Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Europhilia and Anti-Democratic Instincts

This Guardian story really says it all about the attitude of most "pro-European" politicians towards the views of the British electorate: essentially, they see them as fools who don't know enough to defer to their betters on the wisdom of surrendering their soverereignty on the altar of that supposed inevitability that is to be the European superstate.

Tony Blair came under attack from the pro-European flank this morning, as he prepared to defend his volte-face on an EU referendum before MPs at prime minister's questions.

The former Conservative deputy prime minister, Michael Heseltine, warned that the referendum will lead to a rash of "scare stories" about Europe, while EU commissioner Neil Kinnock expressed fears that a no vote would "destabilise" the country.


This morning the trade and industry secretary, Patricia Hewitt, insisted the "real argument" in the referendum was whether Britain wanted to pull out of the EU.

"That is why I believe we are so right to have made this decision and say we are going to have a referendum," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

But she refused to reveal when the cabinet was told of Mr Blair's u-turn, and denied all knowledge of the leaks to two Rupert Murdoch papers - the Sun and then the Times - which first published reports of the decision. There had been discussion over recent days running up to yesterday's announcement but the issue had been debated for months, she said.

Ms Hewitt admitted: "There is a very real issue of a lack of engagement, of a lack of trust.

"It is why, amongst other things, I think it is so important that we have decided to have a referendum on the constitution because Europe can't be a project for political elites across Europe.


However, Britain's senior European commissioner, Mr Kinnock, warned last night that a victory for the no campaign would prove hugely damaging to Britain's standing in Europe.

The former Labour leader said that a referendum was not even necessary as the constitution would not change the way that Britain was governed.

"What could be destabilising, and grievously so, is a no vote ... putting in question our engagement in the Europe defined by the shape of the constitutional treaty," he said.

Mr Heseltine last night told Newsnight: "We will have the most appalling scare stories and gross exaggerations.

"Rupert Murdoch [owner of the Sun and Times newspapers] will decide what Britain should think and what Britain should be told."

Patricia Hewitt understands something that Messrs. Heseltine and Kinnock seem not to - that any population of free individuals will naturally deeply resent efforts by their political leadership to bounce them into an arrangement of such moment, and which is likely to prove impossible to pull out of without suffering massive consequences.

The real scare stories here aren't coming from Rupert Murdoch, but from the likes of Heseltine and Kinnock who insist on pushing the same old tired arguments about "destabilisation" and "losing influence in Europe"; what is more, if Kinnock really does believe the lie he's pushing when he claims that "the constitution would not change the way that Britain was governed", he ought not be afraid of putting his case before the public; the fact that he's been reduced to claiming that the constitution is of little consequence, even as he contradictorilly insists that a no vote would lead to serious difficulties, argues strongly against the notion that the proposed constitution is any sort of "tidying up exercise", as one other lying Europhile put it a while back.

As for Blair's u-turn on holding a referendum, I can only say that I find it puzzling that he should ever have held out against the idea, if he really were as serious about defending British prerogatives as he claimed to have been. Considered strategically, the prospect of a referendum would actually have strengthened Blair's hand tremendously during the negotiations over the content of the constitution, as it would have enabled Blair to say "Look, you know I'd love to go along with this, but my voters simply won't stand for it!" whenever some particularly offensive suggestion was floated by the other parties at the negotiating table. That Blair did not take advantage of this strategic opportunity cannot have been due to a failure to recognize that it was there, as Tony Blair may be many things, but an idiot he certainly is not. The conclusion one must come to is that Tony Blair himself is eager to yield far more British sovereignty to the European Union than the majority of Britons would desire, were the choice up to them; all the better to bind Britain permanently to the social-democratic yoke, he must imagine.

UPDATE: Here's a Telegraph article that points out the same thing I have, that by agreeing to hold a referendum, Blair has given himself tremendous leverage in negotiations. There really can't be any explanation for his earlier unwilligness to hold one, other than that he wanted to have an excuse for surrendering a lot more sovereignty than he was willing to let on to the British public.