Why Cameron could learn from Papandreou
Two weeks ago there was a rebellion by some Conservative MPs against David Cameron in a vote in the House of Commons.
The vote concerned a motion that called for referendum on whether the UK should exit the European Union, renegotiate the terms of its membership, or leave things as they are. The motion was put before the House by David Nuttall, a Conservative MP. There was also an e-petition on the matter, which gathered the support of over 100,000 UK citizens.
David Cameron called upon all his MPs to vote against it, and the Tory party whips went into action – cajoling and coercing Members to do just that.
When 81 Tory MPs voted counter to the wishes of their leader (two others abstained) this was the biggest ever rebellion by Conservatives in the House of Commons over the thorny issue of the UK’s relationship with the EU.
The motion was still comfortably defeated though, by 483 votes to 111. That outcome was never in any doubt. Had the unthinkable happened, and the motion had been passed, the result would not have been binding on the government anyway.
The only significant outcome there could ever reasonably have been was the one that happened – a number of Tories voted with their conscience as opposed to toeing the line. Some stated they were voting in accordance with the wishes of their constituents.
By making such a big deal out of insisting his MPs did as he told them, Cameron ended up suffering from the biggest rebellion etc etc etc.
What was he thinking? He should have publicly said that he was happy to see all MPs vote however they saw fit – safe in the knowledge nothing bad could ever happen. But instead of being big enough to relinquish control he allowed himself to appear defeated in a fight that mattered far less than the issue of whether the Prime Minister has the full backing of all of his party.
Meanwhile, this week in Greece saw Prime Minister Papandreou accept a Franco-German orchestrated bailout, only to turn round and say he wanted the Greek people to be able to vote in a referendum on whether they were happy with its terms. The French were not happy (plus ça change). Likewise, the Germans were less than thrilled.
Ultimately, Papandreou’s call for a referendum has been shelved.
So what? How likely is it that he ever thought he would succeed?
Maybe something else was behind this move. Perhaps, knowing he was returning home to ask the people of Greece to swallow a very bitter pill that had been designed by France and Germany, and would see years of hardship and austerity, Papandreou sought a way of deflecting the bad news.
Under the circumstances, he has managed to underline the fact that there was nothing further he could have done. Even when he wanted to use democratic means to enable the Greek people to feel they had a say, that their opinions might be heard, the dark hand of Europe’s pay-masters was seen to be shutting him up.
Well played George.
Everyone suspects your domestic political career won’t last much longer. But once you’re looking for something new to keep yourself busy, you should consider a visit to Downing Street where a bloke called Dave could really do with someone explaining to him how politics really works.
David Nuttall’s motion was a massive red herring anyway. The UK cannot unilaterally renegotiate the terms of its EU membership and there is absolutely no motivation for the EU to agree to any new terms the UK puts forward. Withdrawing from the EU is crazy talk – we all know that. So the only viable option from the three contained within the motion was the one where everything stays the same.