David Cameron’s appearance before the 1922 committee was designed to reassure his party, and he tried to do this by promising them that the Conservative party would be strong on Europe in 2015.
It has been a hard term, and today’s PMQs was savage, so the Prime Minister decided to start his speech by telling them to think about the Conservative party’s record in government. He touched on welfare, on schools, on the NHS – in particular mixed sex wards and waiting times – and income tax. He is clearly looking forward to the next election, too, as he mentioned the appointment of Lynton Crosby, to cheers from those listening, as well as attacking the Labour party.
He also told the MPs about the importance of a strong and united Conservative party. As his party is currently disunited, the Prime Minister realises the value of MPs pulling together. So he tried to cheer them with a promise that the Tories would go into the election with a genuine distinctive argument on Europe, and a genuinely eurosceptic offer. What comes before that, though, was anyone’s guess. I noted two leading eurosceptics leaving the committee for a private chat straight after: perhaps they were trying to work out if the PM had given them any clues about January’s big Europe speech.
There were plenty of smiles and a sustained period of traditional ‘desk-banging’ for the PM at the end of the committee, but this wasn’t the Big Speech. The big challenge for Cameron in this speech is for him to meet his party’s expectations without over-promising in a way that leaves him no wriggle room.