As I was saying only yesterday…

Its not the government who’re behaving like cowards here – they’ve taken the decision to rule out a referendum and that it will be for parliament to decide on the ratification of the treaty – and it will be for the electorate to judge them according on that decision and the extent to which it influences their choice of who to vote for when their is a general election.

Rather its the Tories who are still running scared of the propensity for Europe to open up divisions in their own party, divisions that would be all the more damaging to Cameron as they would come from pro-European Tories most closely associated with the very centre-ground that Cameron purports to be trying to capture and, therefore, cast doubts on his credibility as a ‘centrist’.

That’s why the Tory’s only substantive policy on Europe is to demand a referendum – because the only thing they have on the menu is Chicken Cameron.

That’s me on the Tories and the EU Reform Treatyand now this

The shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, is battling to stop a Conservative backbench revolt by Eurosceptic MPs who are demanding a referendum on the new EU treaty, even if parliament ratifies it in the next few months.

Mr Hague wants to keep his options open and fears a referendum could further damage his party’s relations with France and Germany. Forty Eurosceptics, including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, John Redwood, and former shadow Europe minister Graham Brady, are demanding that Mr Hague back the call to commit his party to a post-ratification referendum….

Mr Hague, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme yesterday, dodged calls from his backbenchers for a referendum even if the treaty became law.

He said: “We don’t rule out a referendum in the future, and our discussions will take place against a background that this treaty, if passed without a referendum, will lack democratic legitimacy.”

Can’t wait to see what DK makes of Hague’s vacillations and dissembling…

  • The trouble with this article is that many real,ordinary people have rumbled the absence of any significant differences between the parties over this and many other issues.That`s why the parties have no members.

    To all intents and purposes we have had the same administration since 1979 and it`s sickening to watch grown people pretending that they differ when you couldn`t get a fag paper between them at any time.

    We are no longer interested in the pantomime of party politics now it`s clear that both politicians and the electorate they affect to represent are powerless to decide British foreign policy and much of our internal policy either.

    If we had anything approaching an honest inquiring media they would blow this house of cards into the sky but instead we are hoodwinked and cheated by a mandarin class of politicians and media folk whose main intention appears to be to betray the hopes and aspirations of those hardworking families they blether on about while really doing the bidding of Global Capitalism instead.

    Do none of you metropolitan chaps have a vestige of integrity left?Or is this website yet another ironic gesture? A twist of the betrayer`s knife.
    Would Orwell be proud? I think we should be told!

  • As a matter of interest, Unity, what is your opinion of the Reform Treaty: is it effectively the same as the Constitution? In other words, do you think that this Lisbon Treaty should be covered under Labour’s 2005 manifesto commitment to a referendum?

    DK

  • DK:

    I disagreed with the manifesto commitment in the first place, largely because I saw it for what it was – a dishonest means of avoiding a difficult and complex political debate and no more than a way of ducking the issue.

    In that sense, I think Brown should press ahead without a referendum if he’s satisfied with the treaty and take his chances at the ballot box at the next general election, as well as drive home the point that support for a referendum amongst the Tory leadership amounts to no more than a means of ducking the issue.

    Would I have voted for the constitution as it was originally drafted had there been a referendum?

    No, because too much of its content was unconstitutional and dealt with matters of policy (and the various deals and concessions necessary to get various countries onside with it) and not matters of defining systems of governance and lines of accountability, which is what a constitution is for.

    Personally, I think that the EU should have a constitution – just not this one and not one written exclusively from the top down by the political classes of Europe.

    If we are going to be members of the EU, then the EU should be a properly constituted body operating under a constitution drawn up by an open constitutional convention working from the bottom up, not the top down, with proper democratic institutions, clear and defined lines of accountability and working from the principle that power is devolved to the lowest level necessary to exercise a particular function.

    A constitution should limit the authority of the EU not provide a basis for its appropriation from national governments or individual citizens.

  • I should add a couple of points:

    1. Moving from a constitution to a reform treaty has made the process appreciably worse. The constitution was pretty impenetrable in places but the Reform Treaty is near unreadable because its laid out as a series of amendments many of which make no clear reference to the precise document they’re intended to amend.

    If you’re trying to avoid substantive public debate then this treaty is the way to do it, as very few people will be inclined to put in the time, effort and research necessary to figure out exactly what’s going on.

    2. We really do need a full, clear and substantive debate on Europe.

    I’m actually a little tired of the whole polarisation of the debate into crude pro and anti groups. There are benefits to being part of the EU and there are drawbacks and there are certainly many things that could, and should, be done very differently, and very little will, it seems, to unpick those questions and explore them properly.

    What, for example, is the substance of the ‘Eurosceptic’ position?

    Is the real objection to EU a matter of opportunistic exploitation of popular prejudice – which is where the Tory leadership is at.

    Is it something so fundamental that getting out of the EU is something that is believed to be worth pursue no matter the costs?

    Or is it more a question of objections to certain consensus positions on the continent that don’t suit the political ‘tastes’ of some but on which the overall view of the EU is malleable in the sense that if the consensus changed, so would opinion of the EU?

    Take, for example, Open Europe, which clearly wants the European Single Market, which is good for business and trade, but wants it to operate as a liberal free market rather than via the social market model adopted by the EU? If the European position changed and it went the free market route, then how would Open Europe’s stance alter, if it altered at all?

    I really don’t think that we’ve even scratched the surface of the European question sufficiently to come up with a definitive view of where our interests really lie and what kind of European set-up should exist, if any.

    The process of drafting a proper constitution based on open constitutional conventions in all EU states and to be adopted – it its adopted – on the the back of popular support from a Europe-wide plebiscite would be valuable as such a process would force the kind of far-reaching debate that’s need and place critical questions about the composition, authority and limitations of European institutions into the hands of the people and not just the political classes.

  • I would prefer we had an EU exclusively of the Old Europe…and one that was designed for the benefit of EU citizens with a strong social democratic element to it.That`s what suits hard working British people.

    Sadly, the USA decides our foreign policy and it`s their ambition to open up the old soviet block and Turkey to the sort of American asset stripping and exploitation that was trail-blazed in Russia in the 1990`s.

    But like all of the United States of Amnesia`s foreign ventures it`s misconceived and greedy and doomed to failure.
    If the middle classes who read this website want a tip about who to grovel to next I would start licking the bottoms of China and Russia…with India as a longer shot….Uncle Sam is a busted flush!

  • Tim

    In fairness, Conservative policy is to campaign for a No vote to the Treaty in a referendum. As for Hague’s predicament, it’s easy to understand. Since it now looks as though Brown won’t call an election until 2009 or even 2010 the Conservatives would be left with a situation where they would be calling for a referendum on a treaty that had been signed and ratified 3 years previously. Regardless of the merits or otherwise of the Treaty, that position looks untenable.

    As for Tory splits, the pro-EU parliamentary party is withering rapidly, and has really only one high-profile member these days. The 2001 and 2005 intake are overwhelmingly Eurosceptic. There’s still a division between those who take a ideological view (the ‘Better of Out’ lot) and those who take a ‘pragmatic’ view, but that’s more an argument over tactics than strategy.

  • Hawthorne

    Now that’s hardly balanced Unity. The Prime Minister is welching on a Manifesto commitment purely because he knows that losing a Referendum (in this political climate he would be highly likely to lose) is more damaging than not having one and being ‘judged on it’ in a General. It is the lesser of two evils. If the treaty is ratified by Parliament then it would be pointless appealing for a Referendum, it wouldn’t be legally binding for one. So the Conservatives can’t appeal for that, and yet the must continue to campaign for a Referendum because the Government is breaking its commitment in all but name. They are both obeying the political reality at this time.

    What I would ask though is why one a coward and the other “not….behaving like cowards”? They are doing different things for the same reason. Political expediency.

  • Why is having a referendum a couple of years down the road so difficult. Didn’t Wilson do exactly that?

    Tim, I think we know what the ‘better off out’ position is. Could you advise us what the ‘pragmatic’ position is, other than, as Jim Evans implies, not a fag paper of difference than Labour’s position, but publicly trying to curry favour by pretending to be anti-EU?

  • Tim

    Bob – Wilson’s referendum was an ‘in or out’ referendum, which could be held 2, 4, 20 or 50 years after signing the European Communities Act. Having a specific referendum on the desirability of one particular Treaty only makes sense before that Treaty is ratified by the UK.

    I’m not speaking for the Tories here, obviously, but the position that I hold, which is what I suspect the ‘pragmatic’ position is, is that moves towards closer and fuller European co-operation are probably not in the British national interest, that the direction of travel ought to be from the European Commission towards the Member States, and that it’s really important for the European Union to lose its attitude that the people are an annoying distraction and become a little less obscurant in their dealings with the public.

  • Can’t quite grasp that one, Tim. If you can ratify a Treaty you can withdraw from its obligations at a later date. For instance, Britain ratified Maastricht, but it could take the decision to withdraw from the Maastricht agreements. The consequence may well be fairly far reaching, but that is what living up to your principles involves, surely?