A Conservative prime minister under pressure from right-wing eurosceptics triggers a leadership election in order to smoke out his critics. Not David Cameron. But John Major. In 1995 the then prime minister resigned as leader of the Conservative Party and told his backbench critics to "put up or shut up". In the event Major was reelected leader and remained as prime minister until he lost the general election to Tony Blair in 1997.
Asked this morning whether Cameron should follow his lead and trigger a leadership election of his own, Major said the circumstances were "very different" in many ways. "I do't think he is remotely in the position I was in," he said. For one, the main eurosceptic threat to Cameron currently appears to be not from his own MPs, who have remained pretty loyal in the wake of last week's European elections, but from Nigel Farage's Ukip. And mutterings about the prime minister's leadership of the party have died down in recent months as Labour's poll lead narrows.
Major told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the the eurosceptic surge across the European Union would also make Cameron's hope of renegotiating the UK's membership of the bloc "much easier" as other member states would recognise changes needed to be made.
The former prime minister also took on Ukip and Tory eurosceptics by branding their position "absolute nonsense". He insisted Britain needed to remain within the EU. "How much inward investment coming into this country that currently helping our economy grow faster that it has for a decade comes here just for our pretty blue eyes and how much comes here because through Britain they have access to the single market?" he said.
Major said the Ukip surge would not last and that the party was an "impediment for the moment" that was "extremely good at exploiting grievances".
He added: "Ukip are not frankly a very tolerant party, I don't think there appeal is likely to continue for a very long time. I think we have seen that in some of the things they have done recently."
Major, whose leadership of the Conservative Party was constantly under threat from eurosceptic MPs and cabinet ministers, recently defended having publicly attacked those who were trying to undermine him. "Calling three of my colleagues, or a number of my colleagues, 'bastards' was absolutely unforgivable. My only excuse is that it was true," he told journalists at a lunch in Westminster.