After all if you are on the skids towards a humiliating election defeat somewhere down the line, it does not help your prospects if you hold an unwinnable referendum and then have to face the electorate soon afterwards still trying to pick up the pieces of a heavy defeat. Such things tend to emphasise your impotence and loss of strength and that is not part of Brown’s canon.
Why the Liberal ‘Democrats’ should have turned tail, though, is, frankly, puzzling. Their decision not to support a referendum when they promised it at the last election means that they put themselves into the same class as Labour: dishonourable and dishonest. Surely they would prefer to be seen to live up to the ‘democrat’ part of their name? Things are no clearer after a shifty and evasive performance by Nick Clegg on The Daily Politics (here)
Their real problem, one suspects, is that their slavish support for a Federal States of Europe is so central to their politics that, having seen just how hostile the people of the United Kingdom are to the European Constitution and, they suspect, the EU as a whole, they are terrified lest a referendum kick the chair from under their feet thus depriving them of their whole raison d’être. After all, if the British people were allowed to evince their complete distaste for the unelected, undemocratic proto-tyranny that the EU has become, then the Lib ‘Dems’ would be forced to abandon the central tenet of their programme.
Such a rejection of a central plank of the Lib ‘Dem’ platform would be deeply destabilizing to it and would almost certainly lead to internecine warfare between those who would wish to face reality and align themselves with the majority of Eurosceptic Britons (just as Labour purported to abandon Socialism in the 1990s, though it did no such thing) and those whose support for European Federalism came to them with their mother’s milk. In short a referendum would be catastrophic for them: with an election looming they too are terrified of the British people.
Of note is that, as William Hague, in an amusing and carefully crafted speech, pointed out, the new Liberal ‘Democrat’ leader, Nicholas Clegg, is, like Gordon Brown, so contemptuous of the British people and the our country that he could not be bothered to put in an appearance for the debate, though he did later scuttle in and helped prop up Labour in the vote on the second reading of the Bill:
Talking of escaping a referendum commitment, in The Guardian of October 2003 I came across an article with the headlines “We need an EU referendum” and “Nothing will damage the pro-European movement more than appearing to have something to hide”. It was written by a certain N. Clegg, who went on to become the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) and is now the leader of the Liberal Democrats. [Hon. Members: “Where is he?”] We know that he is not on the plane with the Prime Minister, but for all the difference that he makes to the debate, he might as well be. His article said:
Of the rest of the day’s proceedings, I commend to you two other passages from Hague’s effort. The first was an astute intervention from John Redwood:
Mr. Redwood: Does my right hon. Friend further remember that during the 2005 election, when some of us said that we needed to debate this huge transfer of powers because it was so important, the Labour party said that there was no need for that debate in the election, because there would be a referendum later? That is why this is such a cheat.
Secondly was a short tour de force on the topic of Tony Blair preening himself as the preferred candidate of France for the post of the first president of the EU Council which starts here. The Labour benches squirmed as he dangled in front of them the prospect of Tony Blair once more lording it over Gordon Brown. Perhaps that was why The Prime Minister too could not be bothered to turn up at the second reading of the Bill which might indeed place Blair in charge of the nation once more, though this time without the inconvenience of an election or the consent of the British people.
Finally I leave you with this statistic:
1. Number of hours spent by Parliament on the Hunting Act 2004: 700
2. Number of hours spent by Parliament on the Second reading of the European Union (Amendment) Bill: 5
Some might think that an accurate but disturbing reflection of Labour’s true priorities.
Source: Hansard for 21 January 2008