John Major

Coming around again

It's a comparison those around David Cameron will be desperate to avoid.

But it's hard to see how the anti-EU backbench revolt against David Cameron differs from the years of misery another generation of European malcontents imposed on John Major.

Major had a small majority, Cameron has no majority at all. Both tried to reason with Euro rebels, nominally on their own side, and got nowhere. Both then made concessions, which achieved only demands for more concessions.

John Major never managed to fully move on from his war against his own side, and David Cameron must be wondering how to avoid the same fate.

Early in his leadership, he told Tories to stop "banging on" about Europe, warning they'd spent years in the wilderness, ignoring what mattered to ordinary people, and obsessing instead about what mattered solely to them.

Things have changed somewhat since then.

Mr Cameron's speech in January, promising an in/out referendum on Britain's EU membership by 2017, was meant to kick this into the very long grass.

And now Mr Cameron learns a valuable lesson about Euro-rebels. They are never satisfied. And they never will be, until Britain's membership of the EU has ended.

That's not a surprise -- but David Cameron's willingness to offer concessions, one after another, is.

Every government, every single one, has suffered mid-term kickings from voters. The only difference this year is that, instead of jumping into bed with the Lib Dems, disgruntled voters went to UKIP.

Nigel Farage thinks that equates to a groundswell of public anger over Europe, and a settled will to leave the EU.

You'd expect him to say that. But you wouldn't necessarily expect the leader of the governing party to start inventing policies on the fly, changing course every few days.

Now the Prime Minister is reduced to publishing a draft bill he cannot put into law, in the hope one of his own rebels might adopt it. Even then it has little chance of making it through the Commons. Even then only an outright Tory win in 2015 would see this promise kept.

He calls this an "act of leadership". His enemies call it a sign of weakness.

Europe finished off Margaret Thatcher's leadership of the Conservative Party. It stopped John Major from ever getting a grip on his own party. Now the same band has come for David Cameron. And they're not finished with him yet.