David Maddox: Euroshambles could undo the Tories

IN THE glow of the aftermath of an election victory it often feels like the victors are untouchable and the defeated are looking at a long period in opposition.

David Cameron has a majority, but it is a 'fragile' one. Picture: Getty

It’s hard to believe now but there were people talking about a realignment of British politics after leaving the rose garden where David Cameron and Nick Clegg unveiled their coalition. Even back in 1992 when John Major pulled off an unlikely victory, many commentators were questioning whether Labour could win power again.

So it is now with David Cameron basking in the joy of a surprise Tory victory while Labour is on the verge of imploding in a leadership contest made up of a field of mediocre candidates.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

But the confusion over the weekend with the Prime Minister’s comments on Europe have underlined that his wafer-thin majority of 12 is extremely fragile and disaster for the Tories is potentially one misplaced sentence away.

Everybody had assumed that Mr Cameron would square the Tory European circle of hardline eurosceptics against those who want to stay in the European Union by playing the Harold Wilson card – do a dodgy renegotiation and then give everybody a free vote and free hand to campaign either side of the in/out referendum afterwards.

But then came the bombshell. Mr Cameron appeared to say that ministers would have to quit if they wanted to campaign for an EU exit. This is pretty serious stuff because it would almost certainly see a large number of ministers resign, with senior Cabinet figures like Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, Leader of the House Chris Grayling and Justice Secretary Michael Gove leading the way. They may be joined by Home Secretary Theresa May, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon.

Perhaps not surprisingly Downing Street issued a clarification. Ministers could only not campaign for an exit until the referendum campaign had officially got under way. No doubt this followed some angry words and a calculation that Mr Cameron could find himself facing a large number of resignations. But there was more. Mr Cameron then seemed to suggest again they might have to stick to the government line but “we will have to take each stage at a time”.

It is worth remembering that the last Tory majority government came unstuck over the EU and the last few days has highlighted that this one could be on a similar path to ruin.

So while some people are suggesting the Labour leadership contest is effectively about electing an interim to get them through a defeat in 2020, the winner is still only a major Tory euroshambles away from being the next Prime Minister.