Nick Clegg needs to realise it's the sort of politics people are tired of

When you ask an ordinary typical person what turns them off about politicians, the answer that is heard time and time again is that they do not listen. The classic example is always the TV interview, be it on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman or on Question Time, when a politician is asked a question, and the politician replies with the line "the real question is ..." and changes the terms of debate to an issue that they want to talk about and not the issue actually under discussion.

Sadly, this is what the Lib Dems are doing at the moment over the EU Constitution. By attempting to turn this in to a wider debate on Europe and Britain's continued presence in the European Union, a line that all but the biggest idiots (UKIP) will support, the Lib Dems are ploughing a furrow that the public don't want to go down. The vast majority of British people have no doubt that we should be members of the EU, but they do have concerns that politicians, UK politicians in fact, want to integrate and introduce more EU measures without the population at large being able to discuss the issues and vote on them via a referendum.

In many ways the Lib Dem line is simply "But that's not the question. The real question is ... "

However, the question is "Should their be a referendum on the EU constitution". Emphatically, the answer is yes, and this is a view held by a large number, possibly even a majority of Lib Dems. Certainly of Lib Dems I know, this view is the dominant one.

We should not pretend for one minute that a wider referendum on the issue of the UK's continued membership of the EU is a proper way in which the EU constitution can be properly debated. All this Lib Dem plan does, in the short term, is to sweep the issue under the carpet and hope that it goes away. The problem is, that it won't. All it does is paint the party as being as bad as all the rest, promising a referendum that not choosing to support it when it comes to the crunch.

It's the sort of tired politics that people are really fed up with. The electorate are crying out for more from a politicaly party, They want to believe that there is a political party that genuinely listens and aswers the questions, not one that avoids giving answers and changes the questions.


Anonymous said...

Yes. This was a mistake made under Ming’s leadership that I had hoped the new leader would reverse. It’s rather dispiriting.

Bernard Salmon said...

You say that Nick Clegg's position is about avoiding the issues under discussion. But on Europe, the issues people are concerned about are not how many European Commissioners there should be, or whether there is a more permanent Presidency or a European foreign minister, all of which are the issues contained in the Lisbon Treaty. Instead, it is the wider issues about reform of the CAP, about economic policy, about Britain's whole place in Europe. I will give Nick Clegg the credit of genuinely wanting to have a debate about these issues, which is why he is calling for a referendum on the UK's whole membership of the EU.
However, I have to say I am unconvinced that a referendum is necessary at all, as I do not think that Britain's place and role in Europe can be settled by the simplistic yes/no answers that referenda are designed to provide.

Anonymous said...

It's all a little bit much for my simple mind, so it's very good of you to have tapped out some simple thoughts to put me right. Let me see if I've understood them:

We should not attempt to frame the question according to how we see the fundamental issues, that's the job of important political operators and their cheerleaders in the media. Good, no danger of looking like irrelevant makeweights there then.

If we did try to change the terms of the debate we would be behaving like those bad politicians that everyone hates. It would also be quite unnecessary as the “question” was brought to us from Mount Olympus by President Bartlett himself (and not, as simple-minded folk might think, the handiwork of Euroseptic politicians and newpapers, validated by some truly Wilsonian* manoevering by David Cameron).

We should therefore show our distinctive character by copying the usual raucous bunch of anti-Europeans** in their assertion that a collection of measures agreed to streamline and clarify the existing EU procedures is the exactly the same as the previous formal constitution that incorporated such changes within a fundamental recasting of EU institutions.

British political culture would then be reinvigorated by the in-depth debate over the treaty minutiae, with no risk of being sidetracked by some bright spark insisting the terms of office have been lengthened just to make it profitable for Tony Blair to ascend to the Europresidency (a.k.a. front man for a cabal of anglophobic FOREIGNERS in a secret base near Berchtesgarten).

In contrast, Clegg’s trivial question on the principle of Europe just would not engage the British people, their residual interest being extinguished once it becomes clear the isolated opposition of UKIP is being steamrollered by the unanimous might of New Lab, New Con, Lib Dem, Greens, SNP, PC, assorted neofascists, various anticapitalists, the Judean Peoples Popular Front and the Tufty Club***. In fact it would be such a foregone conclusion, that people will spontaneously start standing outside Liberal Clubs shouting “Just don’t bother!”

Yup, top-quality political analysis, I think.

Squirrel Nutkin

(* That’s Harold, not Woodrow, in case of any doubt)

(*And remember there's no way they would be using their "treaty referendum" demand as a stepping stone in their ongoing campaign(s) to reduce "Europe" to: (a) a handful of inter-governmental horse-trading committees comfortably insulated from direct democratic influence; or (b) a technocratically run business-deregulating authority; or (c) the name of the section in an atlas where you can find several dozen nation states so busy squabbling that they are thoroughly at the mercy of other, more substantial and focused political-economic players).

(*** May have got a couple of details wrong here. (And quite possibly there.))

Nich Starling said...

How brave Mr Anonymous. It is funny how brave people can be in being silly, putting words in to other people's mouths and generally thinking themselves most smug when they hide without a name.

I never said we should be an anti EU party (your words) and you do the same a Nick Clegg by changing the terms of the debate. The problem is, and you obviously missed this point, the debate is on the EU Constitution/Reform treaty. Doh !!!!

Anonymous said...

Nich, if the Libdem want to be taken seriously then your post is spot on.

Anonymous said...

I think it was a much needed and delayed clarification on his "we will vote against a referendum" statement, where he then too said (if you delved low enough in the news articles) what he's been saying this week.

I think he's right to say it, just because we're debating a specific part of the EU doesn't mean now isn't the right time. In fact I'd argue it's the perfect time as what is the point of debating whether or not we ratify this document that is supposedly getting so much time in parliament if the British people *don't* want to stay in the EU?

You can say as much as anyone (and I'd agree with you by the way) that people if pushed would support staying in the EU but the fact is that the government hasn't had a specific mandate from the people on that matter despite in various ways and by various proxies being promised it over the years.

We should have a Referendum at some point if only to shut the argument up, while the losers may harbour some resentment over the result at least we can say once and for all that there are no more arguments over what we should be doing. And that should all have happened before this whole constitution/treaty bullshit ever came about.

Newmania said...

You vastly overestimate the support for staying in the EU . Most are indifferent and of those who are not ( all those who have either read about it or experienced it ) the majority are between detesting with stoicism, and wanting out.
Almost no-one wants to have Poles and Germans having any say on laws effecting them. Nor do they wish to pass laws over other poeple`s countries . No-one is 'European' and no-one wants to be and as that, at heart , is the European project it is on a collision course with the voter.

I think overall we are better off out.Like many Conservatives I started off in favour thinking it was to do with free trade but now I see it is far more than that and each new lie stiffens my resolve to resist it.

Squirrell nutkin the time to have full and frank debate on what was involved was when the British people were told that we were entering a 'Common Market'. Turns out the "unhinged" lunatic anti`s were absolutely right . Now I think waht you are saying is that the 'complaints department' is up that cliff over there past the boiling oil.

We will withdraw gradually as we went in except with honest dealing along the way. Nothing else is in practice possible

Anonymous said...

Newmania is talking complete tosh.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous? The name’s Nutkin, Squirrel Nutkin. (Because I’ve always seen myself as a bit of a shy, retiring woodland creature). And I promise you I’m not an escapee from the Guido/Dale Sockpuppetry School, it's just my way of dealng with the online identity question (and at least it's an obvious pseudonym).

I’m sorry the form of my comments proved a distraction. I thought it was some fairly low-grade fool-and-bladder stuff, such as a squirrel might well launch at an owl (or a starling) and not intended to be wounding. Something of a failure, then.

So, stripping away the crude sarcasm (I’d like to do sophisticated irony…I’d also like to be taller, and less of a rodent):

We suffer if we perpetually allow our opponents to frame the terms of debate: if we are only ever picking from their bipolar options we are helping them to cast us as pallid tories/wishy-washy socialists/inconsistent fencesitters. And when “the question” is – as so often - a stupid one we become complicit in the stupid answer that results.

If we don’t attempt to alert people to the existence of a liberal analysis and a liberal alternative (even if it gets shut out) we are back with the traditional lose-lose situation.

In this case, years of havering have landed Labour in a weak and uncomfortable position, and while they are likely to win any vote, they will sustain even more damage in doing so (and cause further damage to the case for Europe).

The “official” alternative, however, has been shaped by some highly proficient sustained campaigning by the eurosceptics. But it is based on a misrepresentation of the treaty as being the same as the constitution (as well as the usual implications that disengagement will have no downside). Helping them to blur that distinction is quite simply that: helping them.

We are dealing with the usual suspects here and for most of them the referendum call is (for want of a better term) a transitional demand, a step on the road to Better Off Out. We would do better to take them on over the main event.

Oh, and putting words into peoples’ mouths?

I can’t actually see where I said we should become an anti EU party - or even that I said you said that! I can see a sarcastic warning about some likely consequences of joining in with the iwannarefrendum crowd

Fraternally yours

Squirrel Nutkin
Less sarky, but still long-winded

P.S. Newman always talks tosh - and in Castro-like quantities

Anonymous said...

Talking tosh or not, how can this country actually be readily informed without something of the style of a referendum where it is in both sides interests to actually engage the public in their persuasion?