James Forsyth

Will the draft EU referendum bill calm Tory tensions?

Will the draft EU referendum bill calm Tory tensions?
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The last few days have seen the Tory party losing its collective head. Number 10 hopes that the publication of a draft referendum bill will begin to restore order.

If this bill had been published by the leadership a week ago, it would have looked like a bold move. Today, it appeared panicky. But it is now out there, and any Tory backbencher who comes high up in the private members bill ballot on Thursday has a chance of guiding it through. I suspect if a vote could be won on second reading, the parliamentary dynamics of this debate would change yet again.

What’ll be intriguing is to see how much the Tories campaign on this. David Cameron has already sent out an email to party supporters. But will the Tories try and campaign in individual Lib Dem seats attacking the MP’s opposition to it? Such a move might inflame coalition tensions but would cheer up Tory MPs.

I understand that there was a tetchy meeting of the various Tory Eurosceptic factions this morning. Of the eight representatives there, three favoured welcoming Cameron’s efforts but five wanted to carry on pressing him. So, there’ll be more trouble ahead.

But most Tories I’ve spoken to today are content with what has happened if not how it is happened. They are desperate to see the spotlight swung back onto Labour and the Liberal Democrats. Intriguingly, the Tory leadership also seems keen to up the pressure on their coalition partners. Nick Clegg is standing in at PMQs tomorrow and I suspect there’ll be lots of fire coming from the benches directly behind him, and none of it friendly.