Parties holding 617 out of its 646 seats in parliament promised in their manifestos to let us have our say on the EU Constitution in a referendum. Now both Labour and the Liberal ‘Democrats’ have ratted on their promises, it falls to Parliament to decide if there should be a vote or not by the British people.

In this affair both the governing party and their lickspittles, the Lib ‘Dems’, have opted to perform an act of political cowardice of the most despicable kind that perhaps ranks only with Chamberlain’s craven surrender of Czechoslovakia to German control for dishonour.

The latter have done so because they have found, as they see it, a way to commit us to a Federal Europe without running the risk that the British people will refuse to have any truck with it and that with a bit of blarney about the nature of the Treaty of Lisbon and its allegedly being somehow different from the EU Constitution (an absurd proposition that has been definitively nailed time and time again by various of the Euro Nabobery who are rather proud of the trick they have pulled), they can pull the wool over the eyes of the British People. That it might compromise British independence troubles them not a jot.

Labour are just plain gutless. They do not want to have any sort of vote that they might lose if they can avoid it and this one they reckon they can avoid. This is typical of Labour whose love of democracy is but skin deep. Happily they have already reaped considerable opprobrium for this particularly dishonourable breach of promise and the British people may yet punish them at the polls for their shameful conduct. Concerning one such opportunity, more in a moment.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have stuck to their guns and continue to promise that, if possible, a referendum will be held pre-ratification. In so doing they have armed themselves with a potent weapon with which to wound an already damaged Labour and the ongoing ratification progress of the Bill to ratify the treaty going through both House of Parliament will give opportunity after opportunity to do so again and again.

The question is, though, how far the Tories are prepared to take this. Recently Mr. David Cameron has said that, if the Treaty is ratified without a referendum, he and his party would not leave matters there. Quite what this means is unclear and it leaves wiggle room to drive a bus through. Suspicions abount that, to appease Ken Clarke, Patten, Heseltine and Hurd, adeal has been done whereby no real challenge to the EU will be made by the Tories in opposition or in power.

James McConalogue, Editor of the European Journal, reckons that this is all a lot of eyewash. Many Eurosceptics, many of them otherwise loyal Conservatives, are also just as suspicious about the true intentions of the Tories.

Mr. McConalogue wrote on ConservativeHome on New Year’s Day of his concerns and makes these points about their behaviour:

  • The Frontbench have, he says, been ‘actively dissuaded’ from discussing the Treaty in any meaningful way.

  • The party has done nothing to explain to the public what impact the treaty will have.

  • When an opportunity arose demonstrably to oppose the Treaty in Parliament (and thus demonstrate consistency), the Tories flunked it.

As to the latter, the following will come as a surprise given the Tories’ stated intention to oppose ratification:

when it came to the crucial vote two days prior to the signing of the Treaty (on the night of 11th. December) for Conservatives to vote on whether David Miliband had properly addressed a debate on European affairs, the Conservative Whips demanded that the Party to abstain. Only 16 rebel Conservative MPs voted against it. (Does anybody know why?) If the future of our British national interest rests with 16 rebel Conservative backbenchers – as effective as this fierce gaggle of British parliamentarians are – then I am, at this present moment, not convinced that the Conservatives are really intending to honour a critical line on Europe.

The day before ConHome had an editorial piece expressing the similar fears.

Labour’s position on the Treaty has exposed it to the prospect of a huge running sore for a sizeable part of this Parliamentary year which, if exploited with tactical and strategic skill and using to their fullest extent all the procedures and process of Parliament, could be made into something with which to do almost endless damage to Labour.

But if at the end of it all, the Tories fail to follow through with their opposition consistently and eventually evince no stomach for taking on the EU, it will prove, I believe, to be just as damaging to them as it has been to Labour and will open them up to the accusation of dishonourable conduct and of using labour’s position cynically for short-term party advantage in an unprincipled and purely partisan way. Indeed the damage to them could be all the greater as some, even many Eurosceptics will finally be persuaded that the Tories are all talk and no delivery, upon which they will march off to UKIP. That could even lose Cameron the election.

On another topic, there is one pan-European event coming up, the Elections for the European ‘Parliament’ in June 2009, when the people of Europe can have their say, if they wish, about the Constitution, which may well, by then, be in force.

Its timing is intriguing in the UK context. I cannot speak for other countries or how it might fit into their political cycles which I should have to leave to others to assess from their own point of view.

In the UK, however, there is scope for turning these elections in to a de facto vote on the Treaty.

There are a number of scenarios. If Gordon Brown continues to do badly and is badly down in the polls, he could lawfully wait until May 2010 before holding a general election. In those circumstances both the Conservative party and UKIP could, without much complication, both campaign on the basis of turning the elections into a de facto vote on the issue of the Treaty.

Last time, on a poor turnout, Conservatives and UKIP votes combined took 42% of the vote. Blair was then still at the height of his powers and the Tories still in the doldrums. Now, with a highly unpopular Labour party and equally unloved Gordon Brown, the Tories and UKIP might push that figure above 50%. That would be a devastating verdict on the parties which have reneged on their commitments to give us a referendum and would be condign punishment for that dishonourable course.

It becomes more complicated, however, for the Tories if they are either in power by June 2009, having won a may 2009 election, or if the election is held on the same day as the European elections (which Brown might do in the hope of shoring up his party’s position in the EU Parliament).

In the former case, Cameron might well be in power by June 2009 and therefore he may, if the earlier part of this post’s fears prove to be true, be looking at ways of wriggling around any commitments on the Treaty when faced with the reality of his first EU summit.

In the case of contemporaneous elections, the issue of Europe will be shoved far down the list of electoral priorities and any campaign to make the European elections a referendum on the referendum will be lost in the background as the noise of other battles predominates. UKIP may well find its vote being distributed tactically to the Tories to get labour out and its voice too may well be diminished.

Much as I want to be rid of Labour at an early date, it may be that the most satisfactory use of the European elections can only be had by so damaging Labour that Brown clings to power until the last minute, thus leaving the European Elections to stand in clear relief so that Eurosceptic parties can take fullest advantage of them to send a precise message about the Treaty of Lisbon.

That is, if the Tories are genuinely serious about it after all.

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