Cameron seeks pull-back from EU
NEW YORK TIMES
LONDON -- It was a speech months, even years, in the making. When it was finally delivered, Prime Minister David Cameron had essentially reset the tables for what has the makings of a giant political poker game -- for himself, Britain, Europe and his Conservative Party.
By pledging a referendum within five years on Britain's European Union membership, and warning that voting to leave would be a "one-way ticket," Cameron on Wednesday embarked on a gamble with few precedents in modern British politics, and one few commentators saw him as likely to win.
Aside from being deeply unpopular in Europe, where it met with an immediate rebuff, Cameron's speech contained many daunting elements as part of his odds-against challenge -- an imposing maze of them at home.
One forum sure to support him after the speech was the Conservative Party. For more than 30 years, through periods in power and out, the party has been rent asunder by divisions over Britain's role in Europe. A strident bloc of traditionalists deeply suspicious of European involvement is always primed for a showdown with a centrist group, currently arrayed behind Cameron, that favors a continuing, if reduced, role in Europe. It is a split that has shadowed Cameron since he became party leader in 2005.
Conservatives gave the 46-year-old prime minister a clamorous reception in the House of Commons after his speech. Both pro- and anti-Europeans saw in the referendum an expedient behind which they could unite, since it offered both the prospect of a decisive resolution of the issue, at least for this generation. That reaffirmed the view in the opposition Labour Party -- and among the Liberal Democrats who are Cameron's partners in the coalition government -- that the referendum plan was, in the words of David Miliband, the Labour leader, driven "not by the situation in Europe, but by the situation in the Tory party."