Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Give me the opportunity my parents had

'Referendums are crude, cynical devices that have nothing to do with the will of the people'. So says Steve Richards in this morning's Independent. Now I've met Steve, only once mind, and he was a thoroughly decent friendly and nice chap, however, he does have a tendency to write some of the most bizarre things sometimes. I'm sure some commenter will say he is 'NuLiebour stooge' but really, Steve, you cannot honestly believe your statement can you?

Steve's argument goes like this. The people who want a referendum now on the Lisbon Treaty, or even the in/out question, only want it because they know they can win it. He then cites the historical evidence that suggests Labour eurosceptics lost interest in referendums after 1975 once they lost. I guess too that some will (and have) pointed to the Tories that didn't see the need for referendums on the Single European Act or Maastricht as well. Thus the charge of opportunism and hypocrisy comes crashing down.

Here's the problem though. I was born in 1975, I was a kid when the SEA was ratified and I was a teenager dealing with teenage things when Maastricht came along. I'm 32 now, I was born in England, a subject in Her Majesty's United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I am now a citizen of a proto-state called the European Union where my voice is meaningless and powerless to change anything that comes down from Brussels. Tell me Steve, where was my choice in that? My parents voted on a referendum joining a Common Market, I didn't, and it's beyond idiocy to suggest that is what I am in now.

I don't want a referendum because I think I am on the winning side. I want one because I look at the EU and I find myself asking, what exactly is the point? Why are we members of something which takes billions from us each year and even with Thatcher's infamous rebate gives us less back? How can anyone ever describe that as a good deal for Britain? I know what the europhiles will say of course. They will tell me that the EU protects workers, gives us social rights, lets us trade cheaply. Well let me tell you something, if those things are so good and so necessary why can't we do it ourselves?

The answer is simple of course. We can't do it ourselves because those that support such obsessively interfering policies are actually in the minority in Britain. It requires us to be in the EU Club where we exercise limited sovereignty, thus becoming a small part in a Marxian greater whole, that allows such things to be shoved down our throats. The Social Chapter and the maximum working week is a great example of something that would never pass into law if Britian was on her own. As for the trade argument, the idea that overnight European companies like EDF, Mercedes et al would suddenly stop wanting to make a profit from us is, well, it bollocks.

Supporting a referendum is not some clever tactic based purely on confidence in the outcome. It's about letting people like me, who are in the EU thanks to the decisions of our parents, have that chance that their parents had. It's not about party politics either, there is diversity of opinion throughout the parties on the matter, but, thanks to the media and party system itself there has to be a line, and deviation is a 'row'. That puts the terms of any debate in a disingenuous starting position.

All the parties promised a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty, and, no matter what anyone says, the Lisbon Treaty is largely the same, crucially its self-amending clauses remain. There will be no need for more treaties after this one. Policy change at the EU level, the relinquishment of sovereignty, it will all be done behind closed doors and majority voting will allow so called vetoes to disappear in the blink of an eye. That is a very dangerous situation to be in, it has a almost Politburo feel to it in fact . We fought a Cold War against the Soviets yet now we are sleepwalking into a body politic that is eerily similar. We even have a fake lifesaver Parliament or more correctly, Duma.

Simply casting aside those that want a referendum as cynical opportunists is exactly the sort of high-minded patronising attitude towards the ordinary bloke on the street that engenders disgust and mistrust of politics. We proles are to be led, not consulted, and especially not consulted if our view may be not to the liking of those in power. The House that Jacques Delors built was not what was voted for 32 years ago, and a vast number of those that voted are dead anyway.

I want a referendum to let the country either reject or affirm its commitment to 'the project'. In fact I would even be happy for there to be an Act of Parliament that enshrined constitutionally that every 10, 15 or 20 years there was an reject/affirm referendum on membership. If the EU is really not a state there ought to be no problem with such a Bill. If it really is just a club that can be joined or left at ease then it should be subject to review by the generations periodically as a matter of safeguarding. Why should we bind our children, and why should Parliament be allowed to bind sucessive Parliaments? (something that I thought it could not do).

It may well be true that the politicians calling for a referendum now are doing it for opportunistic reasons. However, don't forget that the hundreds of thousands of us that are not politicians and still want one are not quite such simplistic Machiavellian creatures.


Barnacle Bill said...

Here, here!
I fully support every word you have written Dizzy.
The EU now is a completely different animal from the Common Market we joined many years ago.
I don't want some gravy train riding politician in Bruxelles deciding my grand children's future, I want a British MP doing it.
If we were not an island nation then maybe we should be joined politically to those countries we are geographically linked to, but we are not.
We're British not European!

Robert Davidson said...

I have a real problem in choosing how to vote in such a referendum. I think the concept of the EU is a good one, and many of the practical changes over the last 30 years have been very positive. (Some of us are old enough to remember how hard it was to travel and do business around Europe in the old days.)

The problem is that as the EU moves further into areas of social and foreign policy the structures that made it possible to drive through trade and other economic reforms which were mainly technical and involved business lack the necessary democratic feedback and controls.

Ideally if the EU wants to be allowed to take more direct influence and control over the lives of its citizens then there should be a move to a directly elected leadership and a parliament with real teeth to hold the executive to account. Instead we have a mechanism whereby the control is exercised through the medium of the elected governments of member states.

Probably the main reason why the UK is the most Eurosceptic country in the EU is that its citizens no longer trust the UK government to be straight with them or to fight for their interests.

Apart from the obvious language issues I don't see why the citizens of Europe should not have a directly accountable leadership. If we are not mature enough to do that then we should not concede further powers to the EU.

So while I am not ready to vote to withdraw from the EU, neither am I willing to grant it further powers until it sorts out its organisation to make the institution and its leaders fully accountable to the citizens.

Voting NO to the Lisbon treaty would give the same message ad the French and Dutch gave in 2005. No extension of powers until you show you can use the current powers more responsibly, and no extension of powers without more democratic accountability.

Only the deaf Zanu (and the stupid lib dumbs who challenge us to throw the baby out with the bathwater) can't see that people are not stupid and know a pig in a poke when they see one.

Cassilis said...

Strong post although I think you misunderstand him - his arguments about the cynicism of politicians hold up.

I'm with you on the need for a referendum (see here) but that doesn't mean our entirely justified grievance isn't being exploited by a political class who know they can't lose this one.

dreamingspire said...

And by 1975 this country was going downhill, having tried to match the USA in many things industrial but losing out. Mainland north west Europe countries were moving ahead with their own initiatives, not copycat. We had failed to become a successful mid-atlantic island. The EU gave us wide improvements that we would not have done ourselves, and is still doing it. But we (like the USA) are a common law country in a union with many countries that have civil law structures, and it is that which is at the heart of much grief in our relationship with the other EU countries. Common law gives us great freedoms, which attempts to incorporate EU law are putting at risk.

Anonymous said...

We should only listen to:

a) people who want a referendum but think they won't win; or
b) people who don't want one but think they would win.

Every else is an opportunistic cynic.

Or perhaps they aren't.

dizzy said...

"It may well be true that the politicians calling for a referendum now are doing it for opportunistic reasons."

David said...

Has there not been a monumental failure to communicate by all parties? The chattering classes, or some of them, may have an inkling that there is a difference between a treaty and a constitution, and some again will know why there should (or should not) be a referendum. But the large majority have no idea what's going on, what the issues are, why people should demonstrate outside Parliament, or even who their Euro MP is. The public needs explanatory media showing as objectively as possible what is now decided in London (or Edinburgh etc) and what is not, and why it matters. Politicians from the governing party can get almost anything through about Europe because so few people understand the issues.

haddock said...

I remember well the 1975 referendum; the masses were told that there would be tax harmonisation across Europe ...and the proto-chavs all voted for cheap booze and fags.... there was no talk of political union.
Even the bit they did promise turned out to be a lie, we never did get our cheap booze and fags.

Anonymous said...

"Referendums are crude, cynical devices that have nothing to do with the will of the people"

Eh? People vote, they voice their opinion, they show the politicians what they want to happen. Seems simple enough to me!

Kay Tie said...

"Why are we members of something which takes billions from us each year and even with Thatcher's infamous rebate gives us less back?"

That is the weakest of all the reasons you've cited. It's almost not worth discussion, because mere billions are chump change to New Labour. Our Government has lost £3bn a year on carousel fraud because of inadequate controls. It lost billions more in tax credits through poor administration and fraud. The ID card project is going to piss £19bn up the wall. The NPfIT NHS project has wasted at least £9bn. The Olympics bill has jumped by £6bn through incompetence.

By comparison with our Government, the EU looks like good value for money.

Anonymous said...

The fundamental justification for a referendum, and not just for an act of parliament, is whether a treaty will change the powers on which we elected said parliament. The Lisbon treaty, just like the Maastrict and Nice treaties before it, clearly changes the competencies on which Parliament has power to legislate within the UK. Therefore, a referendum is clearly required in order to ratify the change, just as approval of both parties is required in order to change a legal contract.

David Boothroyd said...

If there was a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and it produced a 'no' vote, then the UK would remain a member of the EU based on the existing treaties which we have ratified.

It's actually ahistorical to say that the 1975 referendum was purely about a free trade area. The UK had been in a free trade area but had left it to join the European Communities. It was made clear that being a member of the EC would impose obligations on Britain, which would be agreed through the EC's political structures. The campaign naturally concentrated on the impact which EC membership was having then, rather than 33 years later.

The EU largely expresses its democracy through the governments of the member states, rather than directly (indeed until 1979 there was no direct link between the individual and the EC institutions). The point Eurosceptics have to address is that constant complaints about the unaccountability of EU insitutions have an obvious answer: subject them to direct elections. Yet theirs are the strongest voices to be raised in opposition. Would you like a directly elected EU executive?

dizzy said...

The EU largely expresses its democracy through the governments of the member states

Hahaha are you smoking crack or are you chasing the dragon instead today?

The point Eurosceptics have to address is that constant complaints about the unaccountability of EU insitutions have an obvious answer: subject them to direct elections.

I have a more simple answer. Leave.

Anonymous said...

I can see the logic in Richards' argument, but the the position of honour ant trust that we place in our politicians is in grave danger if they insist on being elected on false promises.

David Boothroyd said...

Leaving the EU would leave us still largely bound by its decisions, as most of our large trading partners are EU member states, and they set the terms of trade. However we would be unable to influence any of the decisions any more.

However, if you do want to leave, then no doubt you'll support ratifying the Lisbon Treaty which includes provisions allowing member states to leave the EU. Although member states could leave without the ratification of Lisbon, the process will be made a lot easier and on more favourable terms by the procedural changes embodied in Lisbon. (In keeping with the general approach of the treaty which improves procedures but does not fundamentally change the EU)

I can't help observing that your inability to observe basic standards of common decency has been demonstrated yet again. Some of us believe we can have a civilised discussion with those who have different opinions. I see this is another aspect in which we are not in agreement.

dizzy said...

Leaving the EU would leave us still largely bound by its decisions, as most of our large trading partners are EU member states, and they set the terms of trade. However we would be unable to influence any of the decisions any more.

This argument is the same very boring and complete crap one because it assumes that we would not be able to trade easily. It's nonsense, we have a huge market place that our "trading partners" want to tap for money. The idea that we would be disadvanatged when they want to sell to us is just crap. Added to that why be in a protectionist racket that ensures that Africa remains poor. Better to be out and trade with Africa and screw of the insulated farmers of Europe I say.

Re, exit clauses. We've signed treaties you fool, when you don;t want to party to a treaty you know what you do? You say, we're not party to this treaty anymore. See Russia and ICBM. The idea that we would have to go through some complicated procedure to quit is nonsense. As for it being more "favourable terms" under Lisbon, what on earth does that mean. When a treaty is broken it;s broken on the terms of the nation breaking it. i.e.. they break it. Done.

I can't help observing that your inability to observe basic standards of common decency has been demonstrated yet again.

What you mean by suggesting that you're off your head? I beleive in civilised discussion, but I also believe that civilised people swear. The fact that I think you're an idiot helps though. My website at the end of day, if you don't like it sod off.

Anonymous said...

You say

"My parents voted on a referendum joining a Common Market."

I wish we could all keep this straight. They voted on "should we stay in the EEC". Not should we join.

We've never been asked.

If it is such a wonderful thing - argue the case and then we'll vote on it.

They won't of course; just like they won't ask us about capital punishment or importing lots of foreigners.

Gareth said...

"Better to be out and trade with Africa and screw of the insulated farmers of Europe I say."

Free trade not fair trade. The honest way of letting Africa trade it's way out of poverty. Reconnect with the Commonwealth and leave the EU members crying into their half litres.

I'm surprised Gordon Brown hasn't jumped at the chance to save more brown babies this way.(And I'm sure it would play well with all but the staunchest of gravy train Europhiles.)

Trade is clearly a two way exchange. The idea only one party gets to set the terms is a bit silly - too protectionist and the other party buggers off!(Or complains to the WTO)

Trixy said...

David, why on earth do you think that it would take signing up to another treaty for the UK to leave? I know you're a civil servant bod, but please, give us some credit. If we want to leave the EU then we the Act of Parliament which took us into it in the first place.

And as a sovereign state we wouldn't have to abide by EU laws if we didn't wish to. Now, I know that the EU is rather fond of killing people in the developing world by keeping them suffocated with poverty and using such non tariff barriers to trade but what people like you don't seem to realise is that there is a world outside your fortress Europe which is a lot more important than a group of countries who think that they should be subsidised by the British tax payer for being allocatively and productively inefficient.

And as for the EU and democracy, it has no care for it. Why else would they be happy for the power to be in the hands of the unelected and unaccountable civil servants of the EU. Why else would it repeatedly ignore referendum results when they vote no, why on else would they be keeping back the date of the Irish referendum to damage the no campaign? And why would they lie to the people who have to suffer under their regime?

tory boys never grow up said...

"The House that Jacques Delors built was not what was voted for 32 years ago, and a vast number of those that voted are dead anyway."

Not that vast a number - it is estimated that the average age of the electorate at the next General Election will be 58.

And no I wasn't able to vote in the 76 referendum either - although I do rembember arguments with my Dad who was in favour.

You may be right that a referendum is needed on whether we stay in the EU or not - as that is what the debate is really about and it does really need to be drwan to some sort of conclusion. Lisbon is just a side issue - if the EU is to stay together in any workable form (which is the position favoured by all the major parties) then something like Lisbon will be necessary. They have tried for years to find something that will make the enlarged EU work - and if we really want to be in the club then we need to accept Lisbon or to put forward something else which has a cat in hells chance of getting agreement. Anything else is just wrecking.

If there was vote on the Lisbon referendum and the vote went against - what you propose as a supporter of a pro EU party in order to allow the EU to continue to function?

You may wish to leave - but the vast majority of people voted for parties that supported continued membership of the EU at the last General Election - and like it or not that view would have to be respected if there was a no vote on Lisbon.

As for the stuff about the EU being Marxian and Duma's etc. that really is just hyperboile which bears no analysis.

dizzy said...

"If there was vote on the Lisbon referendum and the vote went against - what you propose as a supporter of a pro EU party in order to allow the EU to continue to function?"

Am assuming that was meant to say "what dfo you propose". First up, I am not actually a member of a political party, pro or anti EU. Second, the EU has been functioning for a numebr of years now on the basis of Nice, so the idea that it couldn't is just silly.

As for the Maxian comment being hyperbole, I have actually read Marx and the point related to the reality in isolation the separate elements of power come togteher to form a far greater whole of power that transcends the power that is beleived to exist at a lower level. It is an analogy very in keeping with the the dialetic principle Marx pushed in the German ideology.

Regarding the Duma, the Parliament in the Soviet union (and Russia now) was a largely pointless instrument used to give the perception of Parliament power and liegitimacy. That's the same for the EP now. So it's not hyperbole that bears no analysis. It may be hyperbole that you cannot analyse becuase you didn't understand it, I'll grant you that much.

Anonymous said...

"those of us who aren't politicians" . . .

I think if you stand for election under a political party banner, Dizzy, that rather makes tou a politician, even if you don't win the local council seat.

dizzy said...

Oh dear what a piss poor pathetic argument, no wonder you didn't want to put your name to it Robert. For a start, as you very well know I was a paper candidate who was making the numbers up like the rest. Second, the implication that because one can weakly imply someone was something once they are therefore not allowed to say that they're not something now. It's a bit like trying call George Galloway a Labour man. The fact of the matter is this, I am not a politician, I have no intention of being one. Should someone ask me to be a paper candidate somewhere and were I member of their party I might do it if I knew I was not going to win. The point you're trying to make is completely moot.

Little Black Sambo said...

I just want to say your original article was excellent & I have nothing to add. You have been the soul of patience in answering the objectors.

Evil Clanger said...

The majority of people in the UK want to leave the EU but are being denied the chance to express this desire through the ballot box as none of the major parties supports leaving the EU. I would say that makes parliament a pretty unrepresentative body.

I'm very keen to leave as I don't feel that continued membership sits well in our culture. I hate its top down imposition of cold, faceless uniformity and its holier than thou, know it all arrogance and having worked in Brussel (it's in Vlaanderen not Wallonie) I've had it in my face on many an occasion.

One thing I would love explained to me; why is the default in the EU parliament for members votes to be concealed from their electors? I find that very, very odd.

Anonymous said...

evil clanger: the default in the Westminster parliament is also for Members to vote with their voice. If the Chair cannot determine which side is in the majority, a division is called and the names voting for or against are recorded.

Similarly in the EP: voting is done by putting hands up in the air. Only if one of the political groups have requested it is there a roll-call vote (i.e. electronic recording of names) - or if the President cannot easily determine which side is in the majority. (Except that in the EP the President or Vice-President frequently cocks the vote up).

Sometimes fiction is stranger than the truth.

ps - my name isn't Robert, but it's enjoyable to wind Dizzy up now and again.

Bretwalda Edwin-Higham said...

The single most telling thing against the EU, in my book, is the EU Armed Forces, now practising in Africa.

Diablo said...

"..absolute power tends to corrupt." Is that the right quotation?

Either way the EU is a corrupt institution in every sense of the word. If we stay in we should concentrate on making it more open and accountable. If we get out it means that the British people have all voted for UKIP!

Both propositions are equally unlikely.

Ed said...

Dizzy I agree with your post and your comments but I am still not sure which bit of the treaty allows it to be self amending, can you point me in the right direction?

Anonymous said...

In 1975 i voted no i worked in France,petrol was more expensive and they had V.A.T.The popular thought was better trade cheap fags,booze and passports would no longer be needed for Europe.Trade it seems we are in deficit,fags are the new leprosy,booze is the new antichrist and about to be priced accordingly and passports,you have to undergo an inquisition to get one.The other day Kennedy of booze and fags fame was asked what was good about the European Union and he said it had stopped wars,or words to that effect.That was it nothing more and that was the ex LibDem leader,i thought it was nukes and the concept of M.A.D.Europe worst thing that ever happened to Britain.

Anonymous said...

Tony Blair agreed to a referendum on the old constitution when it was only a broad outline of a plan.

So if there were no definitives on the old constitution but a referendum was agreed, how can labour say that this treaty is different.

the only clear difference is that now we have diffinetives and labour and the Lib Dems have broken a promise they made during the last election