Politics

Cameron’s mission for 2014: stay out of third place

18 January 2014

9:00 AM

18 January 2014

9:00 AM

European elections are normally an afterthought in British politics. As even David Cameron admits, most of us struggle to remember who our MEPs are. Two-thirds of us don’t even bother to vote for them. But this year, the European elections are threatening to dominate politics.

Talk to Tory ministers and MPs about the year ahead, and they all look nervously towards May, because they know that the Conservative party is in real danger of coming third in a nationwide election for the first time in its history.

In and of itself this need not matter too much. The trouble is that a third place finish would send the party into a panic from which it might not recover before the general election. In the aftermath of being beaten by Ukip, there would be demands for an electoral pact with Nigel Farage, for an explicitly ‘outist’ European policy and for a string of more distinctively right-wing policy positions, all of which would drive the Tories away from their central argument: you can’t trust Labour with the economy.

All Tory MPs know that the party’s manifesto for the European elections will have to set out some more detail on his policy of renegotiation followed by a referendum.  MPs of a more uncompromisingly Eurosceptic bent are flexing their muscles, pushing for a tougher line.

The most ostentatious example of this is the letter organised by Bernard Jenkin — a Maastricht rebel who became a shadow minister under Hague, Duncan Smith and Howard, and is now chairman of the Public Administration Committee — calling for a UK veto over all European laws. Since last month, when the letter became public knowledge, Tory MPs have known that William Hague’s Foreign Office regarded the idea as a non-starter. But — and this is what should worry the leadership — that hasn’t stopped 95 of them signing it. The letter’s backers even regard its rejection as having served a useful purpose in flushing out Hague’s true position. ‘People can now see where he really is,’ one senior Tory backbencher observes.


Jenkin’s letter has annoyed the Cameroons. They are infuriated by his success in drumming up signatures for it, and his cleverness in minimising the differences between his position and the Prime Minister’s. One minister close to Cameron complains, patronisingly, that ‘the problem with Bernard is that he is a quarter plausible’.

Cameron may well be irritated, but he’s also trapped. Having declared last January that he wants to renegotiate Britain’s membership of the European Union, he has to define what he means — and decide how much detail to include in the Tory manifesto for the European elections. There was meant to be a meeting to discuss the manifesto last week, but it was postponed and has yet to take place. (That’s not incompetence, sources inside Conservative Campaign Headquarters insist; it’s just that the party’s Australian campaign manager, Lynton Crosby, is still away.)

One consolation for Cameron is that the lifting of the transition controls on immigration from new EU members Romania and Bulgaria has not led to any great surge in arrivals. If it had, it would have tied Europe and immigration even more closely together in the public’s mind. As of now, the Romanian ambassador is saying that only 24 of his countrymen have taken advantage of their enhanced opportunity to move to Britain.

This absence of a flood of Romanians and Bulgarians is a blow to Ukip. Farage himself has always been clear, as he told The Spectator last year, that ‘a lot of Ukip’s success will depend on this issue’. If Romanian and Bulgarian immigration doesn’t live up to the hype, it’ll blunt one of his party’s most potent campaigning tools.

But Farage is a skilful politician and he’ll find other issues to tap into. Indeed, the rapid rise of Patrick O’Flynn, a Daily Express journalist, in the Ukip hierarchy suggests that the party grasps the need to focus on the frustrations of middle-income voters and their anger with the political class. O’Flynn, who will soon become the party’s director of communications, promises to professionalise the Ukip operation. He could be as important to Ukip’s political development as Peter Mandelson was to the Labour modernisation project.

But the biggest challenge for Ukip is to maintain the momentum that the European elections are likely to impart. Ukip attracted 16.5 per cent of the vote in the last European elections. By the general election in 2010, it had fallen back to 3 per cent. If Farage can avoid another general election squeeze on that scale, it’ll become very difficult for the Tories to win. Labour election planners now expect Ukip to poll 8 per cent or more in 2015, which would make it pretty much impossible for Cameron to assemble a majority.

On the economic front, however, there is good news for the Tories. The fall in inflation to 2 per cent should both ease the squeeze on living standards and reduce pressure for an interest rate rise. There are also signs that voters will soon begin to feel better off. After tax, median earnings are now rising faster than prices. If this trend continues, then Miliband’s big argument — that there need to be structural changes to the economy to deal with the ‘cost of living crisis’ — will lose much of its appeal.

At this stage in a parliament, Westminster would normally be obsessing about when the Prime Minister might go to the country. The Fixed-Term Parliaments Act puts a stop to all that, at the price of making the election campaign season even more protracted than usual. Cameron knows his rivals will be in full campaign mode soon, if they aren’t already. So it’s all the more important for him that the Tories don’t spend the next 12 months rowing about Europe. If they do, he won’t have much time left to make his case to the country.

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Show comments
  • Two Bob

    People want a referendum and they want immigration cut. It is called democracy.

    This absence of a flood of Romanians and Bulgarians is mere spin. Isnt it better to see what the trend is over the whole year? It is a bit silly to say noone has come after just two weeks.

    • CaptainDallas

      On January 2nd, the Guardian was triumphantly declaring there’d been no mass influx.

      So don’t expect any sanity or reason to be brought into this debate.

    • Lady Magdalene

      The borders to Romania and Bulgarian immigrants were effectively lowered before the 1 January deadline, so that they could enter the country as self-employed and the Government could avoid an obvious influx in January.

      It was reported that one Romanian coach company had tripled its service to the UK to 3 coaches a day. It wouldn’t have done that if there wasn’t demand.

  • HilaryChapman

    “There are also signs that voters will soon begin to feel better off.” I’ll believe when I see it. There’s no sign of recovery in north Wales yet.

  • All parties must get the vote out. It’s not FPTP – every vote counts. There are far more Tory voters out there than UKIP ones. So Cameron must get the message across that to vote matters. His message must be clear and he must not descend into the fetid world of prejudice and bigotry inhabited by the Little Englanders of UKIP. If he presents a clear moderate Conservative message he deserves the Right of Centre vote and he’ll get it.

    • Kitty MLB

      What message would Cameron have.
      Is this country is a better place then what it was when Labour left it?
      Was going into coalition with a incompetent, EU devoted
      and inverted party such as the Lib Dems really in the national interest?
      Is it right to purposely change a honourable, capable and decisive party,
      one capable of governing a country and make them a socialist
      cloned laughing stock, who makes insulting remarks about another
      party besmirching their character, because you are so weak.
      ‘There are far more Tory voters then UKIP’-
      The problem for Cameron is they know he does not speak for them-
      the grass roots they he has been spraying with weed killer-
      He will be lucky to stay in third place.

    • crosscop

      UKIP only need to point out that Cameron wants us to integrate into the Muslim way of life, rather than the other way round; that he said that he wants Muslims to take up positions of power in our armed forces; that he is quite happy to repeatedly lie to the nation that “nothing in Islam” justifies terrorism ( Woolwich and Nairobi) and that he has stated that he will help Muslim restaurants import more Muslim staff. That should just about finish off any chances he has of winning the Right of Centre vote.
      Open goal, Mr Farage. Open goal.

    • NotYouNotSure

      I also would like to know what the message of Cameron is exactly ?

    • AnotherDave

      These UKIP supporters you insult, currently include 50% of 2010 Conservative voters intending to vote UKIP in the Euro elections.

      http://www1.politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2014/01/16/half-of-those-who-told-yougov-that-theyll-vote-ukip-in-the-may-euros-supported-the-tories-at-ge210/

      Keep up the good work, and you may persuade them the Conservative Party doesn’t deserve their support in 2015 either.

      • The Conservative Party is a broad church with views from Ken Clarke and Chris Patten on the Left through the younger upcoming stars like Zac Goldsmith and Rory Stewart to the Right wing of John Redwood, Dan Hannan and Douglas Carswell.

        Ask yourself this. Why have none (that’s Zero) of the Tory leaders or MPs defected to UKIP? The reason is that they don’t need to. If they are (for example) Eurosceptic there is no shortage of fellow travellers in the Conservative Party! And they know that David Cameron was right when he called UKIP supporters “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.

        Don’t lecture me for referring to UKIP’s world as a”fetid world of prejudice and bigotry inhabited by the Little Englanders”. That isn’t an insult. It’s a statement of fact. Ask the Prime Minister.

        • Kitty MLB

          Conservative MPs ( Not Camservative Pavlov Dogs) do not need to defect anywhere.
          They know that Cameron is standing on the sand with an
          empty case with fake meaningless labels on the outside with the tide coming in fast- all they need to do is wait .

        • AnotherDave

          Many Conservative (and Labour, LD, Independent) councillors have defected to UKIP.

          Roger Helmer was a Conservative MEP.

          • Roger Helmer – LOL !! Then of course there’s Neil Hamilton – LOL x 2 ….

        • Cyril Sneer

          “Don’t lecture me for referring to UKIP’s world as a”fetid world of
          prejudice and bigotry inhabited by the Little Englanders”. That isn’t an
          insult. It’s a statement of fact. Ask the Prime Minister.”

          Hence why he has lost half his membership.
          Hence why he will lose the next Euro Election.
          Hence why UKIP will hold the cards come the next GE and by then, after a heavy euro defeat, Cameron will cease to be Conservative party leader.

    • Cyril Sneer

      “His message must be clear and he must not descend into the fetid world
      of prejudice and bigotry inhabited by the Little Englanders of UKIP.”

      Keep it up, the more call voters little englanders and bigots the more people will move over to UKIP.

      Sadly for you Cameron is not a tory and hasn’t been a tory for quite some time.

      UKIP all the way.

      • global city

        Yes, just like those who say we must continue to have mass migration as the British are just too feckless and lazy.

        Do they not recognise that 99% of the audience who hears these things are the very people they are slandering so disgustingly?

        The Tories are so far gone that they do not realise that the most important first step in gaining someones support is to not display your contempt for them?

        The idiots.

    • CaptainDallas

      I’ve had enough of Cameron’s ‘messages’, I want to see some action from the oily creep.

    • global city

      Stupid man. That read like one of those butt licking defences that are normally made when in the person’s company. Do you really think that Cameron reads these posts?

      The ‘fetid little world of prejudice and bigotry’ are wholly in your own mind….. you are a typical vile lickspittle.

  • RavenRandom

    Or for once the party could think the obvious… “The bulk of the British population is not happy about the EU” and engage positively from that position and not think that patronisingly they know better than the electorate.
    I know Labour and LibDems think the same… and that is what frustrates the electorate. In what way is it a democracy if their parties won’t incorporate the will of the people… hence the rise of UKIP.

  • Michael

    Cameron, Hague, Clarke et al are dedicated Europhiles. Cameron’s Referendum pledge ( even if he is still PM after 2015) is one of those fraudulent pledges that he makes on a regular basis. Headlines that ‘Cameron vows to do X’ mean that he will do nothing about a particular issue.
    If 96 MPs have mustered over the letter it takes only about half that number to trigger a leadership election. I live in Surrey where we have only Tory MPs. Most of my friends are Tory but we have another important factor in common – most appear to despise and distrust the Tory leadership.
    I hope that the Tories do not win an overall majority in 2015. That will bring an end to Cameron’s career – which will be good news for many of we natural Conservatives.

    • Pip

      The Tories led by Europhile Traitor Cameron could not win a majority even if they promised the earth and delivered it. The next Government will be a UKIP/Tory Coalition with most of the existing Cabinet including Cameron and Osborne, relegated to the back benches where they so rightly deserve to be then maybe they could defect to Labour where their ideals are more at home.

  • keith

    does it really matter what Cameron’s renegotiation with the EU consists of, as he has already said what ever the outcome he will campaign for staying in, great strategy and we can see all that big business is lining up to maintain the status quo, Ford are the latest to tell us we will go back to being a third world country if we leave, mind you it didn’t bother them to move their van making capacity to turkey because it was cheaper to produce there, perhaps they didn’t realise it was outside the EU, and i see amazon and goggle have chipped in, i don’t suppose it is anything to do with them not being able to hide their tax revenues in another EU country if we were outside it and don’t for get Toyota, who have warned of moving their production, same Toyota who told us we would not survive if we did not join the Euro, the establishment are gathering to maintain their comfortable lives, while the working man and women see their wages squeezed, social housing harder to get, longer queues for doctors, finding places at schools for their children harder, but what does that matter as long as the multi nationals and the establishment can enjoy their comfortable lives, If a vote for UKIP means sticking two fingers up to these self satisfied money grabbers i will put my X next to UKIP

  • JamesdelaMare

    Of course the greatest difficulty facing Farage is the lack of credible colleagues in UKIP. The public simply don’t know who would become members of a “shadow cabinet” in UKIP and it’s therefore entirely predictable that Conservatives will be cautious and vote Tory at a general election.

    Worse still is the fact that so many voters are young and/or have short memories. Any reasonable perceptive person with a long memory (fifty years or more) ought to know that ever since 1956 at least Conservatives have utterly botched up the government of this nation and have appeared to put careers and status before honesty.

    Not simply have they failed to check or reverse the worst of Labour’s measures when they’ve had the opportunity to do so, nor reduced the bloated size of the the government machine, nor maintained the effectiveness and size of our defence capability, nor kept debt and inflation under proper control, nor maintained a good education system in which grammar schools were a key element, nor kept control of external legal meddling from the EU, nor been active in maintaining a good manufacturing industrial base here, but they’ve engaged in the most superficial idiotic party politics that the public will see on television. The interminable shouting and braying across the floor of the House of Commons cannot do anything but bring the entire procedure into disrepute – and Cameron doesn’t seem to care. Yes, bring on UKIP. Let’s have a change. It’s long overdue.

  • Guy Falkenau

    The Tories have a problem of their own making. The right of the party’s obsession with Europe has tilled and planted the soil on which UKIP stands. This jingoistic bunch of Little Englanders deserve one another. All the polling data indicates that a majority of the British public does not share their desire to quit the EU despite UKIP’s orchestrated chorus on blogs and media comments sites

    • JamesdelaMare

      Aside from your silly unimaginative little jibe about “little Englanders”, don’t you yet understand that the issue is not about “jingoism” but it’s about the conversion of a free trading area in Europe (the Common Market, which most of us are happy with) into a vast legalistic costly meddling bureaucracy that the EU has now become, which is far less acceptable?

      • Guy Falkenau

        Free only in the sense that the other 26 members are not free to decide how they will conduct those relations – and we will tell them precisely how they should do it……

        • Its 27.

          • Guy Falkenau

            Thanks for reminding me…….

          • Guy Falkenau

            Thanks for reminding me…….

    • crosscop

      If you really think that the polls show any enthusiasm for staying in, then you need to have another look.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_withdrawal_from_the_European_Union#Other_opinion_polling_on_withdrawal

    • global city

      what a dreary post!

      Full of lies to boot!

  • Cyril Sneer

    Two weeks in and the numpties are already writing off any more Bulgarians or Romanians coming here. They miss the point so spectacularly it’s unreal.

    How many Poles came here in the first two weeks?
    How many were predicted?
    How many have actually come so far?

    Anyone with half brain would not be counting their chickens before they’ve hatched.

  • Lady Magdalene

    What an ambition for the mighty Conservative Party: “stay out of 3rd place.”

    But the Conservative Party is no longer mighty. It defenestrated its greatest post-war Prime Minister and since then has selected a series of weak, unprincipled empty-suits as Leader.

    Cameron didn’t win in 2010 against the worst Prime Minister in living memory. It now looks like he is going to lose to Mr Farage, Leader of the small army of British patriots Cameron called “loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists.”

    I shall hugely enjoy Mr Cameron’s humiliation. It couldn’t happen to a more deserving man.

  • Richard N

    I hope Naigel Farage has a good reason why he is banging on endlessly about immigrants from Eastern Europe – when 70% of the immigrants (that now forbidden word) into Britain come from OUTSIDE the EU.

    Why is it that NOBODY talks about this 70% of immigrants – and only talks about those from Eastern Europe? It’s like a conspiracy. In fact, it is very like a conspiracy.

    Why are these 70% let in, year after year – when the government is not restricted by EU regulations on massively reducing this number.

    The liblabcon’s claim that immigration is needed, because it lets in skilled workers that the economy needs, is a huge deception, because the vast majority of immigrants are unskilled or low-skilled. Therefore this argument is blatantly dishonest and – more important – so easy to demolish.

    So why doesn’t Nigel Farage point this out, on TV and on radio – endlessly?

    Yet he doesn’t. Why?

    Why is it that even Nigel Farage plays the BBC ./ liblabcon game of talking about ‘net migration’ – when about 80% of people in polls are concerned with IMMIGRATION.

    Farage should endlessly attack this BBC /liblabcon conspiracy to mislead the British people about the over 500,000 IMMIGRANTS that come in each year – and he should loudly refuse to use the term ‘migration’ (deliberately vague) or ‘net migration’ (deliberately misleading).

    So why doesn’t he? That is what I would like to know.

    • Pip

      One step at a time.

    • global city

      because his main issue was to highlight the fact that the UK has no control over immigration from the EU.

      The UK DOES control the part you highlight, but that is a different issue that nobody has demanded an explanation over… as the establishment intended.

  • Framer

    The issue with Romanians and Bulgarians was never going to be a floodtide at the ports (as opposed to airports) but a surge at social security offices given that full benefits will now be payable to those already here. The numbers newly claiming certain benefits from 1 January 2014 is one statistic worth pursuing. Not that the BBC with its 7,000 journalists will.
    Otherwise there will be a gradual increase in new arrivals as news filters home of easy access to income support and jobseekers allowance. (Housing and child benefit are already payable following an unappealed high court judgment).
    The key figure in this respect won’t be the government’s and Jonathon Portes’s highly inaccurate International Passenger Survey figures (surveys mostly made at airports) but the number of new national insurance numbers issued to such A2 nationals.

  • I welcome Romanians and Bulgarians here as much as I hope the 25,000+ Britons who have moved to Romania and Bulgaria are welcomed there.

    What we need is more mature, accurate reporting in some of our media. See my deconstruction of how the Daily Mail covered the non-story of Romanians and Bulgarians coming to the UK from 1 January. ‘Daily Mail: Trick or Truth? You Decide’

    http://www.trickortruth.eu-rope.com

    • global city

      it was a pretty sub-undergraduate attempt to look clever ‘deconstructing’ a piece that was not actually saying what you suggest. Lousy Politics 101 Fail!

      You are right in a certain respect though, but you have the wrong target in mind. UKIP’s case was always about highlighting the UK governments lack of any control over the issue of mass migration or any migration from the EU. The idea was to highlight a terrible negative of EU membership.

      The elites recognised this, of course, so steered it into an immigrant bashing hatefest for two months. Meanwhile, the situation of mass migration still has not been addressed…as the intended all along.

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