Watching Osborne this morning on the Andrew Marr show answering questions on whether Britain should bomb Syria and other foreign policy matters, one did wonder where exactly Cameron fitted. Increasingly Osborne, arguably the most formidable politician in the House at the moment, has already assumed the premiership he has coveted for so long. All the detailed policy-making is now already in his hands, and that may suit Cameron quite well since he, like Blair, has never been one for detail (as PMQs exposes relentlessly week after week). He prefers to be the front man, running with whatever is the latest story, even if it turns out to be the opposite tomorrow. There is no-one so slippery as Cameron so as to be able to somersault every day as though that was the most perfectly normal political routine. But he is no longer the hard man behind it all. And he’s not even able to perform his diminished role very well.
Cameron’s botched attempt to reconcile a net immigration target of below 100,000, when the actual figure today has reached 330,000, with even a smidgeon of humanity towards the huge and rising death toll in the Mediterranean has earned him nothing but contempt, almost made worse when he was forced abruptly to change his mind, but then only to the minimalist degree ignominious by comparison with the German example. Again, over the EU referendum strategy, Cameron has boxed himself into a corner largely of his own making, He’s already had to give up demanding British opt-outs from EU employment regulations because Berlin and Paris predictably wouldn’t grant it, and now he’s being told that Britain should take in more refugees if he wants a hearing for its ‘catalogue of demands’. At home too he’s been told he has to reverse his plan to put the machinery of government at the service of the In campaign.
Europe was always the Achilles’ heel of the Tory party, and it looks like being so again. Eurosceptic Tory MPs are demanding to be allowed to campaign for the anti-EU side and already planning to use their conference later this month with criticisms of Cameron’s renegotiation tactics. Cameron’s post-election honeymoon is over, and his room for negotiation over Europe is shrinking fast. If in the event the vote over Europe does go against him, it will not only diminish Britain but wreck his legacy. But Osborne will survive, untarnished.