Tag Archives: Nick Clegg

Battle of the Pygmies

Nigel ‘the European Union has blood on its hands over Ukraine’ Farage appears to have done it again. An instant poll showed that Farage triumphed in the second television showdown on Europe by 69 per cent to 31 per cent, a higher margin than the one following last week’s LBC pioneering Europe debate.

It seems incredible to me that Farage again praised Vladimir Putin, the man who has, among other things, annexed Crimea, vetoed United Nations action to end the war in Syria, and sent troops into Georgia. It is, of course, deeply worrying that anyone holding views such as those evident during Farage’s appearance should come out on top in any television discussion, let alone one on a subject as important as Britain’s relationship with the European Union.

Having said that, the Europe debate itself is to be welcomed. Whatever else, Farage and the United Kingdom Independence party have put the EU on the agenda. We have never before had such coverage of the EU on mainstream television. Now both the BBC and the LBC leaders’ debate-style format have allowed us to engage with each other’s thoughts on Europe. Although Nick Clegg and Farage lead minor parties, each around 11 per cent in current national opinion polls, pygmies indeed compared to the prime minister and the leader of the opposition, they, together with LBC and the BBC, have raised the nation’s game on Europe.

And it was a real debate with hugely differing ideas and perceptions on the EU with a dialogue which at times became heated. It was good television and fascinating politics. My enduring hope is that Britain will continue its evident interest in the EU with an increased turnout in the elections to the European parliament on 22 May. It is high time this country participated in EU matters in more than a superficial semi-detached fashion.

Even though Farage chooses not to recognise it, the EU is, in fact, a democratic institution. The British people elect members of the European parliament which co-legislates with the council of ministers, made up of the elected governments of all EU countries. We do not, as Farage claims, have a massive number of laws forced on us from Brussels. It is the British prime minister and government together with elected representatives such as me who make this legislation.

This means, of course, that the EU is a political institution, not the out-of-touch bureaucracy of Farage and wider Eurosceptic myth. The EU is currently controlled by the political right. One of Farage’s problems with it is that it is not rightwing enough; cherished EU values – free movement of labour, protection at work and health and safety not to mention gender equality – are all anathema to him. The real reason Ukip wishes to return to little England is that it wants everyone to know their place – working people should put up and shut up, women should stay tucked away in the kitchen and non-British people should never darken our shores.

Neither Farage nor Clegg is your average man on the Clapham omnibus. Despite Farage’s claim, made more than once last night, that he is not a career politician, his life before Ukip as a public school (Dulwich College)-educated stockbroker was hardly ordinary. Likewise Nick Clegg, Westminster School and Cambridge University, followed by a stint in the EU. They may both be pygmies on the national stage, but it would appear that in 21st century Britain that even the pygmies come from privileged backgrounds. While some may see the EU as unrepresentative, the same could definitely be said about these two party leaders.

This was originally published on Progress Online.  To see the original please follow the link here.

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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

LBC’s EU debate between Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Ukip leader Nigel Farage this week acted as a curtain-raiser of sorts for the European Elections on May 22nd. Clegg, a former MEP and committed Europhile, originally proposed the idea of a debate on the issue earlier this year. The result was a fascinating clash between the leaders of British politics’ two smaller parties.

In the course of the evening Farage’s use of statistics, and in particular his suggestion that there were 485 million people looking to enter the UK – an aggregation of the EU’s entire non-British population – led to accusations that he was being deliberately misleading. Moreover his claim, made in the final minutes, that the EU had “blood on its hands” in relation to the Ukraine, caused deep anger among experts on the subject. Jan Techau of the Carnegie Europe think tank said afterwards it “completely disqualified” Farage from making any kind of foreign policy judgements.

I myself appeared on LBC later in the evening to provide analysis, and as I suggested then, I think it was an evening which exposed the very worst of Ukip. Farage set out an insular and closed-minded vision for Britain – a future where the UK becomes petty, self-interested and internationally irrelevant.

Although snap surveys conducted immediately afterwards declared Farage the ‘winner’, I believe the more telling poll is the one by YouGov earlier this month, which showed that the British people now narrowly favour staying in the EU – and that they have become significantly more pro-European since Cameron’s proposed referendum started to make an EU departure look like a serious possibility. I hope and believe that the proof will be in the pudding if the public vote on the so-called ‘Europe question’, and that when it comes down to it people will see through the smoke-signals and hot air created by Nigel Farage on Wednesday. As Clegg himself knows all too well, when it comes to political debates one swallow does not make a summer.

On Thursday, meanwhile, the Turkish government prompted anger by banning citizens from using YouTube. TIB, the telecommunications regulator there, reportedly decided to block access after a leaked video about possible military action in Syria was said to pose a “national security issue”. It follows previous recordings, released on the video-sharing site, which appeared to implicate Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in corruption and attempts to influence the media. Last week micro-blogging site Twitter was also blocked by the TIB and this weekend, after declaring victory for his party in the local elections, Erdogan said those who had accused him of corruption would “pay the price”.

It is difficult to know or understand completely the motives and intentions of the Turkish government from the outside. However, as a part of the world which has tremendous influence over what happens in Syria and the Middle East – not to mention a number of recent problems of its own – I would urge leaders there not to fall further into the trap of trying to suppress social media. Restricting freedom of speech is a dangerous path to go down, and is one which rarely ends well.

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Commenting on the Farage-Clegg debate for LBC

On Wednesday night I appeared on LBC’s Duncan Barkes Show to provide analysis and response to the debate between Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage about Europe. It was a pleasure to join Bill Cash, Nick de Bois and Steve Pound in providing analysis.

This was clearly a dispute between the two smaller British political parties, with Ukip looking to join the mainstream and the Lib Dems keen to find an area where they can distinguish themselves from the Tories to protect their vote. Nevertheless it provided an interesting taster of a discussion which is going to grow in the months running up to the European Elections this May. Farage suggested, among other things, that 485 million migrants are queueing up to come to Britain, demonstrating the dangerous way in which Eurosceptics use emotive language and figures of obscure the many sound economic reasons for being in Europe. With a recent YouGov poll showing that a narrow majority now support us staying in Europe, I hope people are beginning to see through this and recognise the benefits of the EU.

You can listen to clips from the show below:





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Honeyball’s Weekly Round-Up

Protesters this week took to the streets in the Ukraine after the government there reversed plans for greater EU integration. Events were sparked at the start of the week, after the country’s President, Viktor Yanukovich, succumbed to pressure from The Kremlin and backed out, at the eleventh hour, of a free trade and political integration pact with Europe. At the subsequent EU summit on Friday, Yanukovich stood by his decision, prompting further demonstrations, with peaceful protesters dispersed from Kiev’s Independence Square early on Saturday.

Over the weekend 300,000 strong crowds converged on the city, and marchers carrying EU flags clashed with riot police. Tear gas was used on demonstrators, many of whom had travelled from Ukrainian-speaking parts of the country where pro-EU sentiment is strongest. Recent polls show 45% of Ukrainians support EU integration– compared to less than a third who say the country should remain in Moscow’s orbit.

Those involved in the Orange uprising of nine years ago described developments this week as “a revolution”. With opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko still jailed, many feel the demands of the 2004 insurgency – for a more transparent, less corrupt democracy – have not been met. For some it came down to a straight East-West decision. One demonstrator said he was there “to support a European choice for the Ukraine”.

The Ukraine is very difference place to Britain, and drawing overly close parallels would be pointless. But I do find it striking, when so many recognise EU integration as their best hope of a stable and prosperous future, that those on the UK political right want to turn their back on the continent.

Eurosceptics will mock the comparison, arguing that Britain is an affluent world power whereas the Ukraine is a post-USSR satellite state. But they underestimate the extent to which our wealth and global influence come because of – rather than despite – the fact we are in Europe. I will be making this case tomorrow evening at an ‘EU In or Out’ debate at One Birdcage Walk in Westminster.

This week also saw London Mayor Boris Johnson spark outrage by claiming, in a speech commemorating Margaret Thatcher, that fighting inequality was “impossible” because “16% of our species have an IQ below 85”. He added, using language which verged on social Darwinism, that “The harder you shake the pack the easier it will be for some cornflakes to get to the top”.

Although couched in Johnson’s usual crowd-pleasing terms the comments went down badly, both in the room and among politicians. Nick Clegg called The Mayor’s words “unpleasant, careless elitism”.

Johnson is a florid and often frivolous character, who uses eccentricity to beguile voters who would otherwise find his views repellent. As someone from a privileged background, who is set on extending the inequalities from which he has profited, he is the very opposite of what a city like London, with its jarring poverty and wealth, is in need of.

Finally, as I wrote in my round-up last month, we are now into the part of the year where women effectively cease to be paid. It is an outrage that the gender pay gap still exists. As Labour’s spokesperson for women in Europe I am determined that the EU leads from the front in the fight to eliminate it. This week I set out my ideas about how we can make this happen, and from now on I will be producing regular bulletins on what the EU is doing to end workplace inequality for women.

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Are women better off today than their mothers were?

Soon after I joined the Labour Party in London in the dim and distant past my Constituency Labour Party Women’s Section (yes, that was in the days when the Labour Party still had a thriving women’s organisation) held a discussion entitled “Are you better off than your mother?” I remember it to this day because it seemed such a pertinent subject and a good way of evaluating where women were going.

On the whole, we thought we were better off than our mothers, though with strong caveats. We were generally better educated, had a higher standard of living and believed more opportunities were open to us.

I am not so sure the current generation of 20 something women can feel the same. Reaction is all around us: the Church of England has refused women bishops, there is currently no woman on the board of the European Central Bank and the Tory-led coalition Cabinet has only five women out of a membership of 24. As if that were not bad enough, Prime Minister Cameron recently told the CBI that equality impact assessments are indispensible in his drive to cut “red tape”. In other words, measures that protect women are mere regulation which should be abolished.

We are seeing a damaging and destructive retrograde pattern. Forty per cent of jobs in the public sector are held by women. Cuts therefore hit them disproportionately. Quoted in Sunday’s Observer Ceri Goddard from the Fawcett Society said: ” The diminishing role of the state is going to have a significantly negative impact on women’s lives….The state as a public sector employer and a provider of services such as childcare has played a huge part in women’s progress for 30 years.”

Women are not only losing their jobs. There is also a lack of women at the top of our institutions, despite research which shows that diverse leadership creates more positive outcomes than that of men alone. For the first time women’s progress has virtually halted, a situation which may get worse rather than better.

Much of this has to do with the current ascendancy of what could loosely be termed reactionary forces. We have a right-wing government in Britain bolstered by some extremely right-wing Tory MPs. Our country’s economy is effectively in the hands of six men – David Cameron, George Osborne, Oliver Letwin, Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander and David Laws. I defy anyone to spot any real difference between these paragons. Even the dear old Church of England is now in hock to an alliance between the conservative Anglo-Catholic wing and the conservative evangelicals who came together to block women bishops.

The plain truth is that women do better under centre-left governments when progress rather than reaction is the driving force. The number of women MPs has gone up every time Labour has had a majority in the House of Commons, culminating in 120 following the Labour landslide in 1997. Tellingly of this 120, 101 were Labour women MPs out of a Labour total of 419 seats won. The Tories had only 13 women out of 165 seats in the House of Commons while the Lib-Dems won 46 seats with three women. 

The results for the 2010 were as follows: Tories 306 seats won with 49 women MPs, Labour managed to take 258 constituencies and had 81 women while the Lib-Dems gained 57 seats returning seven women.

Labour’s record on women MPs is streets ahead of the Conservatives, both now and in the past. Women do not do well when the right is in the dominant force, in politics or any other walk of life. I hope all those women who are suffering the effects of the recession and the seeming reverse in women’s fortunes will take this message to heart.

The answer to the question, “Are we better off that out mothers were?” lies to a large extent in whether progressive forces or right-wing reaction were in power across our national institutions at the time our mothers were making their way. As women we were and undeniably will be better off under Labour.

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Clegg’s instincts are right but his bid to assert himself just looks desperate

Repatriation of powers from the European Union to Britain remains a thorn in David Cameron’s side. The movement for “Europe Light” initially dreamt up, I believe, by William Hague back in the mists of time, is really causing the Prime Minister a lot of problems, Nick Clegg being the latest.

The issue is creating difficulty principally because it is a total non-starter. The EU treaties, to which successive British governments have given their assent, are designed to be treaties, international agreements to which all parties adhere. This is an age-old idea universally recognised in more or less its present form for at least 2000 years. Once you have decided to be in, any changes require the agreement of all parties. Unilateral tinkering with the EU by the UK on its own is quite simply not on the agenda. Whatever Britain wants will have to be agreed by the other 26 member states.

Nick Clegg has now finally joined the growing ranks of those who see sense. It is just sad that it took him so long given his background in the EU as both an MEP and as a member of staff in the cabinet of a European Commissioner. Clegg seems to be ruling out trying to use the forthcoming revision of the Lisbon Treaty to make an attempt to repatriate powers, maybe because he is catching up with the idea that other EU member states may just tell Britain to get real. No-one wants to be associated with failure, least of all a struggling leader of Britain’s third political party on the verge of annihilation.

Repatriation of powers is pure smoke and mirrors as you read here a long time ago. Theresa May’s cack-handed approach to taking back 130 justice and home affairs powers with a view to renegotiating opting back into some of them later bears all the hall marks of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. It would be laughably pathetic if it weren’t so serious.

Meanwhile poor Nick Clegg is trying to inject some common sense into the coalition, now driven by a clique of feral Tories to whom being anti-EU with withdrawal top of the agenda is a raw and terrifying religion. These are the people who secured the leadership of the Conservative Party for David Cameron, and it’s now pay back time.

It is deeply tragic that the future of our country is in the hands of very small bunch of nutters. There are, of course, things in the EU which need change and reform – it would be foolish to pretend otherwise. However, it’s the same with any body politic wherever it may be. No-one seriously thinks Britain is all sweetness and light and that everything is perfect.

If Clegg were stronger and the Liberal-Democrats less excited by power, the relationship with the EU could well be the issue that tears the coalition apart. Yet that’s not the way it’s going. The coalition is much more likely to be destroyed by a visceral and seemingly unresolvable conflict between the Tory Eurosceptic zealots and the forces of government both in the UK and the EU.

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Cameron looks both ways on Lords reform

The Liberal-Democrats have achieved their second bite at the constitutional cherry. In order, I assume, to keep his flagging coalition together, David Cameron appears to have conceded Nick Clegg’s demand for reform of the House of Lords. This much-needed measure is now in the Queen’s Speech.

 I very much welcome the inclusion of Lord’s reform in the coalition’s legislative programme. Being used to the European spirit of negotiation and compromise where ideas are not necessarily opposed simply because they come from the other side, I have no problem in coming out in favour of this one aspect of the Queen’s Speech.

 The proposals as put forward yesterday are, indeed, very much as expected. At least eight in 10 members of the reformed upper house will be elected by a proportional system for 15 year terms. Initially, one-third of these will be elected at any one time to allow for continuity. There will be transitional period for existing peers to hand over to the new elected members while all hereditary members will be abolished. The titles currently in use – lord, baroness, etc – will be then be purely honorary. The size of the second chamber will be reduced from its currently ridiculously swollen 800 plus to a more manageable number of 300 or so.

 As a longstanding campaigner for constitutional reform, I very much support the principles behind the proposals. Although I would prefer to see the whole of the second chamber elected, this should not be such a stumbling block that it prevents the whole package from actually happening.

 So far, so good. There is a worked up outline of a bill in the Queen’s Speech which would indicate that the government is ready and prepared to go. Yet is this may, in fact, be the way this important matter unravels in the future.

 It would be an understatement to say there is significant opposition to Lords reform amongst Tory MPs. The feral ultra-right is up in arms and David Cameron is also facing considerable flack following the Conservative defeat in last week’s local elections. The Prime Minister has, as ever, problems with his own side, made more acute because his spiritual home is probably with the oppositionalists rather than his more moderate colleagues. He thinks he needs their support and will, I am sure, do whatever it takes to keep his 1922 Committee beasts on board, just as he did when he pulled the Conservatives out of the European People’s Party Group in the European Parliament. 

As ever, it looks as if Cameron is dealing with a difficult issue by saying and doing one thing in public and something quite different in private. Yesterday’s Evening Standard claimed that a source close to Cameron said: “This (Lords reform) is not a priority for the Government. We are not going to allow everything to be snarled up for it. If we can get bit through we will, if we can’t, we can’t.”

 Cameron, of course, played a similar game with the referendum on the alternative vote. His undermining the referendum “yes” vote by favouring the other side was despicable double-dealing. It looks as if the same thing may happen again. Integrity is obviously not valued in the modern Conservative Party.

I find the attitude of this and past governments towards constitutional reform puzzling. Yes, of course it is difficult to get through and many backbenchers do not like it. Reform is, however, needed and should therefore be pursued. At another level, Prime Ministers who achieved such change also create their legacy. Lord Grey will be forever remembered for the 1832 Great Reform Act. Lloyd George still receives credit for female suffrage while Asquith, who opposed votes for women before the First World War, is now castigated for his stance. Since Prime Ministers seem preoccupied with what they will leave behind, I am a little surprised that Cameron hasn’t cottoned on to this one.

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Austerity must go hand in hand with growth

It would be a grave error to allow the excitement of Francois Hollande’s historic victory on Sunday to overshadow the results of the Greek general election. It was, of course, Greece’s sovereign debt crisis which sparked the ensuing crisis in the Eurozone. Moreover, the Greek people never accepted the consequent austerity measures. Whatever your view of those who demonstrated on the streets of Athens, it was always clear they had widespread support.

The short premiership of Eurozone appointee Lucas Papademos did nothing to assuage the opposition to austerity. Now, given the chance to once again elect their government, the Greeks have said no to austerity. Having come second in the inconclusive poll on Sunday, the far-left Syriza Party are incredibly in talks to form a coalition. If they are not successful the baton will pass to the leader of Greece’s socialist party, PASOK, former Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos.

Both the Greek and French result aptly demonstrate that austerity on its own without plans for growth, while never popular, is now losing whatever credibility it had for solving Europe’s economic problems. Put simply, the people will no longer put up with recession, unemployment and public expenditure cuts seemingly for no gain.

Now that two general election results have delivered this verdict along with local elections in Italy, another country under a Eurozone appointee, it is surely time to re-evaluate the austerity strategy. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday it was of “utmost importance” that the programmes of austerity and economic reform as a condition of the €174 billion Greek bail-out package “continue to be implemented”. She also made clear that “The process is a difficult one, but, despite that, it should go on.”

Likewise the European Commission would do well to think again as they seem to be taking a pro-Merkel line. A spokeswoman said it was up to the Greek political parties to “work in an atmosphere of responsibility” and continue implementing structural and economic reforms.

The only realistic way out the austerity deadlock with the people on one side and powerful financial vested interests, not to mention the leading lights of the Eurozone, on the other is to seek a middle way. Just as Labour Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls has always said, austerity must go hand in hand with measures for growth. Austerity alone causes huge suffering – unemployment and poverty coupled with the absence of hope. The people of Europe need to believe there is a future and a relatively strong one at that. Angela Merkel’s regime is providing the exact opposite and the people are making their views known.

While I would never claim the British local election results were wholly based on opposition to austerity measures, they clearly showed that our electorate prefer Labour to the current coalition. On the basis of those results Labour would form a government. We are seeing the Tory-led coalition sinking deeper into the mire as Cameron and Clegg try to revive their flagging fortunes. We should, perhaps, add the UK to the list of those countries who have had enough of austerity and want to feel hope for their future.

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The “veto” that never was and the ire of the Eurosceptics

Sometimes I almost feel sorry for David Cameron. He really seemed to believe that walking out of the Brussels summit in December would begin to end his EU troubles.

Far from it. As Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said in the Guardian this morning: “The unanswered question after this summit [the one which has just ended] remains what exactly David Cameron achieved by walking out of the EU negotiations last month? With the EU institutions now involved, it seems clear that all his earlier phantom veto achieved was to undermine British influence.”

The Brussels summit which ended yesterday endorsed the use of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to enforce the “fiscal pact”. Britain reserved its position, along with the Czech Republic, the only other EU member state to do so.

This latest climb-down by the British Prime Minister makes it even clearer that David Cameron achieved absolutely nothing by walking out of the last Brussels summit. He did not “veto” the treaty; he quite simply did not sign up to it. A veto implies preventing or stopping something happening. Cameron did not achieve this. Rather he took himself and the UK away from the agreement. “Refusal to agree” or “abnegation of responsibility” would be better terms for David Cameron’s antics.

However, this is not the view of the feral Tory Eurosceptics.

Cameron’s personal woes are at home while our country’s are in the EU. Losing influence and being marginalised in Europe do not help the UK. Because of our geographical size and proud history, we should be a major player at the heart of Europe, leading the EU, one of the world’s major power blocs, in the direction which would be best for Britain.

Meanwhile, unable to perform in any credible way in the EU, David Cameron is facing a  Eurosceptic backlash in the House of Commons as well as searing criticism from his own MEPs.            

Speaking about Cameron’s volte-face on the use of the EU institutions to enforce the fiscal pact, Martin Callanan, Leader of the ECR Group, largely made up of British Tories, is quoted in the Guardian this morning as saying, “I blame a combination of appeasing Nick Clegg, who is desperate to sign up to anything the EU puts in front of him, and the practical reality that the pact is actually quite hard to prevent.”

Leading feral Eurosceptic backbencher Bernard Jenkin said, “The government cannot retreat from that [not agreeing to the treaty changes last month], or they will refuel demands for a referendum on the UK’s present terms of membership of the EU.”

So Cameron’s attempts to pacify his Eurosceptics at the expense of Britain being able to take its rightful place in the EU are failing miserably.

The embattled Mr Cameron is also facing criticism from the backbench mob for doing what Nick Clegg wants.

I always thought coalitions were about agreeing joint policies and taking them forward together. Not, it appears, in the modern Conservative Party who are behaving as if they won the last general election with an overall majority. They did not, and would do well to remember it.

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David Cameron increasingly looks both ways on Europe

Balancing the responsibilities of Britain’s membership of the European Union with his feral Eurosceptic backbenchers is proving well-nigh impossible for our pull me – push me Prime Minister. 

David Cameron is, inevitably, being forced into U turns on Europe.  Having flounced out of the EU summit in Brussels as it was agreeing changes to the Lisbon Treaty in December last year, David Cameron seemingly felt the need to shore up his extraordinary behaviour.  He accordingly held forth in adamant fashion stating that the UK would resist any attempt to involve the EU institutions in enforcing the amendments to the treaty agreed by 26 of the 27 EU member states in December.

 Such a hot-headed, indeed stupid, way of operating was bound to come unstuck.

 It did not take long to unravel.  In abandoning his pledge to block the Eurozone from using common EU institutions to police the new regime of fiscal integration agreed by the “EU 26” in December, Cameron has given way to the European Union in a major way.

Britain will now no longer object to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) enforcing the international, as opposed to EU, treaty among the 26 EU member countries who agreed it. This is a significant U turn on the part of the Prime Minister, who as recently as 6 January said on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: “Let me be very clear that they [the ECJ] shouldn’t do things outside the European Union that are the property of the European Union.”  

Cameron has also accepted that the European Commission will act as “referee” in deciding whether Eurozone members were breaching the new rules.

Meanwhile, according to the Guardian, arch- Eurosceptic and leading feral Bill Cash, is not at all happy and is on record as saying, “There mustn’t be any backsliding. There are serious concerns about the lawfulness of these proposals. The institutions are simply not allowed to use the European Commission and the [European] Court of Justice in an unlawful manner.”

I predict there will be more situations like this for David Cameron. His feral backbenchers will push him one way while the EU (and possibly Nick Clegg) will pull him in another. The inevitable outcome will be victory for the EU. After all it’s one against 26, long odds indeed.

We already know that UK observers are at the tables looking at the changes to the Lisbon Treaty, despite Cameron’s refusal to sign in December. This represents a quiet U-turn which speaks volumes about the way David Cameron is seeking to resolve his EU dilemma. To try and have your cake and eat it is not a sustainable policyin the long run.

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