Sunday, September 02, 2007

We're cool!

Well, that's what The Sunday Times says, with its headline, "It's cool to be Eurosceptic".

Meanwhile, The Daily Mirror website was telling us late yesterday that, "Gordon Brown will face a fierce fight to win a Commons vote on the new EU treaty," with the news that "senior Liberal Democrats" have signalled that they will join the Tories and Labour rebels to defeat the Government and force a referendum in a vote next year.

This is not entirely at odds with our piece yesterday, in which we referred to an article in The Financial Rimes, What that paper did not say, however, was that it was basing its story on a World at One interview, where former Labour minister Graham Stringer was saying that the government should grant a referendum now rather than face the prospect of defeat later when the Treaty goes through the Commons.

LibDem MP Mike Hancock was also interviewed, saying:

I believe (the treaty) requires the agreement of the British people - as Prime Minister Blair promised and as we as a party in the Liberal Democrats promised... I'm unsure myself, but I would hope that the LibDems will stick to their word on this one. I certainly wouldn't compromise my position on it. I'm adamant, whatever comes, I would vote for and demand a referendum so people in this country can have the say that we promised them.
Asked about the mood among LibDem MPs, he said: "I think many of them in private would support that view." He predicted that a parliamentary vote on a referendum if the LibDems backed it would be "very close" and "bring the figures down to a vote that, I think, Gordon Brown would be very loathe to chance his hand on".

The Sunday Times continues the story this morning, adding Gisela Stuart to the list of rebel Labour MPs, who is saying, "This document, irrespective of what you call it, substantively is still the same as the constitution. This is something which we as Labour MPs went into the 2005 election promising a referendum on. It is a question of trust."

Labour rebels are claiming that MPs have been shocked during the parliamentary recess by the strength of feeling on the matter in their constituencies and fear that dodging the issue could be electorally damaging. As a result, they plan to intensify their campaign ahead of this month’s Trades Union Congress and the Labour party conference.

Other rebels now include Gwyneth Dunwoody, who hopes a referendum will be seriously considered because she believes, "there is strong support for it in the country." Ian Gibson, the MP for Norwich North, is yet another, who believes a referendum is "inevitable". "More and more people are picking up demands from their constituents, it is going to be hard to resist it," he says.

One more is Kate Hoey, a former sports minister. She is being her usually robust self, declaring, "You couldn't fit a needle between the treaty and the constitution. There is growing momentum for a referendum. The government is going to maintain that it is not going to happen, but I don't think they can avoid it."

And Lord Healey, a former chancellor, said this weekend that Brown would win if he held a referendum. "If he has one he will win it because people will vote in favour of him," he says.

On the other hand, Patrick Hennessy of The Sunday Telegraph is claiming that Brown is set to defy his rebels, "after winning the backing of key Cabinet ministers." Even those ministers who were most strongly in favour of a referendum, writes Hennessy, have "come on board" the Prime Minister's opposition to such a move. That includes Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, who is said to be "fully behind Gordon".

Brown and his allies are said to be "confident of winning the argument" and have also been encouraged by the lack of an all-out assault on the issue from the Conservatives. Cameron and William Hague have been clear in their calls for a referendum but they have not made the issue into a major campaign.

This view is reinforced by Matthew d'Ancona, who writes that the Conservative Party has demanded a "referendum firmly rather than furiously". To the dismay of some of his advisers, Cameron "is reluctant to focus too sharply on an issue so resonant of the party's immediate past of defeat, division and doctrine."

For now, therefore, Brown "is standing his ground, happy to ride this one out with a smile and a shake of the head." In the mind of Gordon, adds d'Ancona, "listening and learning" is all very well. But referendums are definitely for wimps.

Heh! We may be wimps – but at least we're cool wimps.


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