Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A threat nearer home


Speculation about the motives of the Tories in last night's piece becomes certainty with the leak to EU Referendum of a passage from a highly confidential briefing document prepared for William Hague by Open Europe, which sets out the strategy on the referendum campaign.

"Rather than focus on 'people need to have a say' arguments," the document states, "we need more tough anti-politics messages – crystalising public distrust and cynicism about contemporary politics."

Open Europe strategists, therefore, are advising the Tories cynically to exploit voters' concerns about the EU constitution as a way of attacking Brown, and only that. They suggest the campaign should be kept exclusively as a "trust issue", contrasting the prime minister with David Cameron. The expectation is that opposition leader will benefit from the "halo effect" of being associated with the demands for a referendum.

This advice has been well received by Hague, who is known to be very close with Open Europe, so much so that it is widely being regarded as his personal "think tank". Furthermore, any other input to the Hague team is being rejected or ignored.

And, as Matthew d'Ancona let slip in the Sunday Telegraph last weekend, the Tories have already decided not to engage with the European Union issue. The is no commitment to winning the fight for a referendum. As long as "Dave" comes out of the battle looking good, the strategy will have worked.

In fact, some Party strategists believe that losing the referendum fight could be beneficial to the Tory cause. In a general election campaign, the totemic value of Gordon Brown's signature on the new treaty could be used as a powerful weapon, to remind voters of how untrustworthy the Labour leader is.

And, with the treaty already in the bag, Cameron can complain about "what might have been" without being put to the test, not having had to oppose the treaty from a position of power.

The message will be, "If I had been prime minister, I would not have signed the treaty," but calls for a new Conservative government to abrogate the treaty will be rejected as "impractical". Instead, voters will be told to look to the future, relying on Cameron to "look after Britain's interests", rescuing them from Brown's mess - reinforcing the "trust" message.

Thus, as Booker writes in the Daily Mail today that our democracy is under threat from the new EU treaty, it faces another threat nearer home, from the cynical opportunism of unprincipled politicians - for whom power (and personal advancement) is more important than national interest.

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