[Update at end of post]
One of the defining moments of the referendum campaign on the UK’s continued membership of the then EEC in 1975 - yes, we’ve had a vote on Europe before - was when members of the Labour cabinet were allowed to campaign against membership, even though Harold Wilson had recommended a Yes vote and a Commons vote had backed that stance by a two to one majority.
Look cheps, any of you who don't agree with me, go and stend over thyah! Jolly good sheow!!
Thus we had the spectacle of ministers such as future party leader Michael Foot, along with Tony Benn and Barbara Castle, backing withdrawal, while Wilson, along with Roy Jenkins, Denis Healey and Jim Callaghan supported the Yes campaign. And, unlike today, most Tories were firmly pro-European, including former leader Ted Heath and his successor Margaret Thatcher. How different it looks with Young Dave.
While Wilson put only one condition on his ministers’ freedom to speak out against continued EEC membership - that those speaking at the Dispatch Box would reflect Government policy - Cameron appears to have been rather more draconian in his announcement. He “has said he expects all his ministers to back any deal he makes with the European Union or leave the government”. Jolly good sheow!
What is his reasoning? “If you want to be part of the government you have to take the view that we are engaged in an exercise of renegotiation to have a referendum and that will lead to a successful outcome … Everyone in government has signed up to the programme set out in the Conservative manifesto … The government isn't neutral in this. We have a clear view: renegotiate, get a deal that's in Britain's interest and then recommend Britain stays in it”. This has not met with universal approval in Tory ranks.
With characteristic understatement, former leadership contender David Davis has called Cameron’s stance “unwise”, going on to say “the only people who will not have the freedom to vote and speak on it, according to this, are ministers in the government, which, of itself, is extraordinary. That will likely lead … to some people resigning from the government or being fired … This doesn’t show a great deal of confidence in the outcome of those negotiations” [my emphasis].
Truth be told, Cameron has no room to foul this up and find the UK leaving the EU. He was distinctly uncomfortable to hear Barack Obama tell “we very much are looking forward to the United Kingdom staying part of the European Union because we think its influence is positive not just for Europe, but also for the world”.
So, as with the commitment to a “British Bill Of Rights” that has already been kicked into the long grass, what we have here is a commitment made in order to get the right-wing press on side and therefore secure the Tories a few more votes, which has consequences that Cameron appears not to want to face up to. Well, tough titty Dave - you should have thought about that before you shot your mouth off about it.
Cameron likes to sneer “weak” at others. How different it is, now the boot is so firmly on the other foot.
[UPDATE 1400 hours: that didn't take long to unravel, then. Both the BBC and Guardian are reporting that Cameron has now let it be known that ministers will not be sacked for campaigning for a No vote. Well, perhaps.
The chosen excuse was explained thus: "Mr Cameron's spokeswoman said reporters at the G7 Summit in Germany had 'over interpreted his remarks'
". Clearly a big boy had done it and run away.
It seems that even the Mail is taking the line that Dave is now presiding over Team Shambles. Things, as the song said, can only get better. Perhaps]
"get a deal that's in Britain's interest"
Aye that's crux of the matter. Definition please Mr Cameron. Any part of Britain in particular - like the City of London? The businessmen? the tax avoidance industry? the money laundering services? the plebs? the right wing press? or just the politicians?
He sold himself as the new Macmillan, thought of himself as the new Thatcher. Seems more like the new Major.
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