Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Any old iron, any old iron, any, any, any, old iron?

So, with more of a whimper than a bang, the 'cast-iron' pledge for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty by 'Call Me Dave' Cameron has bitten the dust. I am a bit surprised, as I thought he would abandon the pledge AFTER the General Election (to keep the Lib Dems onside), not before. Obviously he does not think the 'fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists' of UKIP (as he once called them) are a threat to the Cons electorally, although I can see a fair few resignations and defections from the Conservatives to UKIP in the run-up to the General Election. I thought the promise of a referendum would be kept to keep those Conservative voters thinking of voting UKIP onside until May 7th 2010. Instead 'Call Me Dave' has now had his proverbial 'Clause IV' moment. That is, he has told his Party's faithful to like it or lump it and stop 'banging on' (another Dave-ism) about the EU. Well, Dave's not the 'Heir to Blair' for nothing is he?

I laughed when I saw the BBC report of 'Call Me Dave' promising 'never again' would powers be handed over to the EU without a referendum. I'm surprised he didn't pledge 'peace in our time' and 'it will be all over by Christmas' while he was at it. Frankly I think it is pathetic politics, 'full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.'

Of course, one of the great mysteries of life is why, when one considers the historical record, the Conservatives are considered the 'Eurosceptic' Party in British politics. It was a Conservative government that tried to get into the Common Market (as it was known then) back in the early 1960s. In the early 1970s, it was the Conservatives who got us in. They largely backed a 'Yes' vote to stay in the EEC (as it was known then) in the 1975 referendum. Margaret Thatcher's Government, despite her overblown rhetoric, oversaw the acceleration of British integration into the EC (as it became known). To quote Martin Walker, Margaret Thatcher 'talked like Enoch Powell, but acted like Ted Heath'.

Like the photo of Donald Rumsfeld shaking hands with Saddam Hussein in 1983, this is worth saving from the Memory Hole. Margaret Thatcher campaigning for Britain staying in the European Economic Community in the 1975 Referendum.

She threw away our national veto so the Single European Act (which introduced Qualified Majority Voting) could be passed. It was then passed through Parliament subject to a three-line whip and guillotining of debate. The number of Tory MPs prepared to vote against the SEA hardly made double figures. Then in 1990 it was Margaret Thatcher who got Sterling into the Exchange Rate Mechanism. It was her successor John Major who signed the Maastricht Treaty. Then Tony Blair took up the Conservative trick of talking Euro-sceptic...while passing more integrationist legislation. Now he wants to be President of the EU- I wonder how he is getting on?

Now we have 'Call Me Dave'. The only 'EU-sceptic' move he has made in his years as Con leader has been to (eventually) withdraw from the European People's Party in the European Parliament. As Peter Oborne points out, the aspiring Party leader made the pledge to leave the EPP during the 2005 Leadership contest to attract votes. In contrast, his opponent David Davis promised to withdraw from the Common Fisheries Policy. I hate to sound all practical here, but I think trying to save the British fishing industry is a damn sight more important than where some MEPs sit in the European Parliament. Furthermore, with priorities like that, it is hardly surprising that 'Call Me Dave' has given up on stopping the Lisbon Treaty. He just hopes everybody else stops 'banging on' about it as well.

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