we don't give a damn either. The grand gesture lives, says the BBC.
But at least Hollande got one thing right. Opening the proceedings, he referred to his own unpopularity and told journalists that this, "was not a goal I set myself". One wonders what the French president might have achieved had he been really trying.
Friday 17 May 2013
There is some merit in dismissing the Conservative manoeuvres on the EU referendum as "gesture politics", as there is a huge element of showmanship in the current proposals. But therein also lies danger. The referendum has been moved up the political agenda and the possibility of there now being a poll on or before 2017 cannot be ruled out.
Certainly, the apparatchik currently heading the CBI, John Cridland, is not leaving things to chance. Already on the CBI blog and through the loss-making Guardian he is launching a counter-attack with a goodly dose of FUD (Fear-Uncertainty-Doubt), all in anticipation of a speech today to the British American Business Council.
The intervention is helpful in that it reveals the tactics, with Cridland seeking to marginalise the EU issue by suggesting that other things are more important. But, in the FUD department, it is clear that the Norwegian and Swiss options worry them.
Says Cridland, "Business has to make the nuts and bolts case for what our relationship with Europe should look like", then adding that: "Maintaining our influence to shape, and our access to, the Single Market will be central to that case".
The CBI pitch is that, "We have to focus on a positive vision of reform so Europe does less of the things we don't want, and more of the things we do: boosting competitiveness and resisting bad policies that work against growth and stability".
This leads to the punchline as Cridland says: "Let's be clear. Being a member of a reformed EU is the best way to preserve market access". He goes on to say:
There are some who say that we could retain access to the Single Market without being a member of the EU; that the UK could withdraw and have a relationship with the EU more akin to Norway's or Switzerland's. I'd urge them to really look at the detail.
There we have the "little European" talking, and the last thing he wants us to do is look at the detail. Cridland thus avoids any reference to the globalisation of regulation and standards, where increasingly rules for the Single Market are determined by international bodies working at a higher level than the EU.
Norway's membership of the European Economic Area (EEA) – being outside the EU but part of the Single Market – means that it still pays the bills and follows the rules but has much lower influence on EU decision making than if it had a seat at the table.
Nothing therefore is said about the fact that we are unrepresented on many of these bodies, as the EU takes our seat, while countries like Norway and Switzerland have direct representation and are shaping the rules to which we must conform.
This dishonesty pervades the CBI case, with Cridland calling in aid the Norwegian Conservative MP, Nikolai Astrup, who has told the CBI: "If the UK wants to run Europe, it needs to be in Europe. If you want to be run by Europe, feel free to join us in the EEA".
"Taking rules without the power to influence them is certainly not my idea of much-touted greater sovereignty", says Cridland, neglecting to point out that Norwegian Conservatives are so keen to join the EU that they will do anything to denigrate the EEA.
To an extent, this illustrates the scale of our problem. When it comes to the referendum campaign proper, Cridland, like Mr Cameron, has the easier job. They have no intentions of making the "positive case for Europe". Their strategy is to spray out the FUD, and tell only part of the story. It is left to us to tell people what has been missed out, and to complete the picture.
In fact, neither EU nor EEA membership (outside of the EU) is entirely satisfactory, but as an interim measure, EEA membership keeps us in the Single Market, giving us time to work on a better deal.
But the most important thing for British industry is to break out of the cloying grip of "little Europe" and to embrace the wider world. Sadly, you will not hear this from the CBI.
Friday 17 May 2013
"We've never had this kind of reaction before", said the clearly taken-aback party leader as he was surrounded by protesters chanting often crude anti-UKIP slogans.
Scotland has always been difficult for Farage and, as he gets higher-profile, something like this was bound to happen. One wonders, though, whether the UKIP leader should have been better briefed, and whether he would have listened if he had been.
Friday 17 May 2013
DWN has been running a story about a power struggle that has broken out in the AFD, which has the potential to cause serious damage to the emergent party. And quick to intervene has been Handelsblatt, with comment and readers' letters, while there is some further analysis on our own forum.
Without dwelling specifically on the fate of the AFD, one can observe that this dynamic seems to be a characteristic of political groupings – witness the constant talk of "Tory splits". But this dynamic seems at its most virulent in the eurosceptic movement, which, as we have already remarked, increasingly resembles the Monty Python anti-Roman factions.
Of the various groupuscules inhabiting the eurosceptic terrain, at this time there are perhaps as many factions as there are Pashtun tribes, each with their own fanatical adherents which make the People's Front of Judea look moderate.
Factions are, in part, defined by their beliefs, and some of the more vitriolic adhere to the "trappist" doctrine – the belief that invoking Article 50 is a "trap" and that withdrawal from the EU should be occasioned only by the repeal of the European Communities Act and the unilateral abrogation of the treaties.
These factions have recently been fortified by the support of convicted criminal and former MEP, Ashley Mote. He asserts that an unnamed "bureaucrat", of unspecified rank, location and employer, was "honest enough" to tell him personally that Article 50 is "about being told, after two years of discussions exclusively amongst the other members, what our terms of leaving would be".
According to this anonymous official, as conveyed exclusively and uniquely by Ashley Mote, "we would then have to accept the EU's terms or withdraw the application to leave" – even though, in the absence of an agreement, the self-same Article 50 specifies that the Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question … two years after the notification of withdrawal.
Such an egregious misreading of the Article, however, does not detract from the religious fervour of the believers, who are given even more sustenance by the holiest of all cult leaders, Rodney Atkinson. He has recently handed down The Word from on high.
Should, as a result of a referendum, the decision be to leave the European Union then the 1972 European [Communities] Act will be repealed, he has pronounced. Then, "the United Kingdom will leave the European Union and begin negotiations AS A SOVEREIGN UNENCUMBERED STATE to establish free trading and co-operation agreements with the EU together with other EEA States not part of the European Union".
Thus, we are informed, the UK will not act under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty since the country will no longer be part of that constitutional Law.
Quite what we are supposed to do by way of trade, in between the period of leaving and concluding negotiations to establish free trading and co-operation agreements, we are not told. But given that such negotiations – should the EU member states agree to them – could take some years, it is of more than academic interest.
Nevertheless, what these tiny groupuscules think is generally of very little importance but for the tendency of the opposition to pluck them from their deserved obscurity and project their views as representing the eurosceptic community as a whole.
The BBC is particularly adept at this technique, and nothing would serve the europhile cause better than to suggest that the alternative to staying in the EU is immediate, unilateral withdrawal, with all the uncertainty that that entails. The prospect of the chaos that would ensue is probably the best advert for staying in the EU that could be devised.
Another reason why the "trappist" cult is dangerous is that it plays into the hands of the pretend eurosceptics, the so-called "europlastics" such as Rodney Leach. They belong to the rival "reformist" cult.
The majority of the public, the political class and business, cultist Leach recently asserted, "are sceptical about the EU but rather than leaving it they want a new deal to reduce its power over their lives". And, high up in the list of reasons he uses to justify this assertion is the claim that none of the "outers" (recent or otherwise) has set out a credible alternative.
Leach is very selective in order to make this claim, as there have been credible alternatives set out. These, he ignores, enabling him to cite the "trappists" in order to make his point. In his rivals, he has a ready-made alternative to condemn, one that completely lacks credibility.
However, while Leach is quick to brand his rival cultists as lacking in credibility, his own plans miraculously escape a similar appellation. Yet, in the Leachate "new order", the EU is redefined as the Single Market, "not as a vague aspiration to political union, still less as a currency union".
Safeguards, he then says, would be put in place to ensure that the eurozone did not write the rules for the rest of the member states, following which, "the next step would be to strengthen the powers of Westminster over EU decisions".
Here on this blog, we have been known to accuse the "trappists" of fantasy politics, going for what we have called the "magic wand" option. But Leach is in a league of his own. In a twinkling of an eye, he wants to reform away over sixty years of political integration, turning the EU into a cuddly free market. Then, for his next trick, he wants to weaken the primacy of EU law.
Supposedly, though, the "trappist" and "reformist" cults are both eurosceptics, sharing the same faith. In theory, therefore - like the AFD - they should be united behind their common banner. But the reality is that, when there is such a yawning chasm between the different ideas, unity will always be a façade.
At the beginning, we saw in the AFD the elements of disharmony when they could not agree whether the euro should be abolished, or whether eurozone should just contract, to include only the northern European states.
With that much difference, there was never going to be harmony. And when British eurosceptic cults range from trappists to reformists, it is hard to concede that they even belong to the same religion. Their differences are not so much "splits" as the Grand Canyon on steroids.
Such cults, sharing only the tendency to indulge in fantasy politics, are never going to be united. But "split" is far too mild a word. They don't even inhabit the same universe.
Thursday 16 May 2013
Gradually working through yesterday's debate on the Address, one lights upon the contribution from Ed Balls, who tells us, "I want us to stay in the European Union". He then cites Lord Heseltine, who had said:
To commit to a referendum about a negotiation that hasn't begun, on a timescale you cannot predict, on an outcome that's unknown, where Britain's appeal as an inward investment market would be the centre of the debate, seems to me like an unnecessary gamble.
To take that "unnecessary gamble" now, says Balls, "would be the wrong thing to do". This, he adds: "is exactly the same position as the one the Prime Minister and the Chancellor joined us in the Lobby to vote against in October 2011". Balls then reminds us of what Mr Cameron told the Conservative party conference in 2006:
For too long, we were having a different conversation. Instead of talking about the things that most people care about, we talked about what we cared about most. While parents worried about childcare, getting the kids to school, balancing work and family life - we were banging on about Europe.
Now, says Balls, his party has certainly been banging on about Europe day after day over the last week - banging the nails in the coffin of Tory modernisation and in the coffin of this Prime Minister's prime ministership, too.
And there, it seems to me, lies the essence of the europhile tactics. They are – and always have been – seeking to close down the debate on the EU altogether. We should not even discuss "Europe".
This was exactly the line taken by Paul Goodman in Tory Diary yesterday. These people would have us eternally condemned to having a debate about whether to have a debate, never actually getting down to the substantive issues.
And today, we see a variation of the same thing with the intervention of Vince Cable, who tells us that leaving the EU would be "self-indulgent and reckless".
No "serious friend of British business" would call for a break-up of Britain's relations with the EU, he is to tell a business conference in Birmingham, warning that if Britain quit the EU, he will warn, "we could reasonably expect an exodus of the non-EU firms headquartered in this country, precisely because they regard the UK as the gateway to Europe".
However, no one in their right mind (other than the Judean People's Front) would actually call for "a break-up of Britain's relations with the EU". In or out of the EU, we still need a relationship with the member states of the EU. Thus, the question is how those relations would be managed.
Cable is, of course, spreading FUD, but it is that which sterilises the discussion, and makes it so unremittingly tedious. We never seem to be able to get down to the core issues, discussing the merits of membership and how we would fare outside the European Union under various exit scenarios.
Thursday 16 May 2013
I'm not quite sure when the practice stopped but certainly before the war, an important debate in Parliament would get at least two full pages of coverage. And that was in the days when the likes of the Daily Express was a broadsheet. The reports, in eight, densely-printed columns, with only tiny pictures, would run to several thousand words.
Now, we just get the highlights, which means the flavour of the debate comes via the filter of the reporters covering the story – and most often they are either working from agency reports, or broadcast highlights.
There is, however, some compensation in that we can watch the debates live and read the Hansard reports later. I prefer to do the latter, finding the written word more reliable without the distraction of the theatricals. Thus, while the MPs were chuntering at each other this evening, I was actually watching a decade-old episode of West Wing on the internet. I'll read the full debate tomorrow.
Anyway, the headline news is that 114 Conservative MPs voted for John Baron's amendment to the Queen's Speech "expressing regret" that an EU referendum Bill had not been included in the Government's legislative programme for the next session.
This is slightly more MPs than had been anticipated but, nevertheless, the amendment was defeated by 277 votes to 130. Labour and Lib-Dem MPs responded to their whips, and toed the party line. Strictly though, the Tory vote was not a rebellion or a mutiny, as there had been a free vote.
The good news is that at least this blog is back doing the very thing is was set up to do when we set it up on 22 April 2004. That makes us now just over nine years old. By the time we get a referendum in 2017, if we do, the blog will be thirteen years old, longer than a typical life sentence for murder.
The bad news is that it could be another five years after than before we see a referendum – depending on a lot of things, including the outcome of the general election, so the blog could be 20 by the time we see the results come in.
With that thought, we take comfort in the view of the Independent which thinks that David Cameron's "bloody nose" tonight brought an EU referendum a step closer.
Please let it be so.
COMMENT: COMBINED REFERENDUM THREAD
Wednesday 15 May 2013
By the media and the paid politicians, almost any subject can be trivialised to the extent that it becomes a low-grade soap opera. And that transition was managed with consummate ease earlier this morning during PMQs, when deputy prime minister Nick Clegg stood in for Mr Cameron.
Perhaps the highlight of the event was Edward Leigh taunting the Clegg with a copy of a 2008 Lib Dem leaflet (below left) in which he declared: "It's time for a real referendum on Europe" at the time of the Lisbon Treaty negotiations.
Leigh, asked Mr Clegg whether the man pictured in the leaflet was "an impostor or just a hypocrite", only to get a dead-bat reply that he was in favour of a referendum when the rules changed.
Clegg, in turn, complained of the Conservatives of "constantly shifting the goalposts" on a referendum. He said the Commons had spent a hundred hours debating the Bill which gave a legal guarantee of a referendum if powers were transferred to Brussels. Nevertheless, he now seems to concede that a referendum is inevitable.
In anticipation of a vote today on an amendment to the Queen's Speech, the deputy prime minister declared: "We on this side should go out and promote what is in the Queen's Speech, not spending days bemoaning what is not in the Queen's Speech", then adding: "I think we should stick to the priorities of the British people, which is growth and jobs".
This is a theme echoed by Paul Goodman on Tory Diary, who is relying on a time-honoured formula in an attempt to defuse the "Europe" issue. "The matters that most move the British people at the ballot box", he claims, "are the meat, potatoes and two veg of British politics: the economy, hospitals, schools and crime - plus, of course, immigration".
Notwithstanding that these issues are all, to a greater or lesser extent affected by our membership of the EU, Goodman is unwittingly illustrating what we should have a referendum on the EU. Such constitutional matters tend to be swamped by more immediate concerns in a general election, so they should be deal with separately, with the referendum format being the most appropriate mechanism.
What is interesting though is the contrast between this mealy-mouthed response and the triumphalism of the Daily Express which was the only national newspaper to give the referendum full frontal treatment this morning (right). Claiming a victory for its own campaign, it announces without equivocation that we are to get a straight in-or-out choice in a referendum on Britain's EU membership.
In a dismissive response, however, Nigel Farage declares that, "This latest talk of an EU Referendum is nothing more than gesture politics". Thus, his earlier-declared stance of planning to stand for Westminster in 2015 is still in force, which means that the effect of UKIP's intervention could be to ensure that we have a Labour government and no referendum.
Meanwhile, we have the putative rebellion of up to 100 MPs, in the Queen's Speech vote, which is scheduled for 7.15 this evening. As Labour and the Lib-Dems were whipping their MPs against the motion, it is almost certain to fall.
Dominic Sandbrook in the Daily Mail is amongst the many who see in this evidence of the Conservative Party tearing itself apart, Sandbrook himself relying on comparisons between Mr Cameron and John Major.
This also allows the loss-making Guardian to question Mr Cameron's leadership skills, asserting that he once led his party by challenging it, but now meekly muddles through by pandering to its obsessions.
But, for all that, the publication of the draft Bill seems to have had an effect. We are told that the rebellion is "fading away", possibly signifying that MPs attach more significance to the referendum promise than does Mr Farage.
Certainly, an evidently frustrated Daniel Hannan has bought the package – but then you would expect that. However, one has a sneaking sympathy for his complaints about the tendency of lobby journalists to look at the EU through the tinted glass of party management. He thus observes that, amid the hubbub about "Tory splits", we are in danger of missing the magnitude of what is taking place.
We are no fans of young Hannan here, but in this one instance, I tend to veer closer to his "take" than anything the likes of Iain Martin has to offer. This man, whose own judgement is very often suspect, thinks the Conservatives have "lost the plot".
To me, that is the kettle calling the pot black. I think we are looking at an event of some magnitude here, one which the media and the serried ranks of MPs have not entirely succeeded in trivialising. And such are the dynamics of the Cameron offer that I would not be entirely surprised to see Labour and the Lib-Dems supporting the idea of a referendum.
Indeed, Cameron is now on the attack, saying that the "focus" must now shift to Labour and the Lib-Dems and whether or not they would be prepared to offer the British public a vote on Europe. He is criticising the two party leaders for "pretending nothing has changed" in the EU in recent years, putting them on the back foot.
But, once the events of this day are over, the real focus must then shift to king-maker Farage and his UKIP supporters. As the reality of a referendum seems to be firming up, Farage may come under pressure to rethink his somewhat glib response.
If it has become the role of UKIP to deny us a referendum on the EU, then he had better start telling us what he has in mind as an alternative.
COMMENT: COMBINED REFERENDUM THREAD