The signs of policy reversal were there last Tuesday: Young Dave gave his regular press conference and was quizzed on the R-word – as in Referendum. He was pressed on whether he would hold one if elected, even if, as seems likely, the Lisbon Treaty will have been ratified by all 27 EU member states. And his reply was rather less than the unequivocal commitment he had given readers of the Murdoch flagship tabloid Sun earlier.
Cameron knows that the idea of “un-ratifying” the Lisbon Treaty is not a credible option, and so he needs to take a sensible and defensible policy position – and do so as soon as possible. The longer he leaves it, the less time he will have to work on those potential supporters who were spoiling for a referendum, and the less time to convince a sceptical media that he’s not just backing away from the fight he promised. So he’s not talking of unpicking Lisbon, and far less of withdrawal.
So far, so pragmatic: at first, Nigel Farage and his fellow UKIP flat earthers may think all their birthdays have come at once, but the more time that Cameron has to work on the disaffected, the more chance he has of getting enough of them back on side to see off UKIP dreams of Parliamentary seats. And Young Dave is at this point singularly fortunate to have a sector of the blogosphere which is satisfyingly obedient.
Anyone needing confirmation of this need look no further than ConservativeHome, and its leading light Tim Montgomerie, who has given the Cameron view a detailed, but ultimately craven endorsement. His wriggling around the wording of the Sun commitment, had it come out of Tony Blair’s Downing Street, would have been denounced as the most blatant act of spin. Any lingering thought that ConHome was a source of independent thought has been banished by this shameless act of capitulation.
And Montgomerie is not the only one nodding obediently: I’m sorry to see that Iain Dale (and there is no blogger greater than he) has fallen in line in similarly craven fashion. Iain would do well to consider the less than obedient stance taken by his sometime co-conspirator Paul Staines, who blogs as Guido Fawkes: Staines is clearly not impressed with the new Tory line (although I note he’s agreeably close to my position on the subject of illegal drugs, right down to identifying the legendarily foul mouthed editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre, as what Young Dave might have called a “roadblock to reform”).
Europe, as before, appears to be a less than comfortable place for the Tories. And we’re still around half a year away from a General Election.