...a blog by Richard Flowers

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Day 2619: Aren't we supposed to be the UNITED Party on Europe?


Well, THAT'S embarrassing!

Liberal Democrats believe in the European Union, it can be good if we fix its faults; we know that we can win the case for Europe if we get the chance; and what's more the public back our position for a proper referendum 2:1.

The Labour's position is cowardly; the Conservatory position is deceitful. Only WE trust the people.

So, how have we come to this?

I suspect that it can only be because it is because it is so much easier to get into a TIZZY about minute details than over major areas of policy.

I was convinced that we were RIGHT in calling for a PROPER referendum on all of the European treaties that add up to 95% of the European Constitution, rather than just a "let's block the icing on the cake" referendum that the Conservatories support.

And I realised, when Mr Ed explained, that there are entirely GOOD and NUANCED reasons for NOT demanding a referendum on a treaty that is just – like Nice and Amsterdam – amending the main thrust.

But the problem with our policy was that it was at least one-part LOW POLITICS mixed with two parts HONEST PRINCIPLE.

And when it comes to low politics, the other parties are just better at it than us!

And NUANCE gets trampled into the dust under the media press scrum.

"Referendum Good" was all the message that the press were willing to listen to.

We were SCUPPERED by not being willing to follow though the simple press logic: if we WANT a referendum, wouldn't a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty do as second best?

We should have said YES, obviously that would do, BUT we want to go further and open up a proper debate.

The cowardice of the Labour comes because they know any referendum is a chance to give them a KICKING without any risk of the Conservatories getting in. Mr Frown is increasingly TIMID of sticking his head out of the bunker ever since it all went Balloon-shaped for him last Autumn.

The deceit of the Conservatory Party is that their supporters want the referendum that WE want to give them, but the Conservatories do not DARE support setting that ball going, because then THEY would have to admit that they don't want out of Europe either. Except for the fifty to sixty percent of them that do. Oh dear, bye bye Mr Balloon.

So Labour and Conservatories joined forces to twist the Speaker's arm behind the scenes and use their voting muscle in the House to block our motion.

But we really SHOULD have seen that one coming and prepared a proper FALL BACK position.

Instead, Mr Clogg and the Party have ended up getting HOIST by Sir Mr the Merciless' petard.

Yes, Sir Mr the Merciless. He didn't REALLY want to have a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty because it is COMPLICATED to explain; it seems "SAFE" to reject because it won't chuck us out of Europe; and above all it seems like a bit of a CHEAT!

(That is because after the European Constitution fell through – thanks to the French and Dutch saying "Non" and "Niet" – the governments of Europe cobbled the Lisbon Treaty together to amend all the existing treaties so that added up they would do pretty much the same thing.)

Basically for the Europhobes a referendum on this treaty is almost the PERFECT "give Europe/the government a good KICKING" vote. Europe really couldn't win!

On the other fluffy foot, we had PROMISED to give people a vote on the Constitution, and we really believed that they should get one. And what is more, lots and lots of people really wanted a vote too.

Only this week, the "I want a referendum" campaign group conducted what was basically a big OPINION POLL and found, to nobody's surprise, that people would LIKE a referendum.

Even if anyone HAD been surprised by that, even they would not be taken aback to discover that the government has rejected the referendum call.

Not that their "big opinion poll" was more than a big STUNT anyway. As most people know, for a properly representative poll you do not get much more ACCURACY for any increase in size above a few thousand people. So polling a hundred thousand people in ten constituencies using an electoral register that leaves a lot of people out (and remember, the people who choose to vote at all will be biased in favour of wanting the referendum because people who don't want to go and vote, er, won’t go and vote to say 'we don't want to go and vote') this ISN'T going to produce any better a result than any ordinary opinion poll… except that it LOOKS good for the papers.

But even though it was a stunt, the polls DO show that people want to have their voices heard about Europe.

(We KNOW this; we've been trying to get those voices HEARD!)

So, cunning Mr Sir M came up with this scheme: turn the thing on its head and make it about a vote that Europe really couldn't LOSE.

This SHOULD have let us oppose both the other Parties with some dignity. And it did sort of work – we could LEGITIMATELY criticise the Labour for betraying their promise of a referendum, and the Conservatories for not offering a REAL choice.

So, what lessons do we learn?

One: don't go to the wall to enforce a position of indecision – you look daft.

Two: if people disagree with your position, let them – forgive the people who've resigned and give them their jobs back.

Three: admit that sometimes we need our STATESMANSHIP to bow to a bit of POLITICS.

Four: never, ever, ever let the Conservatories LOOK like they are the ones being more principled.


Jennie Rigg said...

Mister Mat would like to point out that (for example) Richard Younger-Ross pretty much /had/ to do what he did if he wanted to retain his seat, because his majority is knack-all minus a bit, and the main party that he loses votes to is UKIP...

Steph Ashley said...

You are of course much cleverer than me, but I think you're missing an angle here. It's not one I agree with, you understand, and it's rather simplistic, but it's easier for me to think of it as the motive of those people who voted with the tories, rather than to think they were doing it out of some cowardly thing about retaining seats or a want to have a referendum, any referendum. It is this: seeing as we were denied even a debate on the merits of a full in or out constitution, there must have been quite a number of our MPs who felt they needed to show the government up by voting *against* them even if it did mean voting *with* the hypocritical snakes they have the misfortune of sharing the opposition benches with.