Like Richard North I am much taken by William Rees-Mogg’s commentary on the process that gets under way today, headlined “They lied yesterday; they will lie tomorrow”. It encompasses all that one might wish as a counter-blast to the dishonest, dishonourable farrago of lies that is peddled by Her Majesty’s Government concerning this Treaty, save in one respect: that holding a general election with a manifesto commitment to ratify the treaty would satisfy the requirements of democratic legitimacy.
Given that our electoral system has been so gerrymandered by Labour that it can win an election with a majority in Parliament with smaller percentage of the vote than the Conservatives, such a means of endowing the Treaty with democratic legitimacy would be deeply flawed. Only by obtaining a majority of the votes on a referendum can such a Treaty be said to have obtained the consent of the British people and even then 51% would hardly indicate the sort of whole-heartedness that would provide genuine legitimacy for it.
In addition General Elections are about so much more than single issues, however important they may be. Who can properly pick out the issue of the ratification of a Treaty from all the other sound and fury that an election campaign entails? None, I venture to suggest, and so, on that issue, I am afraid, Rees-Mogg has allowed himself to fall into serious error.
Meanwhile the ridiculous schoolboy who has somehow ended up as Foreign Secretary, Miliband Major, has taken (as he told The Politics Show this weekend) to advocating the Treaty on the basis that it has the support of various pressure groups in the UK:
[The Treaty] prepares Europe to be able to deal with twenty seven countries working together and that’s why, whether it’s overseas aid charities or children’s charities or environmental groups, they see this Treaty as a step forward for Europe and a step forward for Britain.
How very New labour! So long as the NGOs, the focus groups, the labour-leaning think-tanks (presumably including, one imagines, Peter Hain’s pet fundraiser, the Progressive Policies Forum) and sympathetic charities approve, then let the treaty be ratified. As for the British people and their footling objections to this most wonderful of treaties, why, a pox on them!
If this Treaty is so wonderful for children and the environment and, indeed, for foreigners (that presumably being the position of the overseas aid largesse dispensers), then surely the British people will be just gagging to support it in a referendum: so why not ask them?
Now we know that the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons has concluded, much as the European Scrutiny Committee has, that this Treaty is the same as the EU Constitution, that might be thought in a proper exercise of democracy, to have given the Government pause for thought:
We conclude that there is no material difference between the provisions on foreign affairs in the constitutional treaty which the government made subject to approval in a referendum and those in the Lisbon treaty on which a referendum is being denied.
Not a bit of it, as Miliband Major dismissed this one with a metaphorical wave of the hand. Not even Labour-dominated committees that dissent are to be heard: only to the extent that they give their name, rank and number for future punishment will they be listened to.
Which brings me to what happens now as it becomes clearer that the Bovine & Ovine of Labour’s Augean Stables will follow the trail of cattle nuts into the lobbies and vote the UK as we know it out of existence.
Much depends on how the Tories play their cards. If they stick to two themes – the dishonourable nature of the Labour and Liberal ‘Democrat’ abjuration of the referendum which each promised at the last election and starting the process of characterizing the Treaty as lacking democratic legitimacy – and avoid the sort of things that the Maastricht rebels got up to (they were, to borrow a phrase, ‘right but repulsive’ on that Treaty), then they can present a united, consistent and honourable front of opposition to the Treaty.
If they want to win the next general election enough, then they will follow such a course. If, however, they fall into the bear-traps that Brown has laid about the countryside for them and provoke them into Maastricht-style tactics and rhetoric, then they will dissipate the interest and support of the people.
William Hague was, this afternoon, on the Daily Politics (available for the next six days) and was probed for any further elucidation he might care to give of what happens if the Treaty is ratified and comes into force before he and Cameron can lay hands on the levers of power. It is clear that none will be forthcoming, beyond repeating what is set to become their mantra: “we will not let matters there”.
We may well have to settle for that for the time being. But in time they will have to spell out what they mean. And if it involves any retreat from the position that this Treaty represents a transfer of power too far without the consent of the British people, then they will unravel the Conservative party once more, not least because it has become more completely Eurosceptic than it was in John Major’s day (though not to the point of adopting a policy of withdrawal from the EU).
Hague also added that other little phrase beloved of Tory equivocators:
In Europe but not run by Europe
The Treaty of Lisbon, of course, demolishes the second half of that pledge. What will the Tories’ policy be when they and, more importantly, the British people realise that, beyond a peradventure, we are, in fact and in law, run by Europe?
On that topic I leave the last word to the Bard on eqivocators:
Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could swear in both the scales against either scale, who committed treason enough for God’s sake, yet could not equivocate to heaven.