Monday 1 June 2009
Bruce Anderson: You can't reform the European constitution without a ballot
And anyone who does believe in democracy should demand an end to party list elections
Minor misdemeanours should not distract us from great crimes. Many voters believe that the political system has betrayed them. So it has. But this is not a matter of bath-plugs or Remembrance Day wreaths, or even of embezzled mortgage payments. It is a breach of trust, arising from a broken promise. Those who broke their word have tried to justify their actions by as cynical a lie as has ever been told in the history of British politics.
It never seemed likely that Labour would lose the 2005 election. But Tony Blair and his advisors had one anxiety: the EU constitution. They feared that if this became an election issue the Tories could gain momentum. So they neutralised it, by promising a referendum, as did the Liberals.
This caused alarm and despondency among the euro-fanatics. They have always relied on moving towards federalism by stealth: deceiving the British people about the centralising consequences of proposed euro-measures, and then insisting that it was too late to alter them. That was how dishonest salesmen used to dupe housewives into buying expensive encyclopaedias, until laws were introduced to prevent them. But euro-dishonesty has never been criminalised.
The late Hugo Young, himself a committed europhile, wrote a surprisingly honest book called The Blessed Plot, which describes the plots, matured over many decades by federastic politicians and diplomats, to ensnare Britain into a federal Europe without ever risking a confrontation with the electorate. These conspiracies were undertaken for the best of motives. Self-constituted Platonic guardians, the plotters thought that they knew best. They set out to treat the mass of voters, with their obstinate addiction to British sovereignty and British freedoms, like fractious, feverish children who refuse to take the medicine that will do them good. Some distracting legerdemain: a swift spoon into the gullet, then a consoling sweet and soothing noises. "There, there – what was the fuss about?"
Then Tony Blair broke the rules. He announced that the voters would decide. Hence the europhiles' dismay, but alas, it was premature. Whether or not Mr Blair always intended to break his word, the euro-fanatics were able to rely on his successor, the son of the manse who never stops boasting about his values. Perhaps there were weasels in the manse's garden. If so, Mr Brown did absorb his values at home.
Labour had promised a referendum on the constitution. So there was an escape route: rechristen it a Treaty and claim that the referendum was unnecessary. To their eternal shame, the Liberals acquiesced. Yet no one outside the Labour and Liberal parties doubts that we are dealing with the same book in different covers. To argue otherwise would be as convincing as a burglar claiming to be wrongly indicted because the police were alleging that he had broken in through the kitchen, when it had in fact been the dining room.
Just like the constitution, the Lisbon Treaty takes major steps towards establishing a European super-state. The EU would have a president and a foreign minister. The EU's courts would be given substantially enhanced powers, including the right to intervene in criminal justice. The Charter of Fundamental Rights would create enormous scope for intervention. Much of the Treaty is fuzzily written; that will offer no protection. Over the years, we have learned that the EU courts always put a federalist gloss on any wording.
The EU already possesses a national anthem, a flag, a parliament, a judiciary, a currency and a civil service. With the additional powers in this Treaty, there would be a further acceleration towards statehood. That is not an illegitimate aspiration. But in Britain at least, it would become illegitimate if it were implemented by lies and broken promises. Far more than MPs' expenses, that would strike at the integrity of our political system and violate the compact between government and people.
Because Parliament has been discredited, there is a lot of talk about procedural and constitutional changes. Nick Clegg is blowing the dust off every daft proposal for electoral reform that has been mouldering in his party's archives for the past half-century. He claims that he wants to reconnect Parliament and people. As he too broke his word, promising a referendum and then failing to vote for it, he does not deserve a hearing. Nor does any other soi-disant reformer who fails to denounce the Labour fraud.
There is a further test which should be applied to anyone who claims to be in favour of reform. This Thursday, those of us who do vote – the turn-out will deserve to lose its deposit – will have to plump for a party list. You might decide that although you like Boodle, you are not so keen on Coodle and would prefer Duffy. No good: you will have to opt for all the Boodles or all the Duffys: one reason why so many voters will invoke a plague on the lot of them and stay at home.
It would be hard for a British government to change the system, for it was ordained by Europe. Given the disagreeable necessity of holding elections, it is natural that the EU should devise as restrictive a procedure as possible. But anyone who does believe in democracy should demand an end to the tyranny of the party list. Anyone who refuses to do so has thereby trashed his reforming credentials.
Apropos changes to the system, David Cameron has two difficulties. The first is minor. He intends to withdraw his party from the EPP-ED, the vaguely right-of-centre federalist grouping in the European Parliament. This has upset Angela Merkel. Sixty-four years on, some Germans still cannot accept that other nations are entitled to make free choices. It has also upset Chris Patten, Leon Brittan and sundry other federasts, blessedly plotting as ever. But Mr Cameron has enjoyed his talks with Eastern European anti-federalists and looks forward to further cooperation in a new group.
The Treaty is a bigger problem. What does he do if it is ratified by the time he reaches No 10? The federasts hope what some Tories fear: that he would accept his defeat. But there is an alternative. Hold the referendum which Labour promised and, assuming a "no" vote, insist on a renegotiation. That would not be easy. Stuart Wheeler, the Tory donor and all-round bon oeuf who has temporarily defected to UKIP, has offered to bet Mr Cameron £100,000 that there would be no referendum.
It would be insider trading for David Cameron to take the bet – which is just as well for Stuart, as he would lose. Whatever his surface charm, Mr Cameron has a stubborn core and a powerful Anglo-Saxon sense of fairness. He will not knuckle under to a Treaty imposed by fraud.
As for the renegotiation, Frau Merkel should look up the history of Margaret Thatcher's rebate in the early Eighties. Without ever threatening to leave Europe, she reduced a succession of summits to rubble. If the other member states insisted that Britain is bound by a Treaty which was lied into being, there would have to be a lot more rubble. But it would help if the sovereign people paid less attention to Douglas Hogg's moat and rather more to the moat of laws and sovereignty which has defended our freedoms over the centuries.
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