Tuesday, January 22, 2008


What Nick Should Have Said…

Nick Clegg was on the Today Programme from about 7.20 this morning. He was very strong, succinct and to the point on our new Health proposals, saying that if you want localism you need to put your money where your mouth is – unlike Labour and Tory ‘decentralisation’ where big government still dictates the cash. But he was forced onto the back foot over the Lisbon Treaty, and came back to his occasional Leadership contest soundbite of “um er um er” (though now recovering from it more swiftly). Jim Naughtie wanted to force him into saying he backed the Labour Government. Nick didn’t want to fall into that trap, though he might consult Paddy’s more trenchant defence of backing the Conservative Government over Maastricht because we believed in it – though at the time we were also the only party in favour of a referendum. The trouble was, he sounded shifty, and didn’t have a simple, knockout soundbite to make his case.

Now, I’m not convinced Liberal Democrat opposition to a referendum is right. My instinct is to have a referendum anyway, and the party’s never had a chance to vote on it; unless you count the clapometer on Ming’s speech in Brighton last year, or a Leadership vote between two candidates with the same position, the nearest we’ve had is the FPC’s arms being twisted by Ming for The Manifesto That Never Was. It’s not as clear a no-brainer as the huge constitutional changes in Maastricht – Lisbon is on nothing like the same scale, and it was the Tories who blocked a referendum then. It’s not as clear a no-brainer as the dead-in-the-water Constitution – Britain doesn’t have a written constitution, so any constitution, no matter what it said, would have been by definition a whacking great constitutional change. The Lisbon Treaty is mainly a tidying-up exercise and fiddling round the edges. Despite that, my presumption is in favour of asking the people. However, within the Liberal Democrats that ship appears to have sailed. What I can’t understand is why Nick, knowing this is a big issue, doesn’t have a better answer for his position.

So here’s a suggestion for our new Leader. Next time he’s asked, and pressed either to say he’s backing the Government or sound like he’s wriggling, taking several minutes even to clarify whether we’d abstain or not, try this:
“It’s very simple. There are two referendums we could have. A referendum on the Lisbon Treaty is a waste of time. The Treaty’s a pile of tedious bureaucracy – what’s the point of wasting the British people’s time with it? So we’d vote against that, but we are the only party that supports a referendum on the big issue: Europe, in or out. When you ask who we’re supporting, we’re supporting the Liberal Democrat position, which is to give the British people a say on the main issue. Labour doesn’t want to give anyone a say on anything; the Tories are afraid to give the British people a say on the big issue, and just want to waste time on Euro-nerd trivia. That’s the difference.”
Update: Lib Dem Voice is kinder, and has links for you to listen and make up your own mind. Of course, it’s always possible that the Speaker may not allow us to have a vote on the big issue referendum. But the other night he wouldn’t even allow a referendum on the Euro-nerd trivia issue when they were debating the Euro-nerd Trivia Treaty. So that’s less of an embarrassment for the Liberal Democrats than it is for the House of Commons, who voted in a Speaker who’s more interested in fixing things to save the Labour Government’s arse than in any sort of Parliamentary democracy.

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