James Forsyth in the Spectator argues that one from the Tories is now almost certain, primarily because (my summary):
- ...Boris Johnson’s decision while campaigning last month to sign up to
the campaign for an in/out referendum on EU membership could be a key
moment in the history of the Conservative party. The real significance of Boris’s signature might come when he
runs for the leadership, as he surely will at some point in the future.
No rival could afford to give Boris the head start that he would have as
the only candidate promising a referendum would give him. A commitment
to give the public a vote on Europe will be the minimum price of
admission for the next leadership contest.
- The Tory leadership is acutely aware that, after five years of
compromises, it will need something in the next manifesto to fire up the
base. Tory MPs in marginal seats complain that their pool of canvassers
has been drained, and that, without action, the party risks a limited
presence on the ground in these constituencies in 2015.
A referendum on Europe is the obvious answer. It is one the leadership
seems set to embrace. The popularity of Cameron’s EU veto [sic] made his
circle realise how much of a political asset Euroscepticism could be, if
used in the right way
- There is also concern in No.10 that if the Tories don’t offer the public a vote, Labour will.
- The Tory leadership’s worry is not that Ukip will win seats in 2015, but that the votes it claims in crucial marginals could make the difference between the Tories winning or losing
Labour also have good partisan reasons to be tempted by calling for an in or out referendum: it would outmaneuver Cameron on a subject he wishes to avoid, no doubt it would also split the Tory party and such a referendum promise would provide a poll boost. The latter consideration is being taken seriously as Patrick O'Flynn of the Express notes:
All the party leaderships are getting jumpier every week about whether one will secure a poll gain by breaking ranks and offering an EU refNotice, however, what's missing? Any pretence that this has anything to do with the national interest. Instead it's merely naked tactical positioning and political self-interest. Which doesn't bode well, to say the least, that a referendum when it happens will be based on anything other than very loaded dice in the establishment's favour. This is apparently from the Tories who wish to have a third 'renegotiation' option:
My understanding is that, at the moment, the favoured option is to propose renegotiation, followed by a referendum on the new arrangements within 18 months. During the campaign, the Tories would argue for staying in if new terms could be agreed but leaving if the rest of Europe refused to play ball.In other words they're going to fix it in their favour. We've been here before with Harold Wilson in 1975 on the then EEC prior to the last referendum:
"I believe that our renegotiation objectives have been substantially though not completely achieved"We should be governed on our terms not theirs and we can only do this by power not by trust or hope - by them being servants not masters. The forthcoming Old Swan meeting is more important than ever.