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