Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Cameron's Challenge

Stuart Sharpe has drawn my attention to a Heresy Corner post on Cameron & the EU, in which some sense is at last shown in the nightmare that is the Lisbon/Ireland/Cameron/Referendum issue:
It is a sign of the unreal nature of political debate in the country that the result of the Irish referendum should be seen mainly as a headache for David Cameron. And, of course, it is a headache for David Cameron, if only because until this weekend it was possible to Tories to close their eyes and imagine that if they wished hard enough the whole Lisbon Treaty might just go away. Now they are faced with the stark reality that, barring a miracle, the new system will be up and running before Britain finally has its general election; and that will be that. A referendum in such circumstances would be an absurdity. Cameron and William Hague know this, and most Conservative members, if they’re being honest with themselves know it too.
As I see it, if the treaty comes into force before we can vote on it then of the previous range of options, i.e.
  • accept the Treaty
  • refuse to ratify and require a renegotiation
  • leave the EU

we have only lost one. There are still two left.

The problem, of course, is that one option is the nuclear one, and the other is abhorrent to a section of the populace. Therefore, whatever happens Cameron will need to have a referendum of some sort on an EU-related question, simply to lance the issue properly. Given that the Conservatives appeal to a mix of Europhiles and Europhobes, the election of Cameron will not give him a mandate either way, so he could not use an electoral sucess to justify either extreme. A referendum will therefore become the only way to either show the UK's dislike of the EU project, or show the Europhobes that they are a minority and should shut up and stop whinging.

If he doesn't hold a referendum on either the Lisbon Treaty or EU membership in general, the issue will rumble on. If so, it will either destroy his government (a return to Maastrict, anyone?) or kill whatever faith remains in our political system. Either way, he will go down as a failure.

Holding a referendum, and then use the result either to close down the Eurosceptic fuming or extricate us from the EU, and he will reserve his place in our history books.

Also relevant, though bound to be missed, is HC's ending note:

After all, he can't do anything unless he gets elected. And despite what most people assume, that is far from being a foregone conclusion.

Wise words. Cameron is not in No.10 yet. There is plenty of time still to go; I remember the 1992 election well, and fear that Brown could still secure another 5 years in which to continue his programme of destruction. At least I will still 20 alternatives to choose from, though, in that case.


  1. Good post. I'm afraid that Cameron is looking feeble on this. I could understand it if he said (as Boris did), "We may not be able to undo the Lisbon Treaty", but just saying that he won't commit to a referendum post factum because he doesn't want to interfere with the processes in other states is pathetic and unconvincing. What about maintaining the democratic process in this state?

    Contrary to posters on other boards, I think Cameron's democratic indolence will actually make people more likely to vote UKIP. Some Tories will judge they would sooner retain their democratic right to determine their own destiny, than hang on to the EU.

    For anyone who cares, it is interesting to note how far both parties are from the teaching of the Church which sees the people as the subject, not the object of political authority:

    "The subject of political authority is the people considered in its entirety as those who have sovereignty...this people transfers the exercise of sovereignty to those whom it freely elects as its representatives, but it preserves the prerogative to assert this sovereignty in evaluating and also in replacing them when they do not fulfil their functions satisfactorily." ( Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 395)

    While the Catechism says (quoting Vatican II) "If authority belongs to the order established by God, 'the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens'" (1901).

  2. So Patently do you say that Cam should hold an in/out referendum and campaign on an "in" ticket? Why?

  3. That's a good question Blue. Of course if Cameron said he would hold a referendum come what may (but if it wasn't possible to pull out of Lisbon that the referendum would be about staying in or getting out of the EU in toto), what would happen? Brown might feel strong-armed into holding a referendum himself.

    Whatever would happen, it's hard not to sympathise with Andrew Marr who said that to promise to hold a referendum regardless would in the very least slow down the process of ratification probably until after the election. So why isn't Cameron promising a referendum regardless?

    I wonder if the truth is that both parties are ultimately frightened of the people of the country being asked whether they want to be in or not.

  4. Hi Blue. He can campaign on whatever side he personally thinks is right, or neither, but I think he must hold the referendum.

    There is (in my opinion) a powerful democratic argument for holding one. But even if we ignore that (as every politician has so far) there is a tactical advantage for a Tory leader to hold one. There is a vocal pro-EU faction in the country as a whole, and a vocal anti-EU faction. As a result, we (and the Tories especially) don't debate the issue because it is "divisive". So we do not know how large the factions really are, or which way the undecided middle would veer if given the chance to consider the issue.

    Cameron has a rare opportunity to put this to a proper debate and find out what the British electorate actually wants. If we then find a majority in favour of EU membership, it will kill the issue stone dead; the sceptics will have had the chance to argue and will have failed. Likewise, if there is a strong anti vote, Cameron will have the democratic mandate to resist further integration and/or negotiate a full or partial withdrawal.

    The question would depend on the context. Today, it could be merely "Lisbon: yes or no"? After ratification, it could be a simple "in/out", or a more complex "in/stay but go no further/stay but withdraw a bit/out*" if he thought we could all cope with that.

    Essentially, the issue has been poisoning and distracting British politics for too long. We have to face up to it, and make our collective mind up.

    Albert - the Church is spot on with this one. Some politicians could do with being reminded of those points.

    *i.e. "in/out/shake it all about" ;-)

  5. I wonder if the truth is that both parties are ultimately frightened of the people of the country being asked whether they want to be in or not.

    Nail <--- Head.

    That is, of course, the best possible argument for holding a referendum and the most shameful possible argument for not holding one.

  6. I thought that might be what you were saying, shortly *after* I posted my rather foolish comment! Did Marr really suggest that?

  7. That is, of course, the best possible argument for holding a referendum and the most shameful possible argument for not holding one.

    In which case, I take it you think Cameron's prevarication on the matter is shameful.

    Blue, Marr said that during his interview with Cameron on Sunday morning. Cameron didn't provide a counter argument, he just said he didn't want to interfere with the process in other countries (bizarre!). It was then that I started to doubt that Cameron really wants a referendum.

    P, the Church's teaching is much wiser than most people realise - after all, it's been honed through almost 2000 years of very varied (and not always praiseworthy) experience. If our MPs would only read the Catechism of the Catholic Church instead of The God Delusion we might not have such problems.

  8. P, the case you make for a referendum on purely democratic grounds is very strong. The last referendum in this country on Europe was in 1975. So no one born after 1957 has ever been asked about the matter, and even those who did vote then only voted to join an economic union.

    I'm probably more pro-Europe in principle than most of your readers (after all the EU flag is a symbol of the Blessed Virgin Mary!) but the EU's lack of democratic credentials (among other problems) is deeply disturbing.

  9. Isn't it

    Nail ---> Head ?

    We have some back to front thinking here. Only have a referendum if you want out of Europe, have > £80m and want people to have a false sense of importance to distract them from other issues if you are a seasoned politician. It may be one almighty (not taking a name in vain) 'hornet's nest.' I can't understand why no one challenges the legal right of the government to fundamentally alter our constitution. Does it alter our sovereignty given what we have currently acceded (should have listened more in lectures)? I tried to read the Lisbon Treaty once and that angered me; a deliberate attempt to obfuscate and confuse which would not be allowed in contract law if the private citizen was concerned. Another loathsome Labour legover. What Cameron should do is not quite so cut and dried, P, because the ramifications of leaving now we are poor is huge, especially if Scotland then decide to go their own way.

  10. What Cameron should do is not quite so cut and dried, P, because the ramifications of leaving now we are poor is huge

    I agree Measured, but isn't the argument for a referendum that the issue is so serious that it's not supposed to be up to Cameron? (or at least that the possibility of a referendum on leaving the EU might be enough to prevent ratification of Lisbon without a referendum on that?)

    Another loathsome Labour legover. Brilliant! (though it's not an image I'm enjoying.)

  11. Ah, Albert, I immediately thought you were highlighting my poor use of English. Realist vs. idealist; if the question is so serious (evidence?), why is there no legal challenge or promise of a referendum now? I think the scales have tipped in favour of Europe and the euro, and Cameron knows this but daren't admit it yet sentiment would leave him exposed to no vote in a referendum.

    Btw the human development index was fascinating. Stay away from grey and black areas, thought it was harsh on Morocco but kind to Russia and couldn't make up my mind where to go.

  12. Measured,

    I wasn't challenging your English - my own is not up to such things! Anyway, I agree with the main thrust of your analysis: the scales probably have tipped in favour of Europe (or at least, against being out of it).

    if the question is so serious (evidence?), why is there no legal challenge or promise of a referendum now?

    I would say two things:

    (i)under Labour, lack of serious consideration of matters is not a sign that the matters under consideration are not serious. In fact, the more serious something is, the less this Government likes to allow it to be challenged. Accordingly, we have seen Parliament generally sidelined when it suits the Government, but when they want to have an unelected PM in office for years then they appeal to Parliament to justify it.

    (ii) The difficulties of our unwritten constitution: I wonder how a legal challenge could be mounted against what Brown is doing. And since until the next election he is apparently unassailable and a law unto himself, I can't really see how any kind of meaningful challenge could be made.

    The real scandal comes from combining (i) & (ii). An important treaty is likely to be ratified without referendum by a PM without democractic mandate.

  13. Let's see if we are to be told more about the Cameron's Bill of Rights today. I think the Lisbon Treaty could be forstalled in a judicial review, helped by the fact there is nothing to compare it with and it lacks democratic credentials. In fact, it is momentous if there is no ejector button. Albert, combining (i) and (ii) is a potent mix.

  14. Measured, I think you may have revealed the reason for Cameron refusing the question. I hope so!

  15. Well, we will have to wait until tomorrow for Cameron's closing speech. I suspect what you think Cameron should do depends on your opinion of our participation in the EU. Can we stop Brown/Mandy/Bliar? By the way where's Patently to add further insight into this mess we find ourselves in?

  16. I've been thinking that I don't know enough about the Lisbon Treaty, so I thought, I'd take a look. These aims are stated in the preamble:

    "to complete the process started by the Treaty of Amsterdam [1997] and by the Treaty of Nice with a view to enhancing the efficiency and democratic legitimacy of the Union and to improving the coherence of its action."

    Presumably they aim to use irony to enhance the humourous nature of treaties too.

  17. I'm still here ... just been busy, that's all.

    Albert; that is a truly frightening start to a treaty that is signed by an unelected Prime Minister and ratified after refusing to allow a promised referendum.

    Returning to the subject of Cameron's problem, I see that Hannan is supportive of him, though, which encourages me

  18. Hannan's piece is helpful but not entirely reassuring. The first comment posted is interesting in pointing out how Hannan's own confidence in a referendum has steadily diminished since 8th September.

    As I see it Hannan's case turns on:

    6. There are reasons to be hopeful that all this will happen [referendum about repatriating powers should Lisbon already be ratified] under the next Conservative government;

    But he doesn't tell us what those reasons to be hopeful are, the most he offers is

    7. David Cameron earned the benefit of the doubt when he took Conservative MEPs out of the EPP

    which (apart from its very singularity), is rather a slender thread on which to hang something of such weight.

    But the main problem remains: why isn't Cameron promising some sort of referendum come what may? Perhaps it's a careful game of bluff with Mr Brown. Or perhaps he should just be honest with us, if he wants our votes.

  19. I haven't see or heard Cameron's speech today, but I understand from brief reports that he has stated an intention to repatriate powers from the EU. That may be what Hannan is referring to.

    It is not entirely fair to criticise him for not promising "some sort of referendum come what may". If he did, we would want to know what question would be posed if Lisbon was in force, and so on. There is a limit to the degree of specificity we can demand of a potentially incoming government:

    "We will improve the defences of the UK"


    "We will upgrade Trident"


    "By 2012"

    "When in 2012?"

    "Err, I would have thought August should be ok"

    "Early or late August?"

    "Oh, quite early I expect"

    "Can we say Monday the 6th?"

    "Ummm... ok..."

    "By 9am that day?"

    "Oh FFS Mr Naughtie, I'm only going on Richard & Judy from now on...."

  20. There is a limit to the degree of specificity we can demand of a potentially incoming government

    This is a very fair point, though there is a difference between lacking specificity and entirely lacking content (hence I think your comparison with defence doesn't quite work).

    In view of the fact that Cameron's pledge has been made relating to circumstances that look unlikely, I think Cameron looks more like a man lacking content than specificity. The question becomes pressing when his evasions look very poor indeed (did you watch the Andy Marr interview?).

    Democracy does rather require the electorate to have an idea of what a politician will do in likely future contingents rather than unlikely ones.

    However, from your comment it looks as if he is making good his deficiency - and that's good enough for me, if that's what he's said.