News from British and Canadian Conservatives

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be, Lib Dem Clegg's a Euro-Calamity

There have been persistent rumours flying around the blogosphere that the newly minted Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, wants to re-adopt the Liberal Party as the official name. I'm wasn't convinced, and I'm pretty sure that the Liberal Party* would have something to say about it.

However, after Tuesday's House of Commons debate on the Lisbon Treaty, is seems that Cleggy is anything but a democrat. All Lib Dem candidates, like all Conservative and Labour candidates, campaigned on a platform that included a referendum on the EU Constitution at the last general election. Unfortunately, not one Lib Dem MP was willing to vote for one on the Lisbon Treaty. Even a few Labour MPs baulked at the idea of breaking their pledge to vote against a referendum, while the Conservatives stood out as the only party united behind their manifesto.

Of course, Cleggy and Co have lots of "reasons" why they no longer want a referendum. There's the real reason - that they know they would lose. Then there are the official reasons, which require some contortment of the brain to comprehend. Apparently, a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is not needed because, even though it is more than 90%** the same as the previously proposed Constitution, it is not called a consitution, so no referendum is needed. Moreover, apparently it is too minor, even though it includes clauses which make it self amending, and is more significant than the Maastricht Treaty, on which the Lib Dems supported a referendum. Finally, and most confusingly, apparently a referendum on the treaty would become a proxy referendum on EU membership, so the Lib Dems say they want a referendum on EU membership (which they think they have a better chance of winning), even though the speaker says that they can't propose one, and there's no way that they are going to get one. Of course, they could have a proxy referendum, which would surely do the same job, by voting with the Conservatives and Labour rebels when the Bill reaches Committee stage...

Clear as mud then.

Of course, even if you accept these arguments about Lib Dem (lack of) principles, they are ignoring the fact that the Lib Dems also have duties as part of the Opposition in Parliament. Indeed, they repeatedly claim that they are the Real Opposition. Really? Well why not start acting like one and hold the government to account. No matter what divine intervention may have caused the Lib Dem about face, the reasons behind Labour's u turns on the referendum are abundantly clear. Blair only pledged a referendum when he realised that failing to do so would turn the election into an effective referendum - one that he would lose. Now there are no national elections coming up, Brown feels safe enough to reject the pledge on which he was elected. A democratic position would be to demand that the government of the day keeps its pledge to the electorate, and that should lead all opposition parties to unite in favour of a referendum.

Clegg & Co have sold out their principles as liberals and democrats. They would rather win than play fair. They've failed to keep their pledge to the electorate and are failing in their duty to hold the government to account. No wonder so many Lib Dem bloggers are up in arms. Norfolk Blogger, Quaequam, Stephen Tall, Gavin Whenman and Paul Walter are amongst the more high profile Lib Dem bloggers who are most upset with their leadership. And well they might be.

* the Liberal Party is in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, so perhaps the two factions should swap names! See here and here.

** According to Labour member of the negotiating team, Gisela Stuart, architect of the European project, Valery Giscard D'Estaing and the House of Commons select committee, amongst others.

Fat Tip to Iain Dale on the Lib Dem reaction.

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