'I won’t stop EU migrants' says Cameron. Great headline, Dave
Cameron goes banging on about Europe while Labour regain their seven-point lead in the polls
IT WAS enough to make Conservative spin-doctors weep. David Cameron’s interview on yesterday's Andrew Marr Show was dominated by the EU – yet polling shows that Europe is a turn-off for most voters and, of course, it was Cameron himself who said on being elected Tory leader nearly a decade ago that the party had to "stop banging on about Europe".
As Tory blogger Tim Montgomerie tweeted midway through the Marr show: "50% of Cameron's Marr interview already about EU. I bet Lynton Crosby [the PM's head of election strategy] wishes he could be talking about economic growth and welfare reform."
Cameron allowed Marr to keep him on Europe because he thinks he can win back disgruntled Tory voters who are threatening to vote Ukip in the local and European elections on 22 May and the Newark by-election on 5 June.
But he backed himself into a corner when he admitted to Marr that he was unwilling to curb EU freedom of movement rules - despite concerns that figures out this week will show that 30,000 Romanians and Bulgarians have come to Britain since controls were lifted at the start of the year.
Cameron's point was that EU citizens should continue to be able to move to another country to get work - a right enjoyed by many Brits going aboard as well as foreigners coming here – but not to gain better benefits.
As The Times picked up this morning, he also raised the idea of a minimum threshold of GDP per capita being imposed before countries joining the EU in future can qualify for full freedom of movement. This might avoid the "big migratory flows" that result when poorer countries join the union – as happened with Poland.
But such nuances got lost in translation and the coverage this morning is just what the Tories don't need, with Ukip riding high in the polls. ‘Britain will not stop EU migrants coming here to work, says Cameron’ is the Daily Telegraph headline, appearing above a photograph of people boarding a bus in Sofia, implying more Bulgarians are on their way.
On what was clearly designated 'Fight Back against Ukip weekend', Cameron also gave an interview to the Sunday Telegraph in which he guaranteed that if he is re-elected with a majority, he will deliver an in-out referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU by 2017, come what may.
But without a promise to match Farage's proposal to stop all unwanted immigration from the EU, Cameron is surely wasting his breath.
What the Tory high command fears is a backbench revolt against Cameron if, as expected, Ukip beat the Tories into third place in next week’s EU elections. They hope the eurosceptics are not mad enough to go for Cameron’s head so close to a general election, but on past behaviour they cannot rule out an outbreak of suicidal internecine warfare over Europe.
Meanwhile, Ed Miliband continues to hedge his bets on offering an EU referendum.
Lord Ashcroft, whose private polling shows EU membership is not a burning issue for the electorate, especially not among Labour supporters, wrote recently that there was a “potentially enormous upside” to Miliband’s refusal to commit to a referendum. “If the Tories are able to say that only they will offer an EU referendum, he [Miliband] will reason, they will not be able to stop themselves going on about it. And on. And on and on.”
Instead, Miliband continues to bang the cost-of-living drum – and the opinion polls suggest he’s right to do so.
Although he continues to score badly on a personal level, Labour is back to a seven-point lead over the Conservatives according the latest YouGov poll for The Sunday Times.
And analysis by PolicalBetting.com shows that four key Labour policy issues - part-renationalising the railways, a freeze on energy prices, curbs on private landlords and higher council taxes on empty homes - are all popular with voters, even Tories.
The bad news for Labour is Miliband’s weak standing. Only 23 per cent believe he is “up to the job of being PM” and as Mike Smithson of PB reports, “to all questions that have Ed Miliband’s name in the wording, the response is negative.”
Perhaps David Cameron would do better to “bang on” about that rather than Europe.