If David Cameron’s speech today is more about backbench management than it is about his desperate desire to talk about immigration, then he needs to make sure that what he says is enough to satisfy most in his party.
His aides and PPS Gavin Williamson were calling round key MPs last night to give them a briefing on what the speech would include, presumably in an attempt to persuade them that this really is a good speech with good policies that they can sell on the doorstep.
MPs I’ve spoken to overnight and this morning seem reasonably happy with what they’ve heard before the speech. Andrew Bridgen, long a thorn in the Prime Minister’s flesh, says:
‘This will focus minds. European leaders are not going to roll over immediately and give it to him but it really lifts the stakes. I can sell that on the doorstep. For those for whom this is not enough, nothing will be enough to get them back from Ukip. We’ve got to make voters understand that the stakes are high because if Ed Miliband gets in we won’t get any of that.’
Another sceptic says that the speech is ‘going down very well amongst the more sceptical back bench colleagues. View is that it is a measured and definable target for negotiation.’
But in the long-term, what really matters is what European leaders think. And here’s a rather promising quote from Jean-Claude Juncker in the Financial Times that the Prime Minister’s proposals should be listened to ‘without drama’. Cameron needs a little bit of drama when he carries out his renegotiation to give the impression that what he’s bringing back from Europe is hefty and that only someone with his powers of persuasion is capable of bringing it back. But he is also not someone who wants to leave the European Union, and so he does ultimately need European leaders to back him so that his line that he’s not ruling anything out remains useful rhetoric rather than a hasty threat he’ll come to regret.