In fact, that instruction is itself odd, as Clegg and Ed ‘Duck’ Davey have been wandering the studios of the nation telling everyone that there was no need for a referendum as the Lisbon treaty is sufficiently different from the early constitution. That’s pretty much the government line, so why didn’t the Liberals have the courage of their convictions and vote alongside our people against a referendum? Why cook up this ludicrous doomsday option of a catch-all ‘In or Out’ vote – culminating in the staged mass walkout that would have disgraced a sixth form debating society, let alone a party that claims to be a serious player? None of that was necessary for anything other than base party political reasons.
Then you have the peculiar situation whereby three Liberal Democrat front benchers resign their portfolios to vote against their leadership, but another eight junior spokespeople get to keep their jobs (the other four votes were from the tiny number of Liberal MPs not trusted to speak for the party on anything). That’s either inconsistent or simply hypocritically expedient – they don’t have enough MPs to do all the work, so dropping all eleven would have caused huge problems. I’d expect to see the three senior rebels rehabilitated in due course.
This morning, another Liberal Democrat – Chris Davies MEP – popped up on the Today programme and made sure that he got across the party line that Nick Clegg’s leadership wasn’t in question. The very fact that he shoehorned that statement in – despite not even being queried over it – suggests that it may be very far from the truth. Clegg hasn’t performed well in PMQs lately, his media appearances over the European issue – one where his party should be the most sure-footed of all, as it is avowedly pro-EU – have been flustered at best. If he can’t carry his front bench with him after less than four months, then I think the countdown clock can be started. I’m sure he won’t feel the knives in his back quite yet, but he has to raise his game massively if he isn’t to become the latest former leader of his party. Can we make the leadership race an annual event?
Don't forget, it isn't over yet. The referendum may well be reinserted in the Lords and come back to the Commons to be removed - how will the Liberals vote then? More squirming and manoeuvring for Clegg to come.
And while we’re on that subject, the breathtaking hypocrisy of the Tories never ceases to amaze me. Much of what is happening in the EU today is consistent with the steps taken with the Maastricht Treaty (and others). We never got a referendum then – in fact, Iain Dale’s former boss, David Davis, was whipping the Conservatives through the lobby even as their rebels were being spat on by colleagues.
William Hague (voted against a referendum on Maastricht) argued on the Today programme on Wednesday that the content of the treaty wasn’t important, it was the manifesto promise that mattered. Well, if we’re going to be nitpicky, the manifesto promise referred to the constitution, not the Lisbon treaty – as Nick Clegg has pointed out. Hague then went on to argue that the 1992 manifesto contained a promise to ratify Maastricht, so there had been a choice back then. Well, he’s wrong. It doesn’t. It does promise that the UK parliament would decide on a single currency, with no mention of a referendum on that issue
When or if other members of the EC move to a monetary union with a single currency, we will take our own unfettered decision on whether to join. That decision will be taken by the United Kingdom Parliament.Quite unlike the unequivocal guarantee offered by Labour of a public vote on a simple issue and one that should go to a wider vote outside parliament.