On the domestic political front, Cameron's speech is a superficially clever old wheeze. Cameron gets to outflank the Labour party who now seem embroiled with confusion over their EU policy (perhaps less time faffing about with the Nash Equilibrium and more time developing principles might help), while leaving UKIP with a conundrum I'm not confident that they will resolve adequately. Time will tell I guess.
The potential trouble for Cameron though comes down to detail - can he maintain, for five years, the assertion of repatriating powers despite it not being possible? We've had form from Mr Cameron on this before with the 'fake veto'. Initially it gave him a poll boost, yet when reality hit home, less than two months later, the picture was somewhat different. In that context five years is a very long time to keep up successfully a lie, and as Richard North writes a massive lie is exactly what Cameron's speech was.
Yet despite the so-called clear water, a description beloved of the media, between Labour and the Tories on the EU issue, this is immaterial. The Tories are very unlikely to win the next election, for various reasons, but a referendum on the EU, or lack of one, will not be one of them.
Nor indeed does the next election necessarily rest on the performance of the economy. Despite the political cliche of "It's the economy, stupid", elections in this country in the last 20 years, since the phrase was coined, don't bear that out. John Major won in 1992 in the midst of a recession, yet lost heavily when the economy was picking up in 1997 (When told by Treasury officials in 1997, the economy handed over by the Tories was better than expected, Gordon Brown's response was; "Do you want me to write a thank-you letter"?). Yet ten years later Brown's popularity sunk, not because of the credit crunch that was to come, but because of the election never was. Brown's dithering displayed a lack of leadership - the killer weakness is incompetence, or the impression of it. Here the coalition has displayed it in spades, epitomised by Osborne's disastrous budget of last year
But despite that by far the biggest threat to a Tory majority government is none of the above nor indeed UKIP but the electoral system. The electoral bias is significant according to the UKPolling Report (my emphasis):
It is far easier for Labour to secure a majority in the House of Commons than it is for the Conservatives. If Labour lead in the vote they will secure an overall majority, if the parties are neck and neck then Labour will be by far the largest party. In contrast, depending on how well the Liberal Democrats do, the Conservatives need to be in the region of 9 or 10 percent ahead in the polls to secure an overall majorty.Currently the Tories are 5 points behind. So without implementing a boundary review, the Tories are at a huge disadvantage, and it looks as if the latest boundary review has been knocked on the head for this Parliament. Then there is postal voting, a system of electoral fraud that benefits Labour more than the Tories. Without resolving these issues, the Tories are more than likely to be dead and buried at the next election. Thus I'm not convinced a referendum on the EU will be enough to save them.
Therefore Labour don't actually have to promise one to win and, unless they reverse their own policy, we won't be getting a referendum. One wonders if this is why Cameron has promised one in the full knowledge he won't ever be called on to deliver?
And even in the miraculous event he does win the next election, his reluctance to make explicit what he would do in the face of the inevitable failure of renegotiation is very apparent as highlighted by Norman Tebbit in the Telegragh:
He was quite clear that if his negotiations not just to repatriate powers, but to reform the very structure of the EU and bring into question the concept of "ever closer union" were successful, he would campaign for a Yes vote. He was rather less clear about whether if they failed, he would then campaign for a "No" vote. Indeed he repeatedly dodged that question.In other words; "we won't let matters rest there"? We've been here before.
And there lies the hidden trap. By promising an EU referendum we're either faced with voting for a liar who won't deliver or, with the odds heavily stacked against Cameron winning the election, the Tories inevitably losing the next election thus prompting the accusations yet again that EU promises don't win elections. In such circumstances one can see the issue being 'parked' for another generation.
Perhaps that's the point all along?