Monday, September 27, 2004

The love that dare not speak its name

Latest in a long line of Euro-luvvies, trade and industry secretary Patricia Hewitt has warned of the dangers of allowing campaigning on the EU constitution to drift. "We absolutely need to make the case for Europe," she pleaded in an interview yesterday on ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby politics show.

Yet, apart from the inane intervention by Jack Straw at a Labour conference fringe last night, there is absolutely nothing on the official programme which indicates the European Union is at all going to be an issue. Apart from what might be incidental references in the prime minister's speech, the conference looks like being an EU-free zone.

Mz Hewitt, on the other hand, would like to see campaigning for the constitution ratcheted up now, arguing that it would be dangerous to leave it until after the general election.

But she is almost certainly going to be disappointed. Blair is almost certainly relying on the same strategy he employed in 1997. Then, under pressure from the Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, the promise of a post-election referendum on the euro served to neutralise the issue. Similarly, the primary purpose of the constitutional referendum is to neutralise "Europe" as an issue during the forthcoming general election.

This "take" is effectively confirmed by reports from "Downing Street insiders" who state that Mandelson favours delaying the campaingn until after the election. Mandelson is said to fear that "a long campaign will bore the public altogether," but the greater concern must surely be that "Europe" as an election issue plays badly for Labour and will give UKIP a toehold on which to campaign.

A leader who is supposedly the most "pro-Europe" in a generation is, therefore, having to hold back on his protestations of support – not so much a question of unrequited love, as the love that dare not speak its name.

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