Cameron's European nightmare
IF you base a major plank of your foreign policy on events you can't control, then you mustn't really complain that you've been shafted.David Cameron has come an almighty cropper over his promise of a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon.
IF you base a major plank of your foreign policy on events you can't control, then you mustn't really complain that you've been shafted.
David Cameron has come an almighty cropper over his promise of a referendum on the Treaty of Lisbon. For months, he and William Hague have been chanting that the people of the UK should be given a vote which had been promised by all three parties in their 2005 manifestos.
He called his referendum pledge a “cast iron guarantee.”
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The constitutional court of the Czech Republic ruled this week that the Lisbon treaty does not subjugate or suborn member states and therefore is not illegal. President Klaus promptly signed the document, thus brining it into legal force.
Cameron has had to haver, saying this week: “I had always hoped that President Klaus wouldn't sign but it seems that times are changing.”
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It must be desperate times when your whole policy on Europe is predicated on another country doing the dirty work for you.
Despite riding high in the polls as this government continues to slide into a deep hole, David Cameron has come unstuck over Europe, an issue that has divided the party ever since the 1975 referendum held by Harold Wilson.
Right wingers hate the EU. While most don't want the UK to withdraw, they do want a government which will stand up for Britain and stop the advance of a federal state, which has moved a step closer with the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty which creates an unelected president and an unelected high representative (foreign secretary).
Cameron gave his “cast iron guarantee” on a referendum when ratification by other EU states was in doubt. But when Gordon Brown and Tony Blair ratted on their pledge to hold a referendum, Cameron was left to hope that other EU countries would hold up the process until the UK had a new government which would hold an immediate plebiscite.
Now that Lisbon is law, he says - with much justification - that holding a referendum on aspects of Europe policy would be futile.
Instead, Cameron is making a manifesto commitment that he would seek to negotiate the return of powers in areas of social and employment legislation and criminal justice, and a complete opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights.
And he's proposing a United Kingdom Sovereignty Bill to make explicit, in the absence of a written British constitution, which ultimate authority remains with the Westminster Parliament - Labour and the Liberal Democrats will find that difficult to oppose.
What Cameron, Brown and every other senior politician knows but won't tell is that once the Treaty of Lisbon is completely ratified - replacing the Treaties of Rome, Maastrict, Amsterdam and Nice - there can be no further UK referendums on new advances in EU federalism.
Why? Because Lisbon is now the law in all member states and the Treaty says, quite specifically, that it is a document which can amend itself. In other words, it is a supranational legal entity and in future, there are no mechanisms available for states which want nationwide votes to approve any changes to Lisbon
Two leading British Tory Euro MPs, Dan Hannan and Roger Helmer, have quit their positions in the European parliament in protest at their leader's change of tack on a referendum. But Pierre Lellouche, the French minister for Europe, dubbed Cameron “pathetic.”
He added: “It's very sad to see Britain, so important in Europe, just cutting itself out from the rest and disappearing from the radar map.”
Mr Lellouche said the Tories had a “bizarre autism” on the EU and likened their latest moves to their withdrawal from the main centre-right grouping in the European Parliament. “They have essentially castrated your UK influence in the European Parliament.”
He also said there was no chances of European leaders helping the Tories re-negotiate powers at this stage. “It's not going to happen for a minute. Nobody is going to indulge in rewriting (treaties for) many, many years - it's going to be take it or leave it.”
This will not go away for Cameron. He faces months of turmoil in the party, and has to recognise that there is among the wider electorate a deep down Euroscepticism who, rightly or wrongly, feel betrayed.
Speaking for them is Harwich Conservative MP Douglas Carswell, a key ally of Hannan. He insists a referendum is still essential.
“I fully accept that a referendum on Lisbon may no longer be possible, but nobody under the age of 52 has ever had the chance to vote on our membership and our relationship. It's changed quite dramatically since we joined.
“From the federalist point of view, the beauty of the Lisbon Treaty is that you don't need to have future treaties - it's the treaty to end all treaties, it's self-amending.”
LOCALISM IS NOT THE BE ALL AND END ALL
CONSERVATIVES in a safe Suffolk seat have caused a bit of a stir over their decision to ignore local candidates in the selection to choose a successor to Sir Michael Lord, who is retiring after 26 years.
Central Suffolk & North Ipswich Tories have short-listed six candidates, all of whom are on the modernising wing of the party and have the Cameron seal of approval. None has any connection with the county.
On the countdown to next year's general election, the autonomy of constituency parties has been hijacked by Conservative Central Office. In Central Suffolk & Ipswich North, the selection committee seems to have been given little room for manoeuvre and in another innovation much favoured by the Notting Hill Cameroons, there is also to be an open primary to which any elector can register to attend and then vote on who is to be candidate.
I rather approve of open primaries. Malevolents from rival parties could pack the meeting, but there is little evidence to suggest that this has happened at final selection sessions which the Tories have organised in other parts of the UK.
Does it matter that the final six are not local? Why should service on a local authority or running a business give an individual the belief that they would make a good MP?
Local knowledge in a constituency as diverse as Central Suffolk & North Ipswich may be a help in trying to balance the urban needs of Ipswich against the interests of the rural economy in the borough's hinterland, but someone truly local may well have prejudices favouring one against the other.
It is very rare to find an MP of any party for a town or county in which he or she was born, raised, educated, and either employed or owned a business.
If we go look at the 14 constituencies in the EADT circulation area, which MPs were truly when they were first chosen? Ivan Henderson (Labour MP for Harwich 1997-2005) lived and worked in the constituency and Bob Russell (Liberal Democrat, Colchester 1997-date) was born, educated, lived, and was a councillor for the town, although he spent much of his professional life working away.
Bob Blizzard (Labour, Waveney) was one-time leader of the district council, but he was born and privately educated in Bury St Edmunds.
Jamie Cann, Labour MP for Ipswich from 1992 until his death in 2001, was leader of the borough council and a teacher in the town, but he adopted Ipswich, having been born and brought up on Humberside. His successor Chris Mole was educated in south-east London and moved to the town to work for BT Research. He was elected to Suffolk county council for an Ipswich division and was leader from 1993 until his election to parliament.
None of our other MPs passes the localism muster. In Suffolk, all the Tories - Tim Yeo (South), John Gummer (Coastal), Sir Michael Lord (Central), Richard Spring (West), and David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) - are all incomers, although Mr Ruffley lived as a child in the county and Mr Spring married a Suffolk lass.
In Essex, Bernard Jenkin (North) is a Londoner but his wife was raised in mid Essex, Douglas Carswell (Harwich), John Whittingdale (Maldon & Chelmsford East), Brooks Newmark (Braintree), Simon Burns (Chelmsford West), and Sir Alan Haselhurst (Saffron Walden) had no local ties, and neither does Priti Patel, who will be fighting the new seat of Witham.
Mobility of labour is an increasing facet of post World War II life in Britain. MPs are no exception. And if their home area is dominated by another political party, it is understandable and perfectly reasonable that an aspiring politician should try his or her luck elsewhere.
Whoever wins the Central Suffolk & Ipswich North nomination has a passage to the House of Commons. It's a safe seat - for now.
If David Cameron becomes Prime Minister next year, he has promised to slash the number of MPs by 10%, which is likely to mean that the county will lose at least one MP in the boundary shake-up.