The prime minister has come out all guns a-blazin’ on Europe today, specifically on the topic of what he expects his cabinet ministers to do. He unequivocally expects them to back his position.
“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.”
None of that should come as any real surprise – but this is David Cameron we’re talking about here. His record in this area is not stellar to say the least. He must have figured out that having all your ministers running around saying different things on what is the defining issue of this parliament would be suicidal for him. During the Coalition, collective ministerial responsibility slid for obvious reasons; Cameron needs to reinstate it with an iron hand.
The only thing is that for David Cameron, saying something and then actually following through with it are very different things, particularly when it comes to any sort of whipping exercise, which he’s been spectacularly terrible at during his premiership. He’s even gone as far as openly rewarding rebellion, as the revamped, Tory only, Number 10 policy unit attested to. So if half his cabinet threatens to resign over Europe, will he stay strong? For the sake of us all, I hope he does. But I wouldn’t place a bet on it.
Before any right-wing Tories get uppity about this, let me point a few things out. The Conservative Party has been run like a dictatorship with regicide as the safety net since, well, since forever. So if Cameron wants a collective position on Europe and you don’t like it, go join the Whigs or something. Also while I’m on this subject, referenda aren’t a very Tory thing to do in the first place – just ask Douglas Carswell if you don’t believe me. You lot have an obsession with getting Britain out of Europe that’s weird and actually not very Tory, when you stop and think about it (jumping into a huge change with no real idea what’s to follow) whatever you may think otherwise.
Anyhow, for now, I’ll give David Cameron a gold star with an asterisk attached. He needed to take a firm line on this, and announcing it at the G7 summit as he has just adds more gravitas to the stance. But when I say he needs to stay strong on this, I really mean it – no letting people quit for a bit and then giving them their jobs back after it’s all been settled. The prime minister talks about his love of Thatcher often, so he should follow in her footsteps and not continue to let those who oppose him in his own party off so lightly for fear of a split. If the party is going to split, it’s going to split, no sense wasting excess energy over it.