David Cameron’s Europe speech already had a Tutankhamun-style curse on it before events forced him to postpone it, with the much longer delay from its original date of mid-autumn causing a feeding frenzy in the media, in his own party, his coalition partners, and in the opposition.
By the end of last week, it was difficult to find an opposition MP or columnist who hadn’t written a whimsical piece imagining they were Cameron giving the speech (or indeed twisting readers into an even greater willing suspension of disbelief by imagining they were John Major talking to Cameron about the as-yet undelivered speech as David Miliband managed to do).
James reports in his Mail on Sunday column today that Downing Street is now worried the jinx will continue to doom the speech: if they reschedule it for a European location, the snow could delay it yet again (or at least trap unsuspecting political editors for the second time). They also have to dodge many other important events for fear of offending key European leaders, especially Angela Merkel.
The Curse of the Europe Speech also meant its extracts were briefed to journalists before it was cancelled, apparently making it even harder for Cameron to say anything at all that would surprise anyone. Those briefing the Sunday papers were clearly mindful of this: Toby Helm reports in today’s Observer that the speech will contain ‘one significant announcement’ which will act as ‘red meat’ to all but the most hardcore eurosceptics.
But the delay has also given Nigel Farage one more opportunity to take a chunk out of the Conservatives, and he did this to great effect this morning on the Andrew Marr Show using those pre-briefings.
Farage was lucky that the government guest was William Hague, who has given some pretty strong indications over the past few months that he’s not the raging eurosceptic some might hope. In his interview, the UKIP leader attacked Cameron’s trustworthiness on the issue of Europe, and also made clear that he has what he believes is a better offer: a referendum sooner rather than later.
It was when the two men were sitting awkwardly together on the sofa at the end of the show that Farage made the most deadly swipe. He said:
‘It’s very clear from what the Foreign Secretary has said that he wants us to stay in the European Union and he wants it to change and I think what’s really happening here is we’ll get the speech and then the Conservative party will launch a five-year campaign to try to keep us in the European Union.’
On his Telegraph blog, James Kirkup predicts that Tory MPs will be studying this exchange for clues on how UKIP candidates in their seats will attack them.
One large group of Tory MPs believes the way to keep Farage down is to legislate for a referendum in the next parliament, and they repeated this request to the Prime Minister this week. But Farage knows that as long as Cameron and Hague continue to make the case for Britain in Europe, however meaty their renegotiation promises may be, he can continue to jinx the Tories on Europe long after the cursed speech has finally been delivered.
More Spectator for less. Stay informed leading up to the EU referendum and in the aftermath. Subscribe and receive 15 issues delivered for just £15, with full web and app access. Join us.