Writing a puff for his pamphlet: "The New Case for Europe" in The Independent today, he tells us that "progressives" – whatever they might be – "should argue for the [EU] constitutional treaty on its merits." To the running of Europe, he writes, it will bring "greater clarity, greater effectiveness and greater democracy."
Yet, in the same piece, he writes:
Alongside the advance of the domestic "progressive consensus" that New Labour has created, victory in the referendum will be the third term fulfilment of the Blair premiership and we would, in the process, achieve an irreversible shift towards a more social-democratic Britain.The paradox here is highly visible. On the one hand, Liddle asserts that the constitution will bring us greater "democracy" and, on the other hand, it will bring an "irreversible shift" to a more social-democratic Britain.
The point here, of course, is that "social democracy" is a very specific political construct, associated with the centre-left and is, in its nature, inimical to the values of the Right. Therefore, in one fell swoop, he implies, the constitution locks in for all time a centre-left political model in Britain, irrespective of what government happens to be elected.
This might be highly desirable to the likes of Mr Liddle, but democracy it ain’t. The man is advancing a self-contradictory argument, without – apparently – even being aware of it.
Nevertheless, that is the case argued, soon to be published by the Fabian Society for an extortionate price that will ensure that it is largely unread. But at least it has got the egregious Liddle a headline in The Independent, which picks up another theme introduced by the great sage, that: “Labour must prevent the disaster of a referendum defeat”.
"Labour cannot afford to let the case for Europe go by default," he argues. "Lose on Europe and we lose one of the crucial progressive platforms for the advance of modern social democracy."
A defeat would be an unmitigated political disaster. Far from taking the troublesome issue of Europe off the political agenda, it would make the future of Britain's relations with Europe the central abiding preoccupation of Labour's third term. A "no" would be a huge advance for the forces of the right: the closet "withdrawalists" who cynically regard the referendum as the first step in a two-stage process to detach Britain from Europe.
For his prescription on how to win, Liddle says that the worst argument for the treaty is to focus on what it isn't, rather than what it is:
Europe cannot simply be explained to the British people as a "free trade area" vital to our prosperity. We cannot continue to peddle what first became the establishment consensus under Macmillan, that there was "no alternative", with each step in European integration presented as both "inevitable" and constitutionally insignificant. The significance of building a new potential for political action "beyond the nation state" has to be justified, not underplayed.Social democrats, therefore, should make a bold progressive argument for Europe:
Without the full potential of the single market, Labour's ability to sustain high public spending and high-quality public services will be impaired. Secondly, separated from the EU, Britain would cut its ties to a "social market" model for economic development which embeds values and a framework of rules that promote social justice and environmental sustainability. We would cease to be bound into a distinctive European model for growth: the only available modern alternative to the post-war model of nation state social democracy that is now unrealistic.There we have it again: without the constitution, Britain would cease to be "bound into a distinctive European model for growth", the emphasis (without asking the embarrassing question, like, er.. what growth?) being on the word "bound". Mr Liddle wants to bind us into the "distinctive European model".
Third, outside the EU, Britain would stand alone, in a world where China, India and Brazil emerge as economic powers. We may convince ourselves that a New Labour Britain represents a uniquely successful model of progressive advance, but outside the EU, we lose our capacity to multiply our influence, shape globalisation and be an effective force for good in the world.
Bound within this model, he is quite happy that we destroy the "transatlantic bridge" that forms our special relationship with the US and instead become a "US-friendly partner within the European camp". The "realistic progressive goal" is then to build a more equal partnership between a more united and effective Europe and a genuinely internationalist United States.
So, when general election night fires the gun for the start of the EU referendum campaign, the Labour Party must be confident of its pro-European values. It must insist the party's collective leadership stands up for them.
"While it is possible to be pro-European in the modern world without being on the left," says Liddle, "it is impossible to be on the progressive left without being a pro-European."
And, if Liddle is right and we agree to the EU constitution, it will be impossible to espouse any political values other than those dictated by the "progressive left". Thus speaks the great democrat.