Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Propaganda in the council chamber?

When councillors took their seats for yesterday's meeting, many of them found a copy of this four page colour leaflet awaiting them. It is published by a 'cross-party' pressure group - one that is heavy on the Tories and includes the wannabe Republican Daniel Hannan, but somehow also finds room for Labour's Austin Mitchell. This group, the Campaign for an Independent Britain has a simple aim:

to secure the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972
Good luck with that one, then. The leaflet was planted, it was dramatically revealed, by the venerable Cllr Peter Hollingsworth, the resident Sir Bufton Tufton of the Conservative group.

The leaflet asks a timely question on page 2
what will David Cameron do if and when he enters 10 Downing Street? Will he do the right thing? That, of course, is to give us a referendum on Lisbon even if it has already been fully ratified.
The answer, as we now know, is No.

Back in the autumn of 2007, when the Sun was running a heavy pro-referendum campaign, Dave Cameron saw the chance to make a little hay, so he signed a letter to the paper and included the following promise:

Today, I will give this cast-iron guarantee: If I become PM a Conservative government will hold a referendum on any EU treaty that emerges from these negotiations
In the nature of these fly-by-night dodgy PR geezers, Cameron's guarantee appears to have expired. As he wrote

there's nothing "new" about breaking your promises to the British public.... Small wonder that so many people don't believe a word politicians ever say if they break their promises so casually

Today, Cameron re-engineered his party's policy, running away from a referendum and promising a vague 'sovereignty bill' and to recover powers over employment law, fundamental rights and criminal justice. Dave thinks this is achievable, but he hasn't a hope. The member nations have just completed years of negotiations over the Constitution and then the severely watered-down Lisbon treaty and there is absolutely no stomach to reopen the discussion and prepare yet another treaty - which is what it will take, because it will require agreement of all the 27 members. It is nothing more than a gimmick designed to try to appease his Eurosceptic membership, but there is no prospect of it working and actually considerable danger if Cameron were to try to apply it. Cameron offers the prospect of a Britain isolating itself from Europe, of being a hanger-on unable to affect the direction of travel, rather than being there on the bridge, having a say in the steering. As the French minister for Europe said today

It's pathetic. It's just very sad to see Britain, so important in Europe, just cutting itself out from the rest and disappearing from the radar map.... They have essentially castrated your UK influence in the European parliament

And this could have an effect on our relationship with our cousins across the pond as well.

Louis Susman, the US Ambassador to London, is also understood to have expressed alarm about the “direction of travel” of a party widely expected to take power after the next election... Mr Susman has already used an interview with the Financial Times to express the hope that the UK’s role in Europe “isn’t diminished” after the election. He said it was in the interests of British political parties “to work with their neighbours... Mrs Clinton is said to be worried by Mr Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty if it is not ratified by the time of the next election or seek to repatriate powers given to Brussels in previous agreements.

As for the Sovereignty Bill, that was explored by Ken Clarke in a 2003 report, when he wrote that

Ideas such as a ‘supremacy act’ asserting the superiority of British law or giving the British courts the power to overrule judgements of the European Court of Justice undermine one of the fundamentals of the European Union... Without a universally applicable and enforceable body of European law, the European single market simply could not function as it does.

Hat tip to Left Foot Forward on that one. Ken later described the idea of a Sovereignty Act as 'baloney.'

The reality is that Europe isn't a big issue for most people in this country. Ask them to prioritise the things that matter and that will help to guide their votes and Europe barely registers. The September IPSOS Mori tracker - useful because it regularly asks about issues key to voting decisions - had it at the bottom of the list of 13 issues, with just 3% of those polled citing it as important. Unsurprisingly, the economy scored the most, with 39%. It isn't a hot button issue with the voting public, but it matters a lot to the Conservatives, as a matter that destroyed the last Tory government and left lasting wounds. For years, they've been trying to skim over their divisions over Europe, which has chiefly been achieved by the retirement of most of the Tory Europhile big beasts - Ken Clarke notwithstanding - and an influx of anti-Europeans to the point where the party at large is estimated to be 80% anti-European.

Cameron's fear isn't that a vast horde of anti-EU voters will desert him and decide that the swivel-eyed loon Farage and the UKIP troupe of clowns deserve support, but that his party will appear divided over the coming months. Because if there is one thing we know - and those in the Labour Party know it VERY well indeed - it is that the electorate don't like divided parties who are focussed on their own internal battles and not on running the country. This is a powerful issue for the Conservatives and it still retains the capacity to cause significant damage to the prospect of them forming the next government.

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