22/05/2013 08:29 BST | Updated 22/05/2013 08:38 BST

Tory 'Latterday Bastards' Making David Cameron's Position Worse Than John Major's

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OXFORD, ENGLAND - MARCH 27: Sir Christopher Meyer poses for a portrait at the annual Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival held at Christ Church on March 27, 2006 in Oxford, England. Sir Christopher was Britain's Ambassador to the United States at the time of 9/11, and wrote a controversial book on his time 'DC Confidential'. (Photo by David Levenson/Getty Images)

David Cameron is in a worse position as Conservative Party leader than John Major was even at the height of the former prime minister's Europe troubles, according to Major's former press secretary.

Sir Christopher Meyer, who served as Downing Street spokesman between 1994 and 1996, told the Huffington Post UK that the driving force behind the current rebelliousness is that the "latterday bastards" in the Tory Party believe "there is no way Cameron can win in 2015".

He said the situation is "worse for Cameron than it was for Major because he should be in a better position vis-a-vis his own party. Cameron polls ahead of his party and there is no other obvious contender for the leadership."

However, Meyer added: "You do have a situation again where a large chunk of the Conservative Party is having a nervous breakdown over Europe and getting out of Downing Street's control."

Cameron told Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday morning that he had the "boldest, clearest" policy of any party leader "for 30 or 40 years". Nonetheless, the latest YouGov poll puts the Tories on a 13-year low, 11 points behind Labour.

Major, who served as prime minister between 1990 and 1997, spent much of his period in office trying to keep his disgruntled parliamentary party united over Europe. In 1994, he had to withdraw the whip from several Tory MPs over their Euro-rebellions; in 1995, the then PM quit as Tory leader in order to face down the "bastards" in his own cabinet - he was re-elected after defeating arch-eurosceptic and former Welsh secretary John Redwood.

Meyer told HuffPost UK that working in Downing Street during the political and economic crises of the Major years was like "sliding down a glacier and, every now and then, you get a hand hold and you think you may able able to stabilise... then it gives away and you fall again.

"When Major put his leadership on the line and won [in 1995], he thought he had got stability."

Cameron, noted Meyer, thought he'd done the same in January when he pledged an in/out referendum on the EU and was welcomed with cheers from his backbenchers in the Commons chamber.

"Major's problem was that when he got himself into a relatively comfortable position, he eased off, he relaxed," Meyer told HuffPost UK. Similarly, once Cameron gave his referendum pledge "everyone in Downing Street thought that's it, done and dusted. But it should have been a starting point for a new, high energy campaign."

Meyer, who also famously served as the UK's ambassador in Washington DC in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq invasion, said he did not believe the Tories were "intrinsically unleadable on Europe": "I am not even sure that Europe is not the most important subject here. Europe is a symptom of poor leadership."

He added: "The big similarity between then and now is that there seems to be a large number of Tory backbenchers who would prefer to lose at the next general election than give any ground to David Cameron - in fact, a larger number than there were under John Major."

The former press secretary and diplomat, however, does think the situation is "retrievable" for Cameron: "By the time we got to 1995, 1996, no one thought Major had any chance of winning the [1997] election and he was completely written off. Whereas with Cameron, you kind of feel that if the economy continues to turn for the better... he is actually in with a chance in 2015.

"One of the things that fuelled the permanent rebellion against John Major was a perception that he couldn't win the next election - even though he'd won handsomely last time round. What is more worrying for Cameron is that he does stand a chance of winning in 2015 but still they're after him."

What's Meyer's advice to Cameron, based on his experience at Major's side in the 1990s?

"Do not go on making concessions to your right because they will never be satisfied. What happened to Major is happening to you. You give them an inch of rope - they ask for six more. The worst thing to do is to compound your own weakness."

Meyer believes Cameron should issue his own Major-style, 'don't bind my hands' ultimatum: "He should say to the latterday bastards: 'This is how we're going to win in 2015. If you don't like it, too bloody bad.'"

Meyer's comments come after Major's other press secretary also warned that the current rows and revolts over Europe have "depressing" echoes of the 1990s.

Sheila Gunn told HuffPost UK on 13 May that Tory rebels had to "show some common sense" or else risk handing the next election to the Labour Party.