Liberal Hero of the Week #72: Vince Cable

by Stephen Tall on July 12, 2014

Liberal Hero of the Week (and occasional Villains) is chosen by Stephen Tall, Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and Research Associate at CentreForum

cf hero vince cable

Vince Cable

Lib Dem Business Secretary
Reason: For sticking up for the right of workers to go on strike.

There are many reasons over the couple of years the Liberal Heroes series has been running that Vince Cable could have been nominated – most notably, his battle against Conservative cabinet colleagues’ panicky attempts to cut immigration even at the cost of damaging the British economy.

But he gets the nod this week for a completely different issue, though one on which (coincidentally, I’m sure) he’s also at odds with the Conservative party: defending the right of workers to go on strike.

On Thursday this week, between half-a-million (Government estimate) and more than a million (trade union estimate) public sector workers went on strike in protest against the Coalition’s policies on pay, pensions and spending cuts. This triggered calls by David Cameron to make it harder for the unions to call strikes, perhaps by imposing a minimum turnout threshold in any strike ballot. Vince, rightly, was having none of it:

“We disagree with the Tories’ assertion that a small turnout in strike-action ballots undermines the basic legitimacy of the strike. If they want to look at minimum turnout, this would have major implications for other democratic turnouts and elections. Many MPs have been elected by well under 50% of their electorate, let alone police commissioners or MEPs. Why have a threshold in a ballot but not make our elected politicians or shareholders face the same hurdle?”

He’s quite right. And as Steven Toft (AKA blogger ‘Flip Chart Rick’) pointed out:

There is one other way in which parliamentary, mayoral and council elections are different from strike ballots, though, and it’s a much more important one than the argument about majorities.

Political elections are binding on everyone. Unless you decide to emigrate, you have to abide by the laws the new government makes, regardless of how small its percentage of the vote was.

Strike ballots, on the other hand, are binding on absolutely nobody. If your union votes to strike, you are perfectly free to ignore it, as lots of public sector workers did on Thursday. There is nothing the union or anyone else can do about it. Unions are prevented by law from disciplining members who refuse to go on strike. Yes, there may be some peer pressure but if that extends to intimidation, the perpetrators could find themselves facing criminal charges.

All a strike ballot does is make it legal for those that want to go on strike to do so. That’s all. Everyone else can ignore it.

Putting the threshold up to 50 percent would mean that all abstentions would be counted as no votes. An apathetic majority could therefore stop a committed minority from exercising their right to strike.

Liberals believe in freedom. The free movement of people, freedom of association, and the freedom of workers to withdraw their labour. For sticking up for those freedoms of the individual against the state, Vince Cable is this week’s Liberal Hero.

* The ‘Liberal Heroes of the Week’ (and occasional ‘Liberal Villains’) series showcases those who promote any of the four liberal tenets identified in The Orange Book — economic, personal, political and social liberalism — regardless of party affiliation and from beyond Westminster. If they stick up for liberalism in some way then they’re in contention. If they confound liberalism they may be named Villains. You can view our complete list of heroes and villains here. Nominations are welcome via email or Twitter.

Dear Daily Telegraph, Enough already. It’s actually okay for MPs to claim 11p for a ruler.

by Stephen Tall on July 12, 2014

The_Daily_TelegraphSo the Telegraph is back to its old tricks on expenses. Five years ago, the paper uncovered some serious abuses by MPs at the taxpayers’ expense – along the way, the paper was also (as I wrote at the time) “guilty of flaky fact-checking, unfair distortions and disgraceful smears”.

Yesterday the paper attempted, rather desperately, to re-live past glories by running the story, ‘MPs’ expenses: Ken Clarke bills taxpayer for 11p ruler’. It wasn’t just Ken who attracted the Telegraph’s ire though: ‘Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, was found to have claimed 43p for scissors. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, claimed the cost of a £4.68 glue stick and 8p for a box of clips.’

Yes, that’s right, folks, it’s a new scandal — apparently taxpayers are footing the bill for MPs’ office supplies. How very dare they? They should pay it all themselves out of their own salaries. Actually, scratch that: they shouldn’t even have salaries. In fact, they should pay us for the privilege of being an MP. Yes, much better they have a private income – that’s the only way we’ll get MPs who are in touch with ordinary people.

But seriously, though… Can we all maybe agree that office supplies are legitimate items of expenditure for MPs in their everyday business? And that, in the great scheme of things for which we should hold our elected representatives to account, spending 8p on a box of paperclips really isn’t worth a single column inch ever again?

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

My recommended reading for today July 11, 2014

by Stephen Tall on July 11, 2014

Here’s some of the articles that have caught my attention in the past couple of days…

The security bill: why I think dirty hands are better than empty hands

by Stephen Tall on July 10, 2014

Hands on ! Photo by craig Sunter Cjs*64Today saw the surprise springing of emergency new surveillance legislation, announced by David Cameron and Nick Clegg and agreed with Ed Miliband. The Lib Dems have been quick to assert this isn’t the Snoopers’ Charter Revisited – torpedoed by Clegg after a Lib Dem grassroots’ revolt in April 2012 – but any attempt by the government to legislate in these areas gets liberal hackles up.

I’ve not had chance to read and absorb the details yet, though I’m reassured by the clear evidence of Julian Huppert’s fingerprints on what’s proposed — and, more surprisingly, by The Guardian’s home affairs editor Alan Travis’s view that the legislation could prove “a rare liberal moment”. Here’s his take on what’s proposed:

There is no emergency that justifies rushing this urgent new “security” bill through parliament in its last knockings before its summer break, but it could prove a major opportunity to bring the rise of the surveillance state under democratic control.

In order to ensure the continued access of the police and security services to the personal internet and phone-use tracking data held by the telecoms companies, they have had to concede important privacy and civil liberty safeguards. …

This is a major package, albeit rushed, that will shape how we live and work in the digital world. It may just “safeguard the existing position” – these powers have been in use in Britain since 2009 – but it also provides an opportunity to introduce some civil liberties elements that up until now were missing.

Critics will argue that’s unduly optimistic. Perhaps: we’ll see. But I want to make three points about the political process.

First, the timing. Much is being made of the fact that the European Court of Justice ruling that’s triggered this legislation was published in April, so why take three months to come up with urgent legislation and insist it be passed through parliament within a week? The reason is pretty obvious, I’d have thought: there’s been a massive behind-the-scenes to-and-fro as the Lib Dems fight to stop the Snoopers’ Charter by the back door and try and get new safeguards inserted into the legislation. The delay shows the extent of Lib Dem influence in government.

Secondly, the parliamentary timetable. There’s no denying the legislation is being rushed through with unseemly haste. That’s not good for democracy, I agree. However, those critics who seem to think that greater scrutiny in the Commons would lead to more liberal legislation must see a different set of MPs debating and voting to me. I’ll put it crudely: we’ve got a much more liberal outcome from the sausage-machine of cross-party negotiations than we would have done through a fully democratic process. In the circumstances, I can see why Nick Clegg reckons outcomes trump process in this case.

Thirdly, the principle. For some liberals, any legislation which curtails the liberties of citizens is unpardonable. They live by Benjamin Franklin’s aphorism, ‘They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’ However, as I wrote in April 2012 during the initial Snoopers’ Charter furore:

… the reality is that we — citizens, society, government — do trade liberty for security. We do it all the time. In order to safeguard our freedoms we have secret services and passport-checks and counter-terrorism units and border controls and so on. These are, to one degree or another, accepted as a necessary price to pay for our security from threats both internal and external. The key question — one which very often divides in politics, as we’ve so very clearly seen today – is where that line is drawn.

It looks to me, at first reading, that Lib Dems have drawn the line in the right place; or, at least, if not in the right place then in the most liberal place achievable.

Yes, the party could have grandstanded on the issue, could have said up with this we will not put. That was the approach we took — absolutely rightly I think — when refusing to back mandatory jail sentences for second knife offences. We didn’t stop that silliness becoming law, though, as the Tories and Labour teamed up to flex their muscles (mostly located where their brains should be) and send an ineffective-but-tough-sounding message.

Here, though, we had the opportunity to negotiate legislation which appears to be better, more liberal, than would otherwise have been the case. With 9% of the MPs that is often going to be the best we can hope for. For some, it won’t be good enough. I respect their purism but I don’t agree with it. Our liberalism is not shared by a majority of the public – at least not on this issue – and as democrats we sometimes need to recognise that and get our hands dirty.

Photo by Craig Sunter CJS*64

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

photo by:

What links Jeremy Hunt and Peter Lilley? (Tip: If you’re not sure who they are, that’s the clue.)

by Stephen Tall on July 9, 2014

Who’s the most famous cabinet minister? And who’s the least famous? That’s what YouGov set out to find out by inviting its representative sample of the public to type in the name, unprompted, of the post-holder of six senior cabinet positions. Here’s what they found…

identifiable cabinet ministers - yougov

So Iain Duncan Smith (36% correctly naming him as Work and Pensions secretary) and Jeremy Hunt (28% as health secretary) are the least famous cabinet members. Though, to be honest – like John Rentoul and with due respect to Mike Smithson – I’m actually quite impressed by how high all the figures are. Another happy consequence, perhaps, of fixed-term parliaments and the stability of coalition governments.

The YouGov survey reminded me of Conservative secretary of state for social security Peter Lilley’s classy response to his Labour shadow, Donald Dewar, 22 years ago:

lilley dewar

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Are the Greens to the Lib Dems what Ukip is to the Tories?

by Stephen Tall on July 8, 2014

image“As Ukip is to the Tories, so can the Green party be to the Lib Dems.” That’s a sentence I wrote here, almost seven years ago, on 3rd November, 2007.

In The Times, Sam Coates has looked at how the quiet rise of the Greens in recent months – the party polled just ahead of the Lib Dems in May’s European elections – might hurt the Lib Dems at the May 2015 general election.

An analysis of the European election results shows the Green vote strengthening and consolidating in the southwest and parts of Scotland while Lib Dem votes drain away. Demographic groups who once supported Mr Clegg’s party are becoming more favourable to the Greens. The analysis suggests that Lib Dem support is weakening among the young, old, urban, rural, poor, middle class and wealthy, and Greens are advancing in these categories, particularly among 18 to 24-year-olds.

Senior Lib Dems acknowledge that the Greens’ policy platform — which embraces higher public spending, opposes nuclear power and fracking, and pledges to scrap tuition fees — bears a strong resemblance to the Lib Dem manifesto of 2005. The Lib Dems have meanwhile switched positions on these symbolic, easily understood issues. They are also likely to lose their status as the protest-vote party for centre-left voters because of the coalition.

While there is little chance of the Greens taking any additional seats beyond their existing one, there are fears of a Ukip-style effect where they take enough votes from the Lib Dems to hand the seat to the challenger — often the Conservatives in the southwest. One senior Lib Dem said that the party was taking the Greens “not terribly” seriously but added: “Even the loss of 1 per cent or 2 per cent in a marginal seat can be costly.”

Five of the Lib Dems’ ten most marginal seats are in the southwest. They played down the threat, saying that the grassroots organisation of the Greens was “pretty feeble”. A source said: “We must have a clear green appeal in 2015 but not fret about the Green Party.”

The paper quotes Ian Warren, a political analyst and author of the @election-data blog, commenting: “In the southwest the Lib Dems are the effective opposition to the Conservatives and, come the general election I suspect many of the 2014 Greens will revert to type and go Lib Dem. However, many of them won’t, and how they break will determine the outcome. The Greens and Ukip provide a space on the ballot paper for these disaffected Lib Dems.”

I think the Lib Dems have made the right decisions in government — taking a scientific and cautious approach to fracking, recognising new-build nuclear power is a necessary and cleaner part of our energy mix — but there’s no doubt this pragmatism has hurt us with those who want to ban fracking and no more nuclear power. The party is right neither to over-estimate the Greens’ national appeal at general elections, nor to dismiss the threat. Marginal constituencies, by their very nature, are decided at the margins.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Ashcroft battlegrounds poll: Lib Dems set to lose four marginal seats to Labour

by Stephen Tall on July 6, 2014

lib lab Labour Liberal Democrat logoThe second of Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft’s polls of Lib Dem marginal seats was published this week, focusing on four of our battlegrounds with Labour: Norwich South (held by Simon Wright), Bradford East (David Ward), Brent Central (Sarah Teather standing down, Ibrahim Taguri selected), and Manchester Withington (John Leech). Also included was Brighton Pavilion, which Caroline Lucas won for the Greens from Labour in 2010.

(The previous instalment focused on the Lib Dem-Tory battlegrounds.)

It comes as little surprise to learn that, as the polls stand, all would be lost to Labour – these are, after all, the four most marginal Lib Dem-held seats where Labour is the main challenger. You can see the constituency breakdowns below, in response to the question: “thinking specifically about your own parliamentary constituency at the next general election and the candidates who are likely to stand for election to Westminster there, which party’s candidate do you think you will vote for in your own constituency?”:

lab lib battlegrounds Read the rest of this entry »

Why 40% is the magic number in the Scottish referendum

by Stephen Tall on July 6, 2014

Brazil v Scotland 22For some reason, 40% is a figure which has long exerted political significance.

That devolution for Scotland wasn’t introduced in 1979 wasn’t because a majority of those who voted didn’t want it: by 52% to 48% the Scottish voted in favour of establishing a Scottish parliament. However, a Labour MP, George Cunningham, introduced an amendment to the Scotland Act (1978) specifying a minimum turnout threshold of 40% of the electorate. The actual turnout of 33% meant Scottish devolution had to wait a further two decades.

I was reminded of this when talking recently to a Lib Dem who was heavily involved in the Alternative Vote referendum campaign. “Did you ever think it was winnable?” I asked. “Not by about January,” he admitted. “But I did hope we could get at least 40% voting for it – that would have kept electoral reform on the table.” The actual result, a heavy defeat of AV by 68% to 32% on a 42% turnout, meant that chance was lost.

I’d suggest there’s something similarly important about the end-result in the forthcoming Scottish independence referendum. The polls are consistently clear that the Scots will not vote for separation from the rest of the UK. However, they disagree about the likely margin – an odd phenomenon YouGov’s Peter Kellner wrote about this week. My rule-of-thumb is that a Yes vote above 40% and the question of independence remains alive; below 40% and it is settled for a generation (though like the UK’s membership of the European Union it may never be truly resolved).

However, the idea that defeat for independence will mean the SNP shrinks away, tail between its legs, is wide of the mark. At least one senior Labour figure, a former cabinet minister, has privately highlighted the danger to his party of a No vote at the May 2015 general election. His reason? Having rejected independence, the Scottish voters will want an insurance policy their wishes won’t be ignored by Westminster. A large SNP representation there would be the best way to ensure that. He predicts up to 30 Scottish nationalist MPs will be returned.

I don’t know Scottish politics well enough to know how plausible such a scenario is. But, if he’s right, Alex Salmond poses much more of a danger to Labour’s election hopes than Nigel Farage.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

5 things Nick Clegg could do next

by Stephen Tall on July 4, 2014

Nick Clegg Q&A 8My last piece of advice to Nick Clegg was to stand down as Lib Dem leader. He didn’t, and it’s pretty clear now that Nick will lead us into the next general election.

Two problems remain, though, and we need to find ways of addressing them. First, morale in the party has dipped since the May elections. Secondly, support for the party has also dipped in the polls. Yes, Lib Dem MPs benefit from the incumbency effect but that only stretches so far – we also need to start winning the air war, or at the very least avoid being ignored. As it stands, what Nick says just isn’t getting a listening. However unfair, it’s a reality we need to deal with.

Here are five suggestions from me for ways in which Nick Clegg could help restore party morale and maybe get himself a hearing from the media and public…

1. Announce Vince Cable will be the party’s shadow chancellor at the next election.

I’m told it’s a done deal that Danny Alexander will get the nod. That would be a mistake. We need a shadow chancellor with clout, utterly secure on the economics, savvy about the politics. As I pointed out a couple of months ago, Vince has done a masterful job of walking “the tightrope of respecting collective cabinet responsibility while signalling quite clearly when and why he disagrees with the Conservatives, most notably on immigration”. Party members also favour – by 63% to 28% – having Vince represent the Lib Dems in the ‘Ask the Chancellor’ debates.

2. Keep the party’s options open in the event of a ‘hung parliament’

Nick Clegg has publicly ruled out the option of a ‘supply and confidence’ arrangement in the event no single party wins a majority in May 2015 (ie, the party won’t join a formal coalition but wouldn’t bring down a minority government either). I can understand why he’s sceptical of such an arrangement – as I’ve argued before, “It seems to me a way of getting all the pain of coalition with little of the gain of being in government.” But we need to keep all options available to maintain maximum negotiating leverage. What matters most is how we can deliver liberal policies in the next parliament. That’s most likely to happen in a full coalition, but not at any price. Tim Farron was spot-on to argue, “When you go into negotiations with another party you have to believe, and let the other party believe, that there is a point at which you would walk away, and when the outcome could be something less than a coalition, a minority administration of some kind, that is something we all have to consider.”

3. Appoint Jo Swinson to the cabinet in the autumn

As I wrote in Total Politics after last year’s reshuffle, “It’s shaming that a party which proudly proclaims its belief in equality has never yet appointed a female cabinet minister.” Jo Swinson might have been promoted then, but her maternity leave was just about to begin. Now returned to work as an accomplished Business Minister, she is the obvious candidate for elevation (though she herself may prefer to devote the time to her marginal constituency where she has a tough fight on her hands). It’s of course true that a reshuffle just a few months before an election – when ministers have little scope to initiate change – might be seen as little more than window dressing. But it would at least signal some intent to address the Lib Dems’ “male, pale and stale” problem at the top of our party.

4. Stop going to PMQs, start touring the country

Focus groups, I’m told, show the public is baffled why Nick Clegg simply sits next to David Cameron without ever speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions. To them, he appears mute, powerless, sidelined. Nick himself is scathing of this weekly parliamentary pantomime: “It is just so stuck in the nineteenth century and it is so stuck in this adversarial, yah-boo culture. It is going to have to change at some point.” He can’t change it now, but what he can do is steer clear of it. The time spent attending PMQs could be much better used. Nick’s aides are, according to the Daily Mail, advising him to ditch his Spanish family holiday volunteer “for a ‘summer of pain’ doing ordinary jobs outside Westminster”, modelled on Paddy Ashdown’s 1993 ‘Beyond Westminster’ tour of Britain. Ignore half that, Nick: you and your family need your holiday. But getting out of Westminster every Wednesday at 12 noon seems like a sound idea.

5. “Let Clegg Be Clegg”

In the first ‘Nick v Nigel’ debate, Nick was himself: Mr Reasonable: moderate, persuasive, reforming. Then his aides got spooked by the polls showing Farage won the post-debate polls. Nick was schooled to exhibit ersatz passion and crack creaky one-liners. It didn’t come naturally. The result? He lost the second debate by losing himself. Of course party leaders need staff and colleagues able to feed them good lines – but they have to be lines which can be spoken comfortably and sound authentic. The next time Nick is guaranteed a hearing from voters will be the first televised leaders’ debate (whenever that is, whatever its format). I want The Real Nick Clegg to stand up and stick up for what he believes in – in his own words.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and editor of the 2013 publication, The Coalition and Beyond: Liberal Reforms for the Decade Ahead. He is also a Research Associate for the liberal think-tank CentreForum and writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.

Liberals at War: A Warning from History for the Tories

by Stephen Tall on July 4, 2014

con home cartoonHere’s my latest The Other Side column for ConservativeHome, published here on Tuesday. I looked at the lessons of history of the Liberal Party’s collapse a century ago for the Tories today. My thanks as ever to the site’s editors, Paul Goodman and Mark Wallace, for giving a Lib Dem space to provoke – constructively, I hope.

100 years ago, the Liberals were sitting pretty. The party had won three consecutive general elections: the landslide of 1906, followed by two much narrower victories in 1910, after which the Liberal Government’s anti-Tory majority was sustained thanks to the backing of Labour and Irish nationalists. By 1914, the party could look back with real satisfaction on its legislative achievements: pensions and unemployment insurance had been introduced, the supremacy of the elected Commons over the unelected Lords asserted.

And then, on 28th June, a Bosnian-Serb, Gavrilo Princip, fired a series of bullets from a pistol at the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian crown, and his Consort, Sophie. As that week’s edition of The Economist reported, ‘Two of them instantly took fatal effect; the Archduke was mortally wounded in the cheek, and the Archduchess, who had endeavoured to shield him, was shot in the body and sank unconscious in his arms. By the time the car reached the hospital both were dead.’ What it termed ‘this dastard act’ sparked an international diplomatic crisis that triggered the Great War.

It had far-reaching and long-lasting consequences for the Liberal Party, too. The war forced the Liberals in 1915 to invite not only the Conservatives to join a formal coalition, but also brought Labour into government for the first time. This exacerbated discontent in the ranks, as coalitions have a habit of doing. Backbench rebellions grew as conscription was introduced in 1916 for single men and in 1917 for married men. ‘With this wanton breach with historic Liberalism, that great movement practically comes to an end and a new alignment of parties must gradually take place,’ prophesied one leading Liberal journal.

Part of that new alignment emerged thanks to the schism between HH Asquith and David Lloyd George, with the latter replacing the former as Prime Minister in 1916. Imagine for a moment if Vince Cable had heeded the urgings of his close political friends and supplanted Nick Clegg as Deputy Prime Minister in 2012, but that Clegg had held on as party leader. Then imagine that both Cable and Clegg continued to head different factions for the next 10 years. It was just such an implausible scenario that was acted out in front of the British electorate from 1916 to 1926, when Asquith finally gave way to Lloyd George. They made the Alliance’s ‘Two Davids’ looks like the model of united togetherness.

Labour gradually elbowed the Liberals out of contention. By 1924, just a decade after the Liberals had dominated the British political landscape, the party attracted less than 18 per cent of the mass franchise vote and had been reduced to 40 MPs. By the time the Asquith Liberals and the Lloyd George Liberals remembered that more united than divided them, the electorate had lost interest. The brief, flagging revival in 1929 under the ‘Welsh Wizard’ merely underlined how the party had been usurped from relevance: Labour was now the largest single party in the Commons, established as the anti-Tory opposition in a two-party electoral system, and the Liberal Party was to be little more than a political footnote for the next two generations.

Why am I telling you this? It’s not because I imagine ConservativeHome’s readers have much interest in my party’s Edwardian ‘strange death’. It’s because it’s all too easy to believe political parties are both permanent and unassailable. Yet the collapse of Liberalism 100 years ago shows that, given a particular combination of tricky circumstances, no party is guaranteed future success based on past performance.

I think the Conservatives will, most likely, win the popular vote in May 2015. It’s even possible, though less likely, that they will win an outright, if slender, majority. In either case, a referendum on the UK’s membership of the European Union will follow within 18 months. (Let’s be clear, the Lib Dems will not stand in your way. If my party refuses to concede an in/out referendum this side of the general election it’s only because the leadership wants to retain it as a bargaining chip for any ‘hung parliament’ negotiations.)

And David Cameron has made very clear that he intends to negotiate a deal that will enable him to win a ‘Yes’ vote to keep the UK within the European Union. Let’s recall the Prime Minister’s words in his impressive January 2013 Bloomburg speech: “I believe something very deeply. That Britain’s national interest is best served in a flexible, adaptable and open European Union and that such a European Union is best with Britain in it. Over the coming weeks, months and years, I will not rest until this debate is won.”

His failure to thwart Jean-Claude Juncker’s nomination as President of the European Commission does little to alter that simple fact. Those of our European partners who want the UK to remain within the EU will ensure Cameron does not go back home from his negotiations empty-handed. They will offer him just enough to allow him to declare victory; and that “mild and minor” package will be something that we Lib Dems can also happily live with. And the polls are clear that, if Cameron recommends a renegotiation deal, the public will back our continuing EU membership.

It’s this ‘what happens next?’ that intrigues me. Some Tory ultra-right-wingers will, if Cameron campaigns for a ‘Yes’ vote, immediately defect to Ukip. The question is: how many ultras are there? How many of the less ultra, Eurosceptic ‘Fresh Start’ group of Tory MPs can be persuaded to stay loyal? Would any of the current cabinet challenge Cameron’s leadership? Who, quite frankly, knows?

Cameron is doing his best to hold his party together, but his best may not suffice. The pragmatic, genteel Macmillanite Tory party that Cameron embodies long since ceded control to the ideological, radical Thatcherites: no compromise is their cry, yet that is all Cameron has the power to deliver. Maybe that will prove to be enough. Maybe the party that champions common sense will acquire some for itself. Maybe the Thatcherite ultras and the Cameroon pragmatists will realise parties do better when they stick together and put the voters ahead of their own squabbles. As Liberals can attest, it’s a long way back when you forget.

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