David Cameron was very upbeat for a Monday morning when he popped up on the Today programme a few minutes ago. Perhaps it was partly down to a not-particularly aggressive interview, or perhaps it was because the Prime Minister wants to continue the theme of his New Year’s message and be upbeat about the prospects for the economy and living standards where Labour continues to be pessimistic (that optimism, of course, is easier to find when you decide to release figures showing take home pay improving that do not take into account the effect of benefit cuts or tax rises, but there we go). He repeatedly said he was an optimist, particularly when confronted with Nicky Morgan’s comments about the Conservative message.
But where the Prime Minister sounded perhaps his most absurdly optimistic was on the Immigration Bill. The level of migration into the UK of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants had so far been ‘reasonable’, which is as close to a benchmark as any senior government politician has come. But he also tried to sound optimistic about the prospects for the legislation itself, mired in a series of rows that don’t just touch on the transitional controls issue. He sounded mildly self-deprecating when he said the bill had taken a ‘short break’ over the Christmas holiday but that ministers were hoping to make progress with the Bill. And he repeated his earlier pledge to backbenchers that in future he would expect new entrants to the EU to see restrictions until their economies are on a similar level to other member states.
The problem is that the rebels see each rebellion as a means of squeezing a new concession out of Cameron: and they know the technique works. That Mills is refusing to withdraw his amendment suggests that they want something bigger before they’ll back down. And optimism alone won’t swing it.