Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ming Makes it Up as he Goes Along

Imagine if David Cameron had issued a statement yesterday calling for a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union. The press would have been up in arms, wondering if he had lost his collected marbles. Yet that's exactly what Ming Campbell did yesterday. It is a measure of his desperation to grab the political initiative that he did it a matter of hours before his Party's conference was due to start. It attracted a bit of media attention, but most people have been left scratching their heads - not least his own Party. Let's have a look at what Ming actually said...

“We will not know the final shape of the European Reform Treaty until later this year and that is the right time to make the judgement as to whether the changes it proposes necessitate a referendum. My own view is that in its present form the substantial differences between the draft Treaty and the old constitution mean that a referendum is not required.“But I am not prepared to allow David Cameron to lead the Europhobes and their allies in sections of the media, to distort the debate on Europe without challenge.


Fifteen years ago Liberal Democrats demanded a referendum on the Maastricht treaty which established the European Union, but the Conservative government refused it. Today David Cameron tries to pose as a champion of the people but in truth he wishes to restrict the British people to a choice on a narrow question about a treaty of far less significance. I don’t intend to let him get away with offering us such a false debate and such a false choice. “If there is to be a referendum it shouldn’t be restricted to a comparatively minor treaty. It must be a decision about the EU as a whole. Let’s have an honest debate on the European Union followed by a real choice for the British people. That means a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. We would ask the British people the big question - whether to remain in the European Union or not. “I will lead the Liberal Democrats at the forefront of that debate. We will make the overwhelming case for Europe and trust the people to make the right choice.”

I find this logical, er, illogical. Why on earth, if you were a pro-EU LibDem (which Ming is), would you want to put Britain's EU membership at risk? LibDems must be asking themselves that question as they read their morning Guardian. For it is fairly likely that if such a referendum were held today, there would be a 'no' vote.

Stephen Tall writes on LibDem Voice that the real reason Ming has flown this kite is to head of a rebellion on his decision not to back a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty...


This might be one of the first instances in which the Lib Dem blogopshere has made a genuine impact on the party. Ming’s pre-conference interview in which he suggested a referendum was “not necessary” (while floating, but not committing to, the idea of a referendum on the EU) provoked a strong reaction, which perhaps took the party leadership by surprise.

Paul Walter on Liberal Burblings agrees...

Ming made a pig's ear of the original announcement on Wednesday...Ming handled the original thing so badly that he left the whole party's reputation hanging on the rather fragile, and fiendishly difficult to argue, contention that the "constitution" we promised a referendum on in our 2005 manifesto was completely different from the "treaty" now on offer.

Somewhat bizarrely, he then falls into line and agrees that a referendum on EU membership would be a good idea. I would have thought that anything which got an endorsement from Nigel Farage wouldbe deeply worrying for any LibDem.

Jonathan Calder of Liberal England explains further why Ming is wrong...

I rubbished the idea when Keith Vaz came up with it, so I cannot be too respectful of it when it comes from the Liberal Democrat leader.The real trouble is that even if it were possible to win such a referendum by saying "look at those scary right- wingers", it would take the debate on Europe no further forward. This would be a particular problem for the Liberal Democrats...I suspect there is a generation gap here, with older Liberal Democrats wholeheartedly supporting a federal Europe and younger ones being more sceptical...

Jeremy Hargreaves puts his finger on Ming's strategy and reckons it's all about putting David Cameron on the spot...

Having such a referendum would also help us all to understand better where the Conservatives stand. Would they vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’?A lot of Cameron’s supporters would clearly want him to campaign for Britain to leave the EU. But would he really want to do that - deep down, the intelligent man in him must know that that would not possibly be in Britain’s interests - and that it would not too, be in the interests of his attempt to portray his new model Conservative party as withdrawing from the extreme fringes of politics.

Perhaps the best post on any blog on this subject comes from Quaequam's James Graham, who puts a very strong Europhile argument for a referendum on the Constitutional Treaty. He castigates his own party and pro Europeans for not taking the fight to Eurosceptics and ends with a devastating parting shot at Ming Campbell - effectively calling him a lame duck.

I would like to be on the side which argues for giving national parliaments a greater say on EU policy, for an EU citizens’ initiative and for reform of the CAP and CFP. Wouldn’t you? What’s stopping us? The sad answer to that last question is Ming Campbell. If it looks like a lame duck and quacks like a lame duck…?

So Ming's position can be summed up very concisely: bugger the national interest, let's put the Tories on the spot and get ourselves out of hole - that, it seems is what Ming is saying. One of the comments on LibDem Voice is worth a look. Dafs wonders if Ming "is making it up as he goes along".

Quite.

PS Hat-tip to Guido for the gratuitously nicked image.

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Quite Remarkable !! As David Coleman didn't quite say.. Good post, Shane.

One wonders what else it will take for Nick Clegg to come out of the woodwork.

But has Clegg realised that the next General Election could be next April, and that he has already left it too late to depose Ming and build up his own powerbase ??

He may be banking on a bad result in the GE nuking Ming, and then he can fill the vacuum. A bit of a risky strategy, as the next General Election could feasibly wipe out the Lib Dems as an independent party if Ming continues for much longer...

Iain Dale said...

Actually, it was written by me, Iain, not Shane... I couldn't resist it...

Harriet Hamster said...

Strange
I posted this very heading yesterday about David Cameron,and my post was deleted.
HH

Laurence Boyce said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Judith Charmers said...

Wow, this holiday must be really something.

Anonymous said...

Iain you delegated Shane to run your blog while you went on holiday,now buzz off and enjoy your rest,the next thing you will be doing is flying home early because you thought you had left the gas on. :-)

tapestry said...

It seems that eurosceptics and europhiles in all parties, all want a decisive referendum on Europe. Only one person stands in its way - the current Prime Minister still waffling on about red lines.

simon said...

This U-Turn by Ming doesn't surprise me. For a start- the Libbies don't believe in anything; second, i bet their internal polling shows their anti-referendum stance in Scotland is VERY unpopular with the natives. I think you underestimate the power of the 'blogosphere' Iain. Pure political expiediency is the Libbies reason for the U-Turn. After all, they were seen as a 'pro-freedom' party. After helping to pass banning order after banning order (ie) Banning smoking) in Scotland/Wales hence appearing repressive, they are turning off their own voters. The U-turn makes them look even more opportune and shambolic. So in my eyes- nice move Ming!

Jake said...

It's clever politics. The Tory call for a referendum on the new Treaty is an absurd and dishonest alliance between people who want a decision on the Treaty and a larger group who see it as a proxy for a debate on continued membership. This blows open the alliance.

How many of the right wing contributors to this site are in favour of a referendum on the new Treaty because they really believe it represents a quantum leap in European integration? If you are then you clearly haven't read it and know nothing about existing European law. The reality is that most of you favour it as a proxy for a wider debate - Ming is calling your bluff.

Anonymous said...

Ming has it right, let's have an in or out referendum, Vaz said the same thing. what are you all scared of?

Daily Referendum said...

What hope do the Libdems have of getting into power? I'll tell you: one very slim chance by the means of forming a coalition government with Labour after the next general election. We now have two Labour parties: Gordon's Big Labour Party and Ming's Little Labour Party. So now we are seeing Ming being a good Little Labour boy by trying to muddy EU Treaty Referendum waters.

Oscar Miller said...

Is Ming making it up as he goes along or is Gordon Brown making it up for Ming? I'd say this has all the hallmarks of Brownite meddling manipulating the ever weaker Ming. Clearly Brown thinks if he can deflect attention onto a scaremongering vote about leaving Europe (initially implanted in people's minds by the toady Vaz), it will defuse calls for a proper referendum on the real issue - the vote on the European constitution that Labour promised in their manifesto. In my opinion, Brown is, as usual, operating by stealth through one of his many puppets. And by the day Ming looks like a puppet whose strings are about to be cut by his own side. (Either that or as Fraser Nelson suggests he'll end up in the cabinet).

Ed said...

I think that the intellectual snobbery from the pro-EU crowd is disgraceful. They suggest that intelligent people are pro-EU and only the stupid are against it.

It has nothing to do with being "enlightened".

Ed said...

How many of the right wing contributors to this site are in favour of a referendum on the new Treaty because they really believe it represents a quantum leap in European integration?

Jake once again the pros tell the antis they are ignorant and stupid. Thanks.

This treaty is a huge leap - the EU gains the right to sign up to treaties, the ECB and Council become EU institutions, and so on. It is a major step further down the route to a superstate.

The pro-EU lobby have been telling us every step is a small one, but when you add those small steps together...

Ed said...

It would be amusing if Brown's attempts to destroy the Tories actually ended up destroying the Lib Dems.

Jake said...

That's exactly my point, Ed. Why have a referendum on small steps when you can have one one the big principle? The steps you speak of are not large ones, particularly the ECB one given that we are not in the single currency area.

Chad said...

LoL. Ming has done the right thing (who cares the reason).

Let's have a full campaign on the big question which will clearly determine our relationship with the EU for a generation.

This would be a chance to end the divisions for many years, and is an opportunity not to miss (except for those who feel they won't win but have significant personal financial interest in maintaining the status quo) - this criticism applies equally to integrationists and withdrawalists.

Ed said...

The Council becoming an Institution is HUGE. The Council is supposed to be the point at which national governments have their say over the process, but once an Institution it will have to consider its position in light of needing to further the interests of the Union rather than the nations.

We aren't going to be given a vote on the big issue and Parliament cannot be trusted to make decisions on our behalf. So the first step is to have a referendum on the current Treaty.

I don't want an EU Foreign Minister or permanent President. I should be allowed my say on the matter.

tapestry said...

Cameron's strategy is to stop the Constitution and to renegotiate. Brown's is to stop Cameron. Ming being pro a ref on EU total is the same strategy as trying to stop the ref on the con. Both are atempts to subvert Cameron's strategy. Ming - Brown - what's the difference?

Cameron should plug away and keep pushing for the ref on the con. If the Lib Dem conference calls for a ref on the eu total, it will muddy the waters, but Cameron should not be deflected.

He should up the ante later by stating that a subsequent Conservative government would support the Lib Dem position of a ref on the EU total if Brown pushes the treaty through without a ref.

That would clarify the situation nicely.

Anonymous said...

Imagine if Eton Dave had promised to leave the EPP in order to get votes -and then defaulted!

Daily Referendum said...

Tapestry,

I like it!

Got to say Geoffrey is right said...

The way in which the Lib Dems choose whether to support referenda or not is certainly something that I find confusing.

We could have had a radical coalition in Scotland with the SNP, introducing the Local Income Tax, opposing the replacement of Trident and introducing radical Green taxes.

All that was thrown away because the party did not want a referendum on Scottish independence, which we were told would create uncertainty that would damage the Scottish economy.

Now we are told that we support a referendum on whether or not to stay in the EU. What effect on the uncertainty of the outcome would that have on the economy?

Quite a bit more I would have thought!