Two questions for leadership candidates - Referendum or rubber stamp ? Do we really trust the people ?

For me, one of the main issues that showed Ming was out of touch with what voters want was his refusal to allow the Lib Dems to support calls for a referendum on the EU Reform Treaty.

Claims by Ming that the Constitution warranted a referendum but the Reform Treaty does not, ring a bit hollow when you remember that the Liberal Democrats were the main party calling for a referendum over any plans to enter the single currency back in the early 1990's. It appears, on the issue of Europe, we, as a party are unable to walk in step with the majority of the population, so we can sometimes be very expedient when trusting the public. This is wrong.

I had great hopes that one of either Nick Clegg or Chris Huhne, both of whom are extremely talented people who are worthy of any Lib Dem's support would have be more politically savvy about this issue and would look to re-evaluate Ming's decision to scrap Lib Dem policy (which was to have a referendum) and would instead support calls for an referendum not on EU membership, but on the reform treaty itself. After all, even the most generous observers believe it is 90% similar to the original EU constitution, whilst some estimate it to be 98% similar. As the old saying goes, if a beefburger is 90% beef, it's still a beefburger.

So what are Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg to do about the EU constitution ? It appears they have both decided to maintain Ming's policy and say that the British people cannot be trusted on this issue. In my view, this is a mistake. It not only shows the Lib Dems to be out of touch, but it really does make us look as though we do not trust the people of the UK. And in many ways, this is correct because all those who support the new EU reform treaty know that if a referendum was to be held today, the "No" camp would win. This is not to say that this could not be turned around if a vociferous and well argued case were made for a "Yes", but it appears that the "Yes" do not have the stomach for a fight.

Although the awful Diane Abbot and the slightly less rude, but much more pompous Michael Portillo were frightful on "This Week", the weekly political roundup on BBC TV , in between interrupting Chris Huhne they did both make a statement that rings true. They said that the Lib Dems, and Chris Huhne by supporting it, were not prepared to have a referendum on issues that could be lost (the EU reform Treaty), but were prepared to have a referendum on issues that they know they could win (on continued membership of the EU).

The leading candidates for the leadership have stated that we need to trust the people, reach out to voters and be brave. Nick Clegg said today that he wanted to "reach millions of people who shared liberal values but who did not vote Lib Dem", whilst Chris Huhne said "he would be campaigning for a fairer and greener society, and giving power back to the people. "

These statements are great, but it appears that this precludes reaching out to people via referenda that the Lib Dems know cannot be won. This begs the question then, why hold referenda at all, why support it in some cases when actually a referendum is not needed. What is really wanted is a rubber stamp, isn't it ?


John Hemming said...

Sorry, but I could not get the backing. My position statement did support a referendum.

Unknown said...

That's a shame John. Although you could not have won, you could have steered the party towards having a more sensible policy on the EU reform treaty.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I quite like Diane and Michael.

The problem with the Lib Dems is not their Leader, rather their message.

As a pro-European Conservative, even I, reluctantly, favour a referendum on the EU Constitution/Treaty.

The fact of the matter is that two-party politics is back to stay. Choose Clegg and there will be a backlash amongst your, mainly, left-wing members. Choose Huhne and half your parliamentary party will not be happy.

As I've said before, join David Cameron's liberal Conservative Party and help shape our future.

Anonymous said...

"It not only shows the Lib Dems to be out of touch, but it really does make us look as though we do not trust the people of the UK. And in many ways, this is correct because all those who support the new EU reform treaty know that if a referendum was to be held today, the "No" camp would win."

What do you mean by "correct"? Are you suggesting that here should be no referendum because the no's will take it?

Anonymous said...

Hi Nich,
I think Ming was correct, not that there shouldn’t be a referendum but what the question is.
There is an underlying anti Europe sentiment amongst the media who constantly brief against Europe. They want a referendum that will weaken our links as part of a longer term objective. They know they would lose the big question so are scared to ask it, that is why Ming is correct. The referendum is smoke and mirrors where Blair agreed to a referendum to pamper to Murdoch, playing to Murdoch’s (and others) long term objectives.
If you want to fight pro Referendum you would be fighting this type of crap, not an ounce of objectivity:-
You have far more faith in the voter than I do, the referendum, opt outs, red lines & so forth are too complex and largely technical. If you really trust the voter to be knowledgeable on Europe try this test at your local supermarket. Ask a dozen people at random:-
1) Name the President of the EU
2) What is enhanced co-operation
3) What is the difference between QMV & DMV
4) How many countries are in the EU
5) Name 15
I think the lesson to be learnt is don’t promise a referendum to placate the MSM and if you do ask the real question not something that is far more nebulous and potentially confusing.

Unknown said...

I mean it is could be seen as being correct if you summise that the pro EU groups oppose a referendum because they know it would be lost.

Justin - Wishful thinking about two party politics. I can't see Haringey suddenly being a Tory/Labour marginal.