Conservative’s Chaos, and other Coalition constitutional cock-ups.
Well – what a mess.
Had any UK political party, or Government, set out quite deliberately to wrap itself in chaos and confusion over an issue of major constitutional importance, it could hardly have bettered the Parliamentary mayhem which the Cameroons managed to create for themselves this week.
On Wednesday, 114 backbench Conservative MPs in effect voted against the Queen’s Speech put forward by the Coalition Government in which they are the majority participant – the first time since 1946 that members of the largest party in the House of Commons have voted against their own Queen’s Speech – because the Cameroon leadership’s deference to the LibDems’ antipathy precluded any provision in it for an EU referendum.
Almost simultaneously, the Cameroons drafted a Referendum Bill, providing for a referendum before 31 December 2017, and lobbed it into the House, in the hope that it would be picked up by the winner of this session’s lottery for the right of a backbencher to introduce a Private Members’ Bill. Luckily – or possibly not, we shall see – it was.
But it stands precious little chance of making it on to the Statute Book, because it’s highly likely to be either deprived of debating time by the EU-phile and referendum-opposed LibDems, or filibustered out if it is debated, or defeated by an alliance between the four leftist parties, even though it’s now, bizarrely, to be three-line-whipped by the Conservative Whips. And if so, we shall be no further forward.
How and why has the Conservative Party got itself into such an abject pickle, with such a yawning tactical and strategic disconnect between the payroll vote and the back benches on an initiative designed, on the face of it at least, to make progress on the European Union issue? It all comes down, sadly, to trust. Or rather, the lack of it. In the leadership.
Because all of Cameron’s “initiatives” to resolve the EU issue have rapidly either backfired, or been exposed as primarily tactical ploys, he is, quite simply, not trusted on it.
Even though his “cast-iron” guarantee of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty was conditional in the small print on the Treaty not having been passed, he was very content for it to be retailed to the Party’s then MPs, PPC, constituency activists and media in simple sound-bite terms, because it brought, temporarily, very favourable headlines and a jump in poll ratings: but he was left looking shifty, evasive and too-clever-by-half when the caveat became apparent.
He spent the next two or three years ostensibly parking the issue, but barely bothering to conceal his view that the epithet “loonies, fruitcakes and closet racists”, applied to EU-sceptic supporters of a rival party of the right, could apply equally to any and all of his own Party’s constituency activists and potential voters so unenlightened by modish metropolitan-liberal received opinion as to retain belief in conservative ideas like lower taxes, smaller government, cheap rather than Green energy, and adequate defence capabilities, assuring them, in all but explicit wording, that they merited the “Not Wanted On Voyage” label.
Unsurprisingly, many of those constituency activists and potential voters responded by choosing a different voyage, on a different ship, delivering UKIP 900,000 votes at the 2010 General Election and probably costing the Conservatives the 20 or 25 seats which otherwise would have produced a majority.
He then trumpeted the alleged protection of the so-called “referendum lock”, “guaranteeing” a referendum on any further what were termed “significant transfers of power” to Brussels. That unravelled when the decision as to what actually constituted a “significant” transfer of powers turned out to be at the discretion of the Coalition Cabinet – where the fiercely-Europhile Lib Dems could be relied on to agree that no measure, be it European Investigation Order, or European Arrest Warrant, or whatever, was actually “significant” enough to trigger a referendum.
Incredibly, despite the transparency of this sleight-of-hand, it’s still being trotted out by ministers, including Hague, as some kind of safeguard against further Brussels encroachment, despite the contrary evidence of capitulation to the EIO and EAW.
Over 2012, Cameron spent months in vacillation and procrastination, but with the prospect of his “Big Speech on Europe” always being dangled tantalisingly before the Press and the public. It was mooted for the Party Conference – it didn’t happen. Then it was mooted for some time in the Autumn – and again, it didn’t happen.
Cameron finally made what’s now known, after its location, as his Amsterdam / Bloomberg speech in January this year, giving every appearance of having to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to the microphone to make it. In it, he gave a commitment that “any government which I lead” after the 2015 General Election (revised with indecent haste to “any government formed from a Conservative absolute majority” – a very different animal) would seek to renegotiate Britain’s terms of EU membership, and put the results to the electorate in a referendum.
The commitment was picked apart within hours when exposed to be fundamentally and heavily conditional, dependent as it was on both the unlikely prospect of a Cameron-led Conservative Party securing a majority in 2015, and the even more unlikely prospect of it then being able to persuade the EU, whose very raison d’être and founding principle is the permanent arrogation of powers from nation-states to its supranational self, via the one-way processes of engrenage and the acquis communautaire, to return substantial competences to the UK.
He went on to compound this by revealing that, even in the event of total failure in this endeavour, he would still campaign for the UK to remain in the EU, regardless.
The latest Referendum Bill, drafted at Cameroon initiative, let it be remembered, contains no clause requiring the Government in power in 2017/18 to take any action to implement the verdict of a referendum, and, crucially, it contains no provisions for fair and equal funding or media access for both sides in campaigning. It takes no great powers of perception to imagine the consequences of that second omission, in particular.
Is it any wonder that Cameron is not trusted?
Strategically, the Conservatives must do one thing – whatever it takes to make clear that they will strive to bring about a referendum in 2017, because there is a limit to how long the people of any polity can be maintained in a supranational union against the will of so many of them.
Tactically, they need to do two things. The first is to hammer home repeatedly until it registers that Labour and the LibDems really do not want to trust the British people with a say on Britain’s EU membership. That advice might stand a chance of being heeded. The second is not to let any Cameroon wonk or No 10 SpAd anywhere near a situation where an already-dug hole and a spade can be found in close proximity to each other. But when that advice isn’t heeded……….
After you with the whisky and the revolver, Perkins.