It is a little worrying when one reads something in The Times, agrees with it and then realises that it is written by Peter Riddell. Could this be an early sign of the onset of Alzheimer's disease?
Mind you, some of what Riddell writes is so blindingly obvious that it scarce needs saying, viz, "at some stage over the next two or three years the direction of British politics will change. Tony Blair will leave 10 Downing Street and Labour’s 12-year dominance will begin to end." Yea… would never have guessed that one.
However, the point Riddell is really making is that the turning point is not going to be the general election. The decisive events, he writes, are likely to be further ahead. He continues:
Mr Blair has said that he wants to serve a full third term, but not seek a fourth. This implies another three years or so in office at most. But all this could be changed by the referendum on the European constitution expected in the spring next year. This will be very hard to win unless its supporters can successfully argue both that the EU constitution does not fundamentally alter the terms of Britain’s membership and that a “no ” vote would leave Britain isolated.Says Riddell, the stakes will be very high, which is one reason why so many Blairites remain puzzled, and privately angry, about why he promised a referendum last April. Not only would defeat shatter his European hopes, but the longstanding national strategy of closer British involvement in the EU would have been undermined. After all, securing a "yes" vote is one of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s strategic priorities.
The referendum offers the public a chance to vote against Mr Blair without defeating Labour. If the vote were lost, he would be under great pressure to go. By contrast, a “no” vote would boost Tory morale. Yet it could also encourage hardline Tory sceptics who want a fundamental renegotiation of Britain’s membership, and even withdrawal. Perversely, a “yes” vote, which sceptics would see as a betrayal of British sovereignty, might fuel similar anti-EU demands.
However, it could allow Mr Blair to leave on his own terms, and settle the European question for at least the rest of this decade.
Thus, it is the referendum that could be one of those turning points in British politics. The May general election, fascinating though it will be, will be more like a preliminary skirmish.
As I said. This worries me. I entirely agree. In the grander scheme of things, the general election is an irrelevance. The real game is the EU referendum. That will indeed be the turning point.