Cameron reels from double body-blow as EU referendum vote is killed off

With UKIP still clinging, tenaciously, to a little more than 10% in most polls, today may be seen as a twin body-blow for David Cameron.

David Cameron suffered major setback today. Credit: PA Wire

Consider this: Mr Farage and his eclectic band of warriors grew from Sir Jimmy Goldsmith's 'Referendum Party' of the 1990s. Like the billionaire food industry colossus, UKIP believe the European Union is, as it was then in their view, beyond reform and redemption. They believe, with some limited polling evidence to support them, that the British people agree with them: the only way forward is a referendum and a vote for 'out'.

Ergo, to them, the pursuit of reform is a waste of political energy save that it exposes, in their vision of politics, the inadequacy of Mr Cameron and his loyalists.

For Nigel Farage and UKIP reform is not an option. Credit: PA

On the other hand, UKIP flirt, to some effect, with Tory Euro-sceptic dissidents. Some Tories quite like that. A Vice Chairman of the party, the elegant MP Michael Fabricant, toyed, some little time ago, with the merits of a 'deal' or a pact' with UKIP.

Another, Bernard Jenkin MP, the son of a Thatcher era Cabinet Minister, has cautioned unless 'something is done' (no Leninist, he ), the party could lose 50 seats at the General Election.

Few think UKIP will win many, if any, seats themselves; but that 'slice of support' they deny the Tories could usher in more Labour, even Liberal Democrat, MPs where once there sat a Tory.

The Cameron strategy was designed to answer precisely that pincer movement with his own pincer movement.

Cameron and Hollande visited a pub after holding talks at RAF Brize Norton. Credit: ITV News

The PM thought he might, in the run up to the May 2015 election, harvest a little reform here, a little renewal there, from fellow European leaders. Germany's Frau Merkel has hinted this isn't total pie in the sky.

Today's target was Francois Hollande, the deeply unpopular President of France. From the snail-like performance of the post-crash French economy to his 'scooter and croissant' sex-life, he seemed a weak, exposed and possibly biddable partner.

But like Charles De Gaulle in the 1960s to UK application for membership of the EEC, (a forebear of the EU), M. Hollande delivered a crisp, monosyllabic 'Non'.

David Cameron on a charm offensive with Francois Hollande. Credit: ITV News

Cameron will persist. He will talk to other leaders and, ultimately, Merkel remains the star prize. He still believes he can achieve a package of reforms from his European partners and, if re-elected in 2015, offer it in the referendum he has promised to the British people by 2017.

Ah, the referendum.

David Cameron planned a pincer movement. Credit: PA

You'll recall he couldn't propose it as Government legislation because his LibDem coalition partners fundamentally disagreed.

So Mr James Wharton MP, having won the ballot for private members bills, won a 'pass' to future office by agreeing to the PM's request that he put the referendum pledge as the subject of his Bill.

Today, the House of Lords, inelegantly but very effectively, killed it dead. They amended the question a day or two back and today... well they just went home, leaving it lying dead on the woolsack of an empty chamber.

It was now a Norwegian Blue Parrot of a bill. Dead. Not resting. Dead.

President Hollande and David Cameron met at RAF Brize Norton. Credit: Andrew Winning/PA Wire

So both barrels of Mr Cameron's Purdy were well and truly spiked today.

No reform package.

No referendum.

He vowed to fight on and he will.

His rebels haven't even started looking for a white flag. His only solace tonight might be that one of them, Stewart Jackson MP, poured more scorn on the peers than on the PM.

His loyalists will have another disagreeable weekend, reading newspapers writing off their electoral chances. (Lookout for mentions of 'The 1922 Committee', and the number of letters required for a leadership challenge).

Cameron and Hollande in talks yesterday. Credit: @David_Cameron

It does put Labour in the sightly tricky position of where they stand on the referendum but they've been there for months and are still ahead, just, in the polls.

The LibDems just hold their breath.

I think it is Mr Cameron who will be heading for Chequers muttering 'Well that couldn't have gone much worse'.

But I'd love to know what Mr Farage is thinking.