David Cameron and Lynton Crosby are holding a meeting with Conservative MPs this week to discuss 2015 strategy, I understand. The party held a similar meeting with Andrew Cooper in January. One of the major topics that is likely to come up from the floor is whether the party should be trying to get legislation on an EU referendum into parliament at some point.
There is of course already an opportunity for the party to do this, as there is a backbench bill already before parliament proposing just that. It’s from John Baron, who was the first Tory to break ranks and criticise David Cameron’s EU referendum pledge, writing on Coffee House that without legislation, the party would suffer at the hands of voters not quite ready to trust politicians on Europe. The United Kingdom Membership of the European Union (Referendum) Bill has its second reading in the Commons on 26 April. Michael Fabricant told Coffee House last week that Downing Street was mulling over the legislation idea, and backbenchers who are desperate for the party to remain on the front foot on this issue will push the PM on this tomorrow.
Now that Nick Clegg is likely to make blocking a referendum a red line for coalition negotiations, the Tories will be focusing their efforts on outfoxing Labour. What many backbenchers want is the chance to get legislation backed by government – whether it comes from the backbench or not – before parliament ahead of any decision from the Labour leadership on the referendum. ‘That way,’ chuckles one backbencher, ‘we can watch the Labour party going through the same mess they’ve mocked us for.’ And even if they lose the vote, they’d then be able to go out and claim the eurosceptic high ground.