Maastricht rally fails to raise the temperature

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The Independent Online
NO MORE than 100 demonstrators, the organisers warned, would be able to attend the candelight vigil and reading of the Maastricht treaty outside Downing Street.

At yesterday's first Day for Democracy rally, staged by campaigners for a British referendum on the treaty's ratification, few were disappointed by that restriction. The main event in Trafalgar Square attracted fewer than 800 and proved to be a rare thing: a demonstration that ran ahead of schedule.

The turnout from politicians was more remarkable. Dissident Conservative MPs such as Teresa Gorman, Bill Cash and Sir Teddy Taylor shared the platform with the Labour MPs Tony Benn, Peter Shore and Austin Mitchell. Nick Harvey MP, a Liberal Democrat new boy, was also present.

To cheers all round Sir Teddy declared: 'What's happening in western Europe is exactly what happened in eastern Europe, except we don't call it Communism.' Mr Benn said there was overwhelming support for a referendum. 'Maastricht makes the biggest constitutional change this century, and it will not work without popular consent.'

The cross-party flavour seemed less pronounced on the ground. Alongside fluttering Union Jacks were a few banners for Liberals Against Maastricht and one man had pasted his anti-EC message across a pro-NUM slogan. But there was a predominance of waxed jackets worn by Tories lamenting the passing of Baroness Thatcher and Lord Tebbit.

'One wonders exactly what one's brother died for in the war,' said a woman with a pukka accent and fur hat. Her male companion was certain it was not 'so Britain could be handed to a bunch of bureaucrats in Brussels'. Beneath Nelson's Column, Mrs Gorman, in a luminous red mac, spelled out the price of European unity - an alliance that had robbed Britain of Fahrenheit.

The announcement of Lady Thatcher's message brought roars of approval. She said: 'The Maastricht treaty transfers more power to the bureaucracy in Brussels at the expense of democracy in Westminster. I believe that the people do not want the treaty and that they prefer to keep our present commitments with Europe and go no further. There is an easy way to find out. Hold a referendum.'

That call was echoed by every politician at the rally but the two main parties' front benches remain opposed. Parliament debates the possibility of a plebiscite in a few months. There was little doubt what yesterday's demonstrators would say. Waiting to recite and sing the treaty, one suggested entering into the spirit of Maastricht. 'Let's have a few choruses of 'Deutschland, Deutschland, uber alles'.'

(Photograph omitted)