The Week in Politics: Europe, Europe, Europe, Europe, Europe
You wait for ages for a European crisis to come along. And then two turn up at once.
First came the mother of all Tory rebellions. Conservatives had to decide whether to rebel against David Cameron over a Commons motion suggesting a referendum on Europe might be a good idea. This is an idea which has been close to the collective Tory bosom for many years after Cameron promised a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. Yet eurosceptics have been fuming ever since the so-called EU constitution was ratified and the soon-to-be-PM said there now wouldn't be one, after all. The Conservative leader got his comeuppance this week. Despite the usual mixture of pleading and arm-twisting, a whopping 81 Tories defied the PM. It was the largest rebellion over Europe, so one expert put it, since dinosaurs walked the Earth. Cameron's authority was commensurately dented.
As this was news that happened on a Monday it couldn't possibly be allowed to just fade away. The stage was set for the Tories enemies to make hay. Number one on this list are the Liberal Democrats. Let's not forget they hate the Tories because of the shabby tactics of the 'no' campaign during this May's referendum. How ironic! Clegg's comments on Tuesday provided Ed Miliband with ammunition during Wednesday's prime minister's questions that the coalition was hopelessly split over Europe. It was not the PM's finest hour.
But by midway through the week attention was slowly moving away from the agonising hand-wringing of British domestic politics to Brussels, and the emergency summit which was taking place there. Cameron attended to keep up his role as EU nagger-in-chief, and was duly photographed being ignored by important European leaders. Somehow, the EU managed to come up with a package which will stave off economic collapse until at least next Tuesday – even if it does come at the cost of selling the entire continent to China. Still, needs must, and by Thursday George Osborne was even suggesting the UK might make more resources available to struggling eurozone countries through the IMF.
What a nightmare for the government. There are rumours circulating around Westminster that the three-line whip placed on Monday's vote (making backing the government utterly, uncompromisingly essential) was imposed at Clegg's behest, in a bid to get the Tories to go through the same kind of internal pain as the Lib Dems had to over tuition fees. Probably rubbish, of course, like most things you hear muttered in parliament, but food for thought nonetheless. Regardless, this was a tough, tough week to be a Conservative prime minister. Have the euro-rebels now got a taste for causing trouble? We'll have to wait and see.
The headline of this piece is a little misleading, we confess. There really have been some very significant other developments, most notably the latest instalment of the Ken Clarke-Theresa May row. This is on course to win the Best Cabinet Spat of 2011. After clashing on knife crime, we had the same old result: liberal Clarke bowing to the will of the lock-'em'up Tories. Serious knife crime offences will now result in jail for 16- and 17-year-olds. The right-wingers are spending the weekend gloating.
This was also the week when David Cameron got the green light for changing the rules of royal succession, which finally gives a little princess as much right to be a monarch as a little prince; the resignation of a St Paul's cathedral official over the ongoing Occupy protest; and news that we might put the clocks forward by an hour. Permanently.
These are all noteworthy, but they are eclipsed by the European behemoth of a story which dominated the last seven days of news. The rebels are exultant. The leader's authority is eroded. The coalition is a tenser place to be. And, overshadowing it all, the stability of the European economy – and therefore Britain's, too – is still teetering on the brink.
Maybe next week will be quieter. As our at-a-glance guide to the coming week in Westminster suggests, it probably won't.
— By Alex Stevenson Follow @alex__stevenson