The week in review: Cameron learns how to be loved

Cameron gets some love. For a moment. But then it's gone again. Washed away by the ... You get the picture.
Cameron gets some love. For a moment. But then it's gone again. Washed away by the ... You get the picture.
Ian Dunt By

Giving in to peer pressure never works. The kids always end up respecting you less once you finally agree to eat the house plant or lose the ability to speak English under whichever strange new drug they've made you eat. It's a cruel irony of childhood. No-one gains respect by doing what their friends demand they do. Evidently, the social dynamics are different in Eton, because David Cameron was still learning this harsh lesson this week following his speech promising an EU referendum.

The children – Tory MPs, in case you're struggling to follow the metaphor – seemed jubilant at first. They even cheered the prime minister when he entered the Commons, which they haven't done since he singularly failed to win a parliamentary majority two and a half years ago.

But behind the superficial bonhomie, there was a simmering nastiness to the prime minister's new gang of Best Friends Forever. Firstly, there are still leadership plots against him. Tory MP Adam Afriyie was cited, but other reports included threats over George Osborne's role (apparently Tories don't think he's doing that good a job - who knew?) and a confidence vote in Cameron himself by 2014 if opinion polls haven't improved.

Then there were the persistent demands from his eurosceptic backbenchers about, well, the EU. You call it obsession, they call it principle. Let's call the whole thing off. In addition to the peer pressure rule, Cameron was learning another vital sociological maxim: Give 'em an inch and they'll take a mile. Sometimes concessions satisfy your opponents, sometimes they encourage them to demand more. That's especially true in politics, when compromise can be interpreted as validation of a campaign.


Tory eurosceptics have their eyes focused on the possible arrival of tens of billions (arguably not that many) Romanian and Bulgarian workers later this year, once EU movement controls end. Cameron's getting bullied on this one quite heavily and there's plenty of time for it to get serious.

Meanwhile, Germany was still complaining about Britain's 'give us more power or we'll shoot ourselves' approach to negotiations. They're not too happy, the Germans, although it's difficult to tell when they are happy, so perhaps the sullen silence which dominates EU proceedings is actually a form of euphoria. Merkel was polite when Cameron first made the speech – which UK officials mistook for genuine understanding – and now her ministers are explaining how entirely against the idea they are.

Then the Americans complained. Again. In that uniquely passive aggressive way with which White House staffers do politics. Try this one on for size, from an aide to vice-president Joe Biden's: "With respect to prime minister Cameron's speech, we obviously support his comments about the important role of the UK in the EU." Unmistakeable meaning, extremely irritating delivery.

Worst of all for Cameron, the polls haven't significantly budged. Labour is down by a few points but that was bound to happen in the short term. In the long term, Cameron really needed some Labour or Lib Dem voters to come over. Instead, he got Tories returning to the fold and uncertain voters becoming more convinced they'd make the trip down to the polling station in 2015. He ends not too far from where he started, but restrained by his own commitments.

If his troubles ended there he would have good reason to feel glum, but the PM was getting it from all angles this week. The worst angle by far was boundary reviews. Clegg's decision not to back the bill meant it fell in the Commons, along with the Tories' dreams of another 20 seats. No-one came out of it looking great. Labour MPs rubbed their hands with glee, like a factory owner in a Communist propaganda cartoon. The Lib Dems insisted they had been let down on a bargain which simply never happened (or did it?). And the Conservatives became angrier than we'd ever seen them. When it comes to the numbers, to the actual kill-or-be-killed stuff, all that mock-judicious detachment flies out the window. Conservative MPs and commentators alike were lost in a world of caps locks; bitter, foaming at the mouth, livid. Monstrous scenes - a pleasure to watch.

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