Cameron must watch stalking horse in stable

1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
1995 library filer of Chris Moncrieff. Photo by Peter Smith/PA
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How safe is David Cameron as leader of the Conservative Party?

His long-awaited and brilliantly constructed speech, promising an in-out referendum on Europe, has certainly gone some way to dispelling the fears among some Tory MPs that he was not really a Conservative at all.

It was obvious from the noisy backbench acclaim he received at Prime Minister’s questions that the party is now more convinced about his credentials as leader.

Almost immediately after the deliverance of the speech, Tory ratings in the opinion polls shot up - although they are still well behind Labour - to the detriment of the UK Independence Party. And Ed Miliband’s response in the Commons to all this was uninspiring and did not seem to impress Labour’s backbenchers. So, for the present at least, it looks as though things are coming up roses for Cameron.

But wait a minute. There are whispers in the background, which seem to be increasing in volume, that suggest Cameron might not be as secure as these events indicate.

And the man who is allegedly being groomed to succeed him, or at least to challenge him as a stalking horse, is the hugely impressive Adam Afriyie. Needless to say, Afriyie has fiercely denied he has any such ambitions and would not stand against Cameron whom he supports 100 per cent. But there is a cynical, and sometimes true, axiom at Westminster: Never believe a rumour until it has been officially denied. It is beginning to look like “there’s no smoke...” There are still plenty of Tories who believe Cameron will draw a blank in his attempts to renegotiate the UK’s position and that the Eurocrats will fight like tigers to keep Britain aboard - on their terms.

Some member states have already made clear they would resent the idea of a cherry-picking Britain, eager to embrace some parts of the EU but ditching those which it did not like. Cameron has boldly set himself on a course pitted with potholes and obstacles.

If he can pull it off, his legacy will be complete - otherwise his political career could end in chaos and failure.

If there was any doubt about the ambition of some of Europe’s grandees to command member states, it will have been dispelled by an astonishing Brussels report proposing powers to control the media.

Its recommendations are so outlandish they make the Leveson inquiry’s findings tame and toothless.

It proposes the setting up of a network of national media council to ensure the media in member states comply with European values.

They would have enforcement powers to fine papers, to bar journalists who displease them from working in the industry, to broadcast or print apologies and to remove journalistic status. You might think this is some kind of joke - but it isn’t.