The dizzy behaviour of the Tory party on Europe is allowing its opponents to develop an incredibly strong message discipline. This is ironic because the Labour party has its own European fault lines running through it, its own backbenchers calling for a referendum, and even some calling for a referendum bill before Cameron gets in. But the Conservative to-ing and fro-ing on the subject enable both parties to say that instead of arguing about Europe in the House of Commons, they plan to ‘focus on jobs and growth’. Norman Lamb made this point on the Today programme, saying:
‘The Lib Dems’ focus is on jobs and growth. I think people want to see government addressing the really big challenges that we face, like this enormous challenge to the health and social care system, like the need to reform our pension system, Lib Dem ministers leading the debate on these crucial issues.’
Labour made similar noises about ‘jobs and growth’ last week when asked whether the party would support or reject the Baron/Bone amendment that Tory MPs still intend to press to a vote in the House of Commons tomorrow. If both parties are able to push the line that they are acting in the national interest while the Tory party bangs on about Europe, then one of the rebels’ key objectives will fail, which was smoking Labour and the Lib Dems out on the issue of a referendum.