Harlow selected to test EU referendum

AN Essex constituency is to take part in a pioneering vote to test public opinion on the Treaty of Lisbon, at the same time as the ratification process is going through both houses of parliament.

Graham Dines

AN Essex constituency is to take part in a pioneering vote to test public opinion on the Treaty of Lisbon, at the same time as the ratification process is going through both houses of parliament.

Harlow, which elected Labour's Bill Rammell by the nail-bitingly small margin of 97 votes, has been chosen by the cross-party I Want a Referendum campaign group as one of 10 seats in which a privately organised plebiscite is to be held.

Ballot papers will be send to everyone on the electoral register in Harlow next week and it's hoped that electors will be so vexed with the Government for backing out of its commitment to a referendum that they'll vote in large numbers.

The move comes as the National Liberal Party condemned Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg for his backing of the Government's determination to block a referendum.

At the heart of the matter is whether the Treaty of Lisbon is the rejected European Constitution in all but name, or whether it is so radically different that Gordon Brown is right that a referendum is not needed.

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Robert Halfon, who will be attempting to win the seat for the Tories at the third attempt at the next election, is delighted that Harlow as been chosen.

“The referendums in an initial 10 constituencies will form the biggest public consultation on the EU since 1975, and will increase the pressure on Gordon Brown to call the referendum he promised the British people in 2005,” said Mr Halfon.

The vote is being undertaken by the Electoral Reform Society, which conducts leadership elections of all the major political parties, and each year provides independent balloting services for hundreds of organisations including government agencies, charities, multinational companies and trade unions.

“During February voters in Harlow constituency will receive a pack containing an information leaflet with contributions from both sides of the debate, a ballot paper, and a freepost envelope.

“I have been lobbying hard for Harlow voters to have a right to vote on the European Constitution. The EU constitution will fundamentally affect our rights and have massive implications on how we deal with asylum, crime and a host of other areas.

“It is time to trust the people of Harlow constituency and let us have a say as to whether the Government should hold a referendum and choose whether the EU Constitution is right or wrong.”

Harlow Community Campaigner Colleen Morrison said: “This is simply a matter of trust. I'm no expert but what I do know is that if politicians promise something they should stick to it. Gordon Brown has absolutely no excuse for not giving us a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. I just hope that the people of Harlow will seize this opportunity

Other constituency votes are to be held in Renfrewshire East (whose MP is Europe minister Jim Murphy), Redditch (Home Secretary Jacqui Smith), Bolton West (Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly), Eastleigh (Liberal Democrat leadership contender Chris Huhne), Hammersmith (Labour's Andrew Slaughter), Gedling (Labour's Vernon Coaker), Somerton & Frome (Lib Dem David Heath), Conwy (Labour's Betty Williams), and Pudsey (Labour's Paul Truswell).

Bill Rammell said: “While there has been big press campaign run by foreign media owners on this issue, very few constituents have raised the EU Treaty with me. I do not support a referendum on this issue as this is not a major constitutional change as the EU Constitution would have been.

“The fact that Harlow Conservatives are supporting this ballot, a party financed by at least one millionaire donor who last year was talking of supporting UKIP, shows just how extreme Harlow Conservatives are.

“Harlow Tories ought to concentrate of what matters to people, rather than continuing their obsessive vendetta against anything to do with the European Union.”

The National Liberal Party today launches a website which will give details of how “patriotic Liberals” can oppose Lib Dem support for the Government. “We will make them pay for supporting the EU superstate and denying popular democracy by blocking a referendum on Lisbon,” said national secretary David Durant.

“We intend to give the Liberal Democrats a bloody nose at the next General Election.”

CAMERON COSIES UP TO MAGGIE - AT LAST

IN the headlong rush to modernise the Conservative Party and bury the “bad news” of the Thatcherite era, David Cameron upset thousands of grass roots Tories for whom Lady T walked on water.

Last night >, Mr Cameron was all sweetness to the grand dame of British politics when he presented her with a Lifetime Achievement at a gala dinner in London's Guildhall as part of the Morgan Stanley Great Britons Awards.

The banking and investment company said the award was “in recognition of Baroness Thatcher's enormous contribution to British life.”

Mr Cameron said: “As one of the towering figures of the past 50 years, Baroness Thatcher modernised and transformed our country and once again gave Britain a powerful voice in world affairs. She truly is a Great Briton.'

Baroness Thatcher replied: “It was a great privilege to be Prime Minister of our country during a period when our economy was transformed and our standing on the world stage restored. And I am deeply honoured to receive this very special award.”

Margaret Thatcher led the Conservative Party for 15 years and was Prime Minister between 1979 and 1990, when she was ousted by her own MPs.

Last year she courted controversy by visiting No 10 for tea with the Gordon Brown. Critics of Mr Cameron saw that a snub to him after he had deliberately distanced himself from what many voters considered to be Mrs Thatcher's brand of “nasty” Conservatism.