Cameron rattles Tory cages with pro-Europe interview

Jul 19, 2012

The Prime Minister says he would never want to leave EU – and reveals he intends to take the tube to the Games

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DAVID CAMERON has said that austerity will last until the end of the decade, the Coalition is likely to break up a year before the 2015 election and he will  travel to the Olympic Games on the Tube in a wide-ranging interview with The Daily Telegraph today. But Tory grassroots website Conservative Home has  already questioned whether Downing Street had properly "thought through" the Prime Minister's comments. Here are the main points from the interview:

Asked whether austerity measures will go on until 2020, Cameron said: "I think it's going to be... this is a period for all countries, not just in Europe but I think  you will see it in America too, where we have to deal with our deficits and we have to have sustainable debts. I can't see any time soon when… the pressure  will be off." However, the PM did raise the tantalising prospect of "exciting and radical" tax cuts.

The PM said he wants to negotiate a "new settlement" with the European Union and repatriate powers to Britain. But while much of his party is calling for an  in/out referendum on the UK's membership of the EU, Cameron said he will never campaign in favour of leaving, because it would be "bad for Britain". He said: "If your vision of Britain was that we should just withdraw and become a sort of greater Switzerland, I think that would be a complete denial of our national interests."

Conservatives who rebelled against the Coalition government's proposed House of Lords reform proposals may still be given Cabinet positions in the future,  said the PM. Cameron suggested he was not very upset by the derailment of what was really a Lib Dem policy, saying: "It's difficult in Coalition because  sometimes you're coming forward with proposals that your Coalition partners are more enthusiastic about than you are."

The PM was asked whether the Coalition might switch to a more informal ‘confidence and supply' arrangement, under which the Lib Dems vote through only  key policies and agree not to bring down the government, in the lead up to the 2015 election. Cameron said: "I think the Coalition will run to 2015. How exactly you separate before an lection and fight an election: to be determined." The Daily Telegraph took this to mean that "the Coalition may function differently in the year before an election".

Clearly grasping the unpopularity of the ‘Games lanes' reserved only for members of the ‘Olympics family' during London 2012, Cameron has said he will not be using them: "I will be using public transport and that is how I recommend all Telegraph readers travel, use the javelin trains," he said. "I now use the Tube, I drive my protection team mad in London by saying why on earth are we in the car, the Tube is quicker."

The most controversial of Cameron's comments were his remarks on Europe. On Conservative Home, former Conservative MP Paul Goodman said the Prime Minister has ruined his chances in any future negotiations with the EU because he has "revealed his negotiating hand - and has apparently removed from it a powerful card, namely the possibility of supporting a British exit if he doesn't get what he wants". But Tory grandee Bernard Jenkin made exactly the opposite point on his Twitter feed, according to The Times. He wrote: "[David Cameron] could be in a stronger position to renegotiate, since he is saying,
‘Don't think you can get rid of me."'

As for the Telegraph itself, in an editorial it opined that PM's absence of optimism is "entirely understandable" in view of the dire economic forecast. But, though Cameron "did speak of the 'very big decisions' that will need to be made", and while his hands are tied by "the state of the public finances and the constraints of coalition", the paper detects a "growing sense" that the UK is going back to the stagnation of the 1970s, with "a government that lacks the courage to take truly radical action in pursuit of growth".

Back at Conservative Home, Goodman believes "Downing Street just isn't thinking all this through" – but he seemed more supportive of the PM in another piece where he wrote that, in countenancing the promotion of Tory rebels, Cameron is bowing to the inevitable and making a "graceful acknowledgement that there are more big revolts to come".

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