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Thursday, May 02, 2013

It's election day and David Cameron has promised to legislate for an EU referendum - or has he?

A Referendum Bill?
Yesterday on BBC Radio 4's World at One, David Cameron was asked if he would consider "bringing forward" an EU Referendum Bill in this Parliament. He replied:
“I think we need to demonstrate absolutely that we are serious about this referendum; we’ve said we’re going to hold it, we’ve said it’s going to be an in-out referendum, we’ve set a date by which it must be held. I look forward to publishing a bill, to getting support for it, to doing everything I can to show to people at the next election there will be a real choice... So anything we can do to strengthen that offer, as it were, I’m prepared to consider." 
This has been  written up by the media including the Times and the Telegraph as an immediate promise of a vote on legislation in Parliament for an In/Out referendum. With "Conservative sources" telling the Telegraph that "Mr Cameron was prepared to bring forward legislation" and "Downing Street officials" telling the Times that Jo Johnson would be asked to explore the idea of "legislating in this Parliament to guarantee in law that a referendum would take place on the Prime Minister's promised timetable."  It looks like an organised political operation.

So will we see MPs voting on a Conservative Referendum Bill before the election? Perhaps but, this is not all it seems. Firstly, David Cameron has not strictly speaking said anything new. In his big EU speech on 13 January David Cameron had already promised to draft a referendum Bill:
"Legislation will be drafted before the next election. And if a Conservative Government is elected we will introduce the enabling legislation immediately and pass it by the end of that year. And we will complete this negotiation and hold this referendum within the first half of the next parliament."
So what is going on? There are three possibilities:
A) The Prime Minister, under the pressure of the local election campaign, has made a mistake and oversold his previous offer and there is no intention of holding a vote.
B) He deliberately intended to stir up 'positive' headlines to help in the elections with no intention of following through.
C) He is actually intending to hold a Parliamentary vote.

This is a dangerous game. If it is A or B, it could easily get out of hand. We have been here before. On the Lisbon Treaty David Cameron's "cast iron guarantee" of a referendum was no more than a previous restatement of policy but left the impression of a broken promise that is still being felt.
That leaves C. Perhaps David Cameron is actually planning to hold a vote in the Commons. It has obvious political benefits of showing he means business and would allow the Conservative candidates at the next election to point to sitting (Liberal Democrat and Labour) MPs who voted against a referendum and so show the necessity of a Conservative majority.

So how would it come about? Firstly, there is the drafting of the Bill. This is not a problem, there are precedents, not least David Cameron's own very professional Bill to allow a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty before it came into force (the promise he did make and intended to keep).  The real problem is the Parliamentary timetable. There are several possibilities:

1) The Bill is brought forward as a Government Bill in Government time. This would obviously be difficult given Liberal Democrat opposition.

2) The Bill is taken up by a backbench MP and endorsed semi-officially by the Conservatives. This could allow for a symbolic vote, but little chance of it becoming law. 

3) It could be added as an amendment to another EU Bill. If another EU Bill comes before Parliament with a suitable wide "long title" the Bill could be amended to allow for a Referendum. This could again become the subject of Coalition politics.


Average Englishman said...

The answer could be any of the three listed. If the third, which is most likely, he would proceed with the full expectation that his proposals would fail in their passage through Parliament. This is just 'gesture politics' to try and take the wind out of UKIP's sails but it will not work because after Blair, the electorate are more wise and only hard actions will count.
It is obvious Cameron is a closet Europhile who in my view at least, cannot be trusted. We will soon see what the electorate at a whole thinks as well. Meanwhile, this is one 'fruitcake' who must go off to cast my vote for UKIP.

Anonymous said...

Parliament cannot bind its successors. Hence any vote in this parliament could easily be reversed in the next. "We will hold a referendum 3 days after the next General Election." could be revoked by the new parliament immediately after the GE, nullifying the impact.

And past experience is that politicians easily forget "promises" after elections.

Rik said...

This has become a very emotional issue. Which means that people might determine for whom they will vote on things that look from a logical pov completely unimportant. This is imho the first mistake you made in your analysis.

The second one is that this is about winning the war and not about winning a battle. You might even have to lose a battle to win the war.

Cameron has a big problem on the right, largely from the Conservatives own making. Did they really think that at the time when nearly all over Europe populist parties are standing up that the UK would be imune for that. Just was an accident waiting to happen.
Populist might come up all over the political spectrum, but in the UK was was bloody obvious that most likely it would be on the right side. Earlier populists in the North are mainly there, the issues they develop around are mainly rightish. Labour made a move to the middle without splitting (and nothing happened on the left). Cameron was more recent doing that on the right and had to see.

That was the past we cannot change anymore. Whatever some polls say the election battle will for a large part be determined on Europe. Simply because of the fact that the UKIP has that as its main issue. The rest looks very predictable and historically determined (and boring for the media) as well.
Reason why former Conservatives voters moved to the IP are however more complex. General distrust of politics; voters donot feel represented by their party. Parties that are at the side where the populist party rises will always suffer the most.

Cameron has imho 3 major problems to consider on the relation with the IP.
1. He cannot use the economy. It didnot drop as much as Europe but it is hardly a major vote winner. Cameron is probably largely not guilty on that. But nobody asks that question. The buck stops with him.
2. Credibility re the main campaign issue of IP: Europe. He simply will have to work on that. As well as making it realsitic he get reelected.
3. Credibility in general towards potential voters (that Guadianistas will not like him he will have to live with, they will not vote for him anyway).

Re point 2 and 3. Losing the vote on referendum legislation might not be negative. What he cannot do however is getting back on his word. No 'clever' spinning. That doesnot work when you have to restore credibility.

Rik said...

What I miss in Cameron's policies re Europe in the widest sense are the following.

1. Why doesnot he open up more to IP. If Farage pushes away the hand reached it might look bad as a single media event. But it also means that Farage shows that he is only simply a protest party.
And imho one that is overplaying his card. He has the best realistic chance to do something with the Conservatives. Alone he is simply a protest party which as with protest parties at the end of the day nobody takes serious.

2. Cameron has also a credibility issue with his backbenchers. He has to see that that get restored. Having a kamikaze brigade in your own party will not get you reelected. It is both re Europe as well as the way that some apparently think that voters will come back when you call them morons, bigoted ones preferably.
A referendum plus reneg is the best deal for all on the table in Camp Conservative.

3. Potential voters are not going to be convinced if they are called OR TREATED as morons. People have to be taken seriously.

4. Attack on Labour re democracy (referendum) havenot seen much yet. While polls show 15-20% gap (tot vote) between pro-referendum and EU-exit.

5. Strategy as a whole re EU itself looks a bit disorganised. The seperate parts he does great. Nearly always get the best realistic result or very close. Simply looks like an overall strategy is missing.

Rollo said...

What does trust mean? That you accept that some-one's word is his pledge. In the case of 'Cast Iron Pledge Cameron' we know he is a liar, that he would wriggle any way he could to get out of his pledge, that his talk of referenda is merely electioneering and has no meaning whatever. His only interets is himself and his own position; and that is on the rubbish chute.

Average Englishman said...

I agree with much of your comment, particularly that emotion is very much involved but one thing you have got wrong; UKIP is not just a protest party and is about more than that. Also, UKIP do not take their votes only from the right and ex Conservatives. Their politics are appreciated by many ex Labour voters (such as those who cannot find a job and cannot understand Labour's 'let the entire world come to the UK' immigration policy) and others who normally do not vote at all because they are put off by the fact that most UK politicians' say one thing and then do another. Compared with Nigel Farage most of the UK's politicians are snake oil salesmen like Blair and Cameron and the public know it.
I am only a recent convert to UKIP because I am a loyal sort of person who was reluctant to change my party but Cameron has made my decision easy and even if he now changes tack a little to try and convince me he is more Eurosceptic than he really is it will not work. To list a few reasons:
* A diabolical student fees policy that has cost me £100,000 for my children's education that I cannot easily afford.
* A delight in splurging my family's money on EU profligacy and red tape compliance and aid to countries with corrupt management systems and nuclear weapons, (Cameron has nationalized UK aid to the rest of the world so far as I'm concerned).
* A preparedness to ignore the new multitude due to join us in the UK shortly from Bulgaria and Rumania and the continuing stream of people that come in from elsewhere in the EU, whilst our welfare and healthcare systems are at breaking point and there is a massive shortage of decent jobs; - the employment figures are massaged by people like my wife who are in work but at a third of their potential capability and earning power whilst others come in from overseas to keep slaries lower than they should be and take up opportunities that should be there for UK workers. Cameron is complicit in Blair's plot to internationalize the UK's population without any electoral mandate for this massive cultural change.
* A willingnmess to spend £30+ billion on an unnecessay HS2 rail link whilst telling pensioners they should help their country by not taking up their free bus passes.
I could go on and on and on and on.
Yes, I want to protest but I'm in this with UKIP now for the long term and I believe so are many other new UKIP supporters. Nigel Farage is not looking for a deal with Cameron and if he were to sell out for one like Clegg then his fate would be the same: ignominy and the end of his political career.
So, throwing this old dog and the increasing multitude who think like me a bone, just will not do it Dave; we want our country back and it's time for you to go and be replaced by someone who will oblige us. Half measures and promises from proven 'cast iron' liars are not acceptable.

Anonymous said...

Timing affects trust.

Too many people remember too many unkept promises from the Conservatives in general and Cameron in particular. They are not going to buy into this, whatever "this" might turn out to be.

If he had kept (or even tried to keep) past promises, if the Conservative Party had delivered any restriction on EU legislation or changed EU policies or ambitions over the past 30 years then they might have had a chance.

As it is - too little and much too late.

Is there an election taking place?

perdix said...

It never takes long for ukip fellow-travellers (inc Rollo)to bring up Cameron's Lisbon Treaty promise. The mistake which Cam made was not to qualify that it could not take place if it was already ratified (by Brown). A referendum on a ratified treaty would make zero difference. In any case there are insufficient votes in parliament to abrogate the treaty.

christina speight said...

Your question is a trifle naive!!

Cameron has done his usual and I cannot improve on Richard North's description - - "Mr Cameron, it appears, has indicated that he is preparing to hint that he is ready to give serious consideration to thinking about conceding, maybe, that there might be a possibility, sometime, of his schedule permitting him to explore the feasibility of drafting a proposal that might have a chance of going forward, the effect of which will raise hopes that there will be an elevated likelihood of a genuine debate on whether to table a motion suggesting that EU referendum legislation could be placed on the statute book before the next election, or even the one after that. "

Edward Spalton said...

Quite right Christina - statement obviously drawn up by Sir Humphrey Appleby himself.

Cameron was in fact hiding behind the Czechs who delayed ratifying the Lisbon treaty until they got exemptions from the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which would otherwise have laid them open to compensation claims from the descendants of Sudetenland Germans, expelled by the Benes decrees.

In opposition they could easily have encouraged Vaclav Klaus to spin things out a little longer, thus giving an opportunity for Cameron to keep his promise - but they stayed conspicuously at a distance.

My German colleague, Horst Teubert ( www.german-foreign-policy.com) headed his report on the matter "Peace in our Time"

christina speight said...

Perdix - That's the most devious lame excuse I've ever heard!

If he knew all along that he had this 'get-out' that you outline it was PLAIN DISHONEST not to make that clear before the election. It makes nonsense of the 'cast-iron' promise too,

As for your " In any case there are insufficient votes in parliament to abrogate the treaty." . He didn't need the votes in parliament to abrogate the treaty, the referendum would have done that and he could have made a condition of coalition that his "cast-iron' promise was honoured. You canb't have PMs breaking promises can you? Or maybe with THIS PM you can.

You'll go far in today's Tory party. Perdix

Denis Cooper said...

Well, here's one of my comments on Christopher Howarth's article on ConservativeHome:

""Failing that the Bill could be taken up by a backbench MP, such as John Baron, in backbench time and endorsed semi-officially by the Conservatives."

For goodness sake, John Baron introduced just such a Bill on February 6th, initially its second reading in the Commons was set for March 1st, then that was quietly changed to April 26th when the House would not be sitting, and it was allowed to die the death on April 25th when Parliament was prorogued.


"United Kingdom Membership of the European Union (Referendum) Bill"

"A Bill to make provision for a referendum in the next Parliament on the question of whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union; and for connected purposes."

"The Bill failed to complete its passage through Parliament before the end of the session. This means the Bill will make no further progress.""

Denis Cooper said...

perdix -

"A referendum on a ratified treaty would make zero difference"

So what was the point of the retrospective referendum held in 1975, if it would have made zero difference?

denbo said...

Cameron's become so transparent lately I have to adjust the telly just to see his faint outline.

But then again I am curious if this experiment works. We all know a carrot dangling works on a donkey but will it work on sheeple as well?

perdix said...

@christina I don't claim to be an expert in matters constitutional but I fail to see how a referendum result in itself can abrogate a treaty. It would have to be followed by executive action and probably a vote in parliament. I will go far in the Tory party, mostly down many streets delivering leaflets!

Anonymous said...

Our beloved leader David (Blair mark 2) Cameron, has decided we can have a referendum on Europe, but only if we succumb to blackmail and put him back in Downing Street at the next election. This man of broken promises and cast iron guarantees of referendums is nearly as big a liar as Clegg. The referendum unless held in this parliament will not happen, because the tory`s havent got a hope in hell of winning the next election as things stand at the moment. Good way of avoiding keeping a promise isnt it

Rik said...

@Average Englishman
I have nothing against protest parties (or populist) as such. Personally I think they are very useful in linking politics with the electorate again. Probably not in the way most traditional politicians had hoped. But to say it simple they have made a mess of it so they have to bear the political consequences of their ill judgements. Summarised probably best as follows overestimating your own intelligence and skills; wanting to make a difference iso take care thing are running properly; wanting to save the world iso first take proper care of the ones you are suppose to represent.

However UKIP has still imho a lot of characteristics of a protest party. It has started to move to policies on other fields. However its manpower looks still very weak.

Also where they get their votes from looks very similar to what we have seen in several European countries. And eg Merkel is making the same mistake as Cameron does, by moving the party to the middle. Voterbase is simply social/cultural conservatives. And certainly not now when it has become clear that public finance was simply overborrowing and kicking the can you can not get away any longer with the fact that at the end of the day middle groups will have to bring up the largest part of the bill for new things while only benefit limitedly.

Given the British electoral system it is however difficult to see how in anyway but indirectly they could become a major force. Or the Conservatives must completely mess up things, which I donot see happening. Model is there in Europe how to do it Dutch VVD and do not make the blunders Rutte made.

From there it simply it simply looks that Farage is taking a big gamble. If Cameron opens up what he imho should do if he wants to survive, Farage will have a problem.

Anyway the UKIP voterbase simply doesnot look stable. I always call it the political yellow and red card. Usually voters first give a sign (a yellow card), before they really vote different. I get the idea that Cameron is between a yellow and a red card in that respect. But when he moves as he does it will turn more yellow again.

Problem is his that the Conservatives still look that they take their unhappy customers and former customers serious. And Cameron in particular. You never as said before get them back that way. In business you bite the dust come with credible policies, apologise. Hard to see why it should be different here. Probably because it isnot.

Strategic voting. When Cameron is 50/50 with Labour one can expect a lot of voters moving back again for strategical reasons.

Interesting times.

Edward Spalton said...


Many people always said of politicians and parties "They are all the same",

The trouble is that it has become more and more true of the main parties and there is now an increasingly obvious rational explanation. We are only voting for the choice of who will be governor over us for Brussels. Whoever lives in Downing Street, whoever sits in Westminster, it is the EU Commission which always gets in.

The weight of 40 years of accumulated, EU-dictated legislation eithr on the statute book from Directives, or imposed by Regulation or ECJ judgements is now so heavy that, by and large, it doesn't matter who we elect as long as we are subject to the Acquis Communautaire.


Anonymous said...

Gesture politics and not properly thought through. Nobody has commented that Cameron whipped his MPs NOT to vote for a referendum.

Some, probably singing to a CCHQ hymn sheet, came out with lame excuses on why there should not be a referendum. One even conjured up a foreign firm who wouldn't invest in his constituency if there was one. (He was booed in the House for that).

Are these people going to make complete twits of themselves by losing their memory and suddenly deciding a referendum is a good thing?

There could be lots of embarrassment locally. And with pro-EU LibDem and Labour MPs voting against a referendum, we know that the Bill wouldn't go through, so quite a few Cameroon Tories will probably discover urgent constituency business.

Cameron has lost everyone's trust, and only Miliband appearing universally more incompetent can save him - but methinks we still won't get a referendum.


Anonymous said...

Estou de acordo amigos a Sir. Cameron é umeuropista armário eu faços votos que o eleitorado Britãnico diga o sim ao mercado eunico e á UE

Anonymous said...

Well done UKIP for being the only political party that listens to the people!

The snake oil salesmen of the Tories, Lab and Libs are just that, untrustworthy snake oil salesmen.

Cameron has proven to be a closet Europhile with his own agenda. His agenda, I believe, is to be 'The One' that reforms Europe. Well, guess what Cameron? We are just not interested in this anymore. We want OUT.

I live in West London in Ealing (the No.1 UK hot spot for immigration) and have to categorically state that immigration is increasing and is way out of control. Local people are being driven out of their homes ("ethnic cleansing" is a good term) as the local population dwindles school term after school term.

My family and I have finally thrown in the towel as the classes in my childrens' school are now at 28/30 Eastern European in one class and 30/30 in another. Our culture is being thrown out of the window. Ealing has become Ealingski.

I am from an immigrant family and can see that the levels of immigration are just not sustainable, whether from an economic or social perspective.

As someone said to me a few weeks ago, the level of immigration to the UK is synonymous with a disaster occuring close nearby. Is this disaster an earthquake, a war or an asteriod collision?

No - it is the EU and Eurozone melting down their own economies.

Well done Nigel Farage and UKIP! Today is a bright new dawn. I can now see a way to claim my country back from the DISASTER that is the EU.

Finally, I am even happier to see that the City of London has FINALLY realised over the last 2 weeks that forthcoming EU regulation on UK Financial Services is a TRADE WAR.

Bring on the EU Referendum and the UK's exit from this DISGRACEFUL EU organisation!!

Long live the sovereignty of individual nations!

Rik said...

@Edward Spalton
After traditional ideologies were dropped basically a micro economic like equilibrium has formed itself.
For the UK basically meaning that Labour and the Conservatives have roughly a 50/50 to be the top dog and as a consequence both moving to the centre.

Which left the right (and left btw) flank completely open and exposed. UKIP stepped into that.
Simply in a time that all over Northern Europe protest parties came up, making such a move a huge strategic mistake. Take care you keep your customers as it is so much easier to keep a customer than to get a new one.

Another point is that politics have become disconnected from the electorate. There is a general distrust of traditional politics by a large group of voters. And by far not all right. Which means people move more easily.
The EU is another point. It has been used as an excuse for all sorts of impopular policies. Simply all over Europe voters are n ot buying that anymore. Traditional parties wait always too long before such things are adressed.

Anyway it is also clear from the rest of Europe that politics will have to change to the new normal. In general it has made a big mess of it and now the voters present the bill. Europe will simply have to find a way to live with the Farage, Wilders and LePens, whether they like it or not (clearly not).

What was more logical imho is that the Conservatives had a good look at some parties in countries that are a few years ahead of the UK in electoral sense.
It is very clear where the growth market is on the right. People who have been paying the European taxes with their horrendous rates and when they might benefit from it themselves they got hit by one cut after another. There is a no real growth in income period to come a lot of the voters expect that others still hope.

Next to the fact that the next period will at least for the medium future determine where the cuts are made.

In a nutshell it is as simple as half of the traditional Labour voters are entitlementjunkies, They are very unlikely ever to vote Conservatives. If you are representing your voters assure that the hits are taken there.
The overborrowing continuously more government system is most likley close to be coming to an end. Everybody likes to be social until it hits their own wallets. Just make clear that the present level of solidarity means less for them and/or higher taxes.

Growth market on the right is simply: lower-middleclass/middleclass traditionally thinking people who are afraid they will pay the price for all the recent developments.
Much larger group than urban social liberal academics. If you want to be a political party that appeals to roughly 50% of the population, you have to keep your eye on the ball. And the ball is the large groups of voters (and this looks to be the by far largest group on the right).

The left has a much bigger problem long term. They represent basically 2 groups that donot mix well in a budget cut enviroment. Middleclassed former workingclass on one side and structural social basket cases of several sorts on the other.
Starting from nearly going for his/her own interest especially in difficult times this is an unnatural marriage. With good historial reasons, but at the moment a very unnatural one.

Edward Spalton said...

I think Mr Cameron's miscalculation was becoming "the heir to Blair' through looking too long at focus groups. He calculated that traditional Conservative voters had nowhere else to go and that a vote taken from the Lib/Lab side was as good as two votes, being one less for his enemies as well as one more for him.

As a result, he could not win the General Election - even with a gaping open goal like Gordon Brown. Now that UKIP is well and truly on the map, none of Cameron's assumptions hold good. A friend, canvassing for UKIP in a true blue area tells me that homosexual "marriage" was the issue which had really roused people.

Rik said...

@Edward Spalton
Fully agree on Cameron's positioning.
Lousy strategist, assume that the rest will remain in the same place when you are moving.

General election probably always would have been difficult. Clegg looked to do very well and people didnot looked through him yet.

Homosexual marriage was indeed the worst possible timing. My personal ideas are that there should be something for that group and if they want to marry it's fine (as long as it is not with me). However it was at a point of time that it was already clear that he was a year or so too late to act against the IP challenge and there was nothing in that respect. Iso that he proposed gay marriage and pushed it through against the will of a lot of people in his party.
Effectively IP means the Conservatives are in a splitting proces. If you want to be/remain one of the potential governing parties you have to hold the club together, not give them another reason for a split.

David Barneby said...

Cameron and the Conservative Party will lose the 2015 general election ! Cameron has been seen to be a politically dishonest slithy Tove , the same as Blair . In my opinion he has tried and done everything wrong since taking power . I wrote to tell him so after the first year .
The promissed referendum on the Lisbon treaty should have taken place , even if it served no more than showing the people that Cameron was in good faith .
To promise a referendum after the next general election , merely invites people to vote conservative . The British government isn't likely to achieve much if any changes to Britain's relationship with the EU . British Conservative MPs will do their damnedest to retain their parliamentary seats ; but next time it will be in vain . What does it matter what government we have , they are all one worse than the last . Where so much legislation comes from the EU , any government is likely to have the people's knife at their back .
Realistically the EU does not offer a rosy future for any member state . I do not see the Eurozone ever being able to recover , so the supposedly big internal market is drying up . Countries like Germany will have to look abroad for markets in future .
The UKIP will get an even bigger vote at the 2014 EP elections , might even top the Conservatives in the European Parliament .
National governments , not only Danish and British , have got to wake up to the fact that it helps to have the support of the people .