Leaders: David Cameron’s risk may yet prove canny

Keeping the Eurosceptics inside the Cabinet tent could be a safer gamble than letting them loose to create chaos on the outside

Keeping the Eurosceptics inside the Cabinet tent could be a safer gamble than letting them loose to create chaos on the outside

David Cameron has a reputation for boldness, verging on recklessness, when it comes to referendums. In 2014 he went for a single question Scottish independence vote when providing a third option of DevoMax might have been the safer approach. The Prime Minister preferred a make or break vote, which put his reputation, government and the United Kingdom on the line.

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Yesterday’s decision to lift the obligation for Cabinet collective responsibility when it comes to the In/Out vote on Britain’s membership of the European Union is another example of his love of calculated risk.

Allowing ministers to campaign for either side in the referendum once a deal is reached on the UK’s relationship with the EU has led to anger from some within the Tory ranks.

The Conservative Europhile Ken Clarke said Cameron had been forced into a bad decision and said ministers who disagreed with the Prime Minister on Europe should resign and argue for Brexit from the back benches.

Last month Lord Heseltine warned of a Tory “civil war” if ministers were allowed to openly defy the Prime Minister.

He even suggested Cameron would be a “laughing stock” if the Prime Minister went ahead with the decision he came to yesterday.

But a departure of Cabinet ministers would have led to a credible Eurosceptic wing on the back benches. The presence of a group of Tory rebels would have given some frisson to the No camp.

One can imagine the publicity coup that the resignations of the likes of Theresa May, Iain Duncan Smith and Philip Hammond would give to those arguing to leave the EU. A spate of departures would also hand some much-needed ammunition to the Labour Party .

Given the Conservative Party’s turbulent relationship with Europe, one thing Cameron has always known about the forthcoming poll is that it has the potential to fracture his party. He clearly sees no point in hastening a split. Part of his calculation would have been that the voters, the vast majority of whom are not avid followers of the Westminster scene, will take little notice of the political station of those involved in the debate.

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The signs are that he is playing a canny game. His Eurosceptic colleagues will remain in their jobs. In the meantime the Prime Minister attempts to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with Europe.

He will be hopeful that his Eurosceptic colleagues refrain from making a song and dance about Europe until those negotiations are finished. There is then the hope that he can persuade them he has achieved real change and convince them to support his side of the argument. Cameron is also helped in that it is difficult for Labour to criticise a split Cabinet on Europe when the shadow cabinet is riven with ideological differences.

Cameron’s move was welcomed by those campaigning to leave Europe yesterday. But those in the No camp would be naive if they thought that Cameron’s strategy had not been carefully crafted with winning the referendum in mind.

A welcome edged with expectation

It would be churlish in the extreme not to offer the incoming Chief Constable Phil Gormley anything other than a very warm welcome as he takes over one of the most difficult jobs in Scotland.

But the fact is that he replaces the beleaguered Sir Stephen House at a hugely challenging time. Looming large in a bulging in-tray as he settled down to his first day in the job was the prospect of more budget cuts to Police Scotland.

No doubt Gormley will have taken careful note of justice secretary Michael Matheson’s warning at Holyrood that there is “still scope for efficiencies to be found” from the unified force’s budget.

Despite the additional £17.6 million to be provided for front-line policing, including counter-terrorism, and £55m for reform in the next financial year, Police Scotland is looking at a £25m shortfall by the end of this term.

If that is not tricky enough, Gormley has also to re-establish trust between Police Scotland and the public.

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That bond has been severely weakened by a series of controversies during House’s stewardship – most notably the M9 crash that saw the police take three days to respond to an accident which cost the lives of two people.

As a matter of urgency, Gormley also has to rebuild the morale of those working within the force.

Working to improve officer morale will help restore the trust in Police Scotland.

Another step in that process would be for Gormley to make a proactive attempt to improve Police Scotland’s relationship with the media, an area of modern policing where his predecessor did not shine.