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.