Saturday, May 22, 2004

Even the Guardian has noticed

Despite yesterday’s rant from Polly Toynbee in the pages of the Guardian, the self-same Guardian today offers a leader which observes that “Britain is not the only country whose objections are causing the current final drafting process to take longer than expected”.

But its main theme is to ask whether this government serious about fighting - and winning - a referendum on the constitution. “If it is”, observes the Guardian, “then it seems to be going a very peculiar way about it”.

It confirms that Blair “wants and expects to win a referendum campaign on a ‘Europe - In or Out?’ platform”, but it is plain that “the vote will only be won if the government gives a lead to all those others”… who need to be mobilised if the current Eurosceptic majority in the country is to be turned around”.

Yet, in the view of the Guardian, “not only is the government failing to provide a lead to the Yes forces in this country; it is also playing directly into the hands of the No campaign”. The main cause of its displeasure, though, is Jack Straw, who is charged with being “be happier for the current talks to fail and for there to be no constitution”.

“How else can one explain Mr Straw's present combination of tactics?”, it wails. “When he is in Brussels he digs in on an ever more detailed list of ‘red line’ issues, making too many mountains out of too many molehills. Then, coming home, he makes a Eurosceptic speech about the need to protect Thatcher-era employment laws…that can only play into the hands of the anti-European forces within British business and dismay British trade unions”.

“The official answer, of course, is that Mr Straw is in there fighting for British interests so that voters can have confidence that the constitution is a good deal for Britain. But this is surely a failed policy. The tactic of turning everything into a David and Goliath fight to preserve British interests, rattling the sword at home against the threat from dastardly foreigners, while wielding it against them abroad, is the tactic that has brought the pro-European cause in Britain to its current low ebb”.

Here the Guardian refers to the battle over the adoption of the convention of human rights, about which much mischief is being made between Labour and Tories. But, as always, the arguments have been reduced to soap opera level and focused on whether this will affect “employment rights”.

Ignoring the more fundamental issue of the implications of the Charter on the body of UK law, the Guardian pitches in to argue that, “To exaggerate the threat is to make the task of winning the European argument harder not easier. To do this on the issue of employment law, of all things, over provisions in part two of the constitution which not even the mildest left-of-centre voter would regard as anything other than reasonable, is particularly tragic”.

“What could have been an opportunity to put the case for Europe as the natural home for the reformed social democratic model pursued by Labour is turned instead into a misguided attempt to appease the unappeasable Eurosceptic press while at the same time pandering to the worst aspects of British business's infatuation with the American model”.

So speaks the Guardian – Anglo-centric, misinformed and anti-American. Whatever happens, Labour must not “attempt to appease the unappeasable Eurosceptic press”. Presumably, it should be attempting to appease the appeasable Eurosceptic press?

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