Patently Rubbish argues, largely correctly IMVHO, that Cameron's withdrawal from his cast-iron guarantee is essentially reasonable now that
The only politician who has, throughout, kept to his promise that he would hold a referendum, is David Cameron. Every other party has dropped us in it. What is worse, they have dropped us in it so thoroughly, and so deeply, and so irrevocably, that they now actually dare to criticise Cameron for acknowledging that the promise he made is no longer deliverable.
However, I think perhaps a cheeky consideration of the counterfactual is also interesting.
Cameron was, as per this analysis at least, right. His real problem is, was and has always been, one of realpolitik. Ever since he gave the guarantee, every single interviewer has asked the question "what will you do if it has already been finally ratified?" and he has always been utterly unable to answer that credibly. His problem is that if he were to give any actually workable answer to it, he would have done two things:
- He would have essentially hoisted a massive flag in Brown's direction bearing the words...
"Hold out Brownie: all you have to do is deny us a General Election until Lisbon's in the bag and the job's a good 'un"
... which I submit might have been counterproductive.
- He would have been hung out to dry on his putative policies toward the EU and branded an utterly barmy little Englander seccessionist and what have you. Imagine, if you will, Cameron in 2007 discussing "repatriation of powers" in, at that stage a hypothetical, post-Lisbon world. The BBC would have destroyed him. Besides it would have been defeatism of the first water—it would be a clear signal that the game was indeed (see point 1) as good as over. He would simply never have been able to make the counter point stick—that he was forced into this position by the shameless behaviour of the Government.
However [you knew it was coming...], this is where Patently Rubbish and I part company. Cameron's supporters are bigging this up as realism. Unfortunately, a realist would see, and as our humble Devil has eloquently pointed out, that all his subsequent proposals lack that certain grain—scratch that: any passing sniff—of plausibility. Realism dictates that we are now either in or out. There are no half measures and the failure to address this will be, as it always is, the thing that causes Conservative governments to unravel and the "colleagues" to rub their hands with glee...