Thursday, February 24, 2005

Labour hijacks VE day

The Sun is in fine form today, squawking indignantly (and rightly so) about Labour's "VE day insult". Apparently, Blair plans to mark the 60th anniversary of Victory in Europe day by launching the "yes" campaign for the EU referendum.

According to the Sun, arch Europhile trade secretary Patricia Hewitt is behind the decision to earmark May 8 - the official date of the end of World War Two in Europe - to start the campaign.

This apparently stems from a speech made at the Mansion House in the City of London last night when, according to the Financial Times, Hewitt admitted for the first time that many executives were still not persuaded of the benefits of the treaty, that the European Union was "unpopular" and that the government had failed to make the case for membership with sufficient conviction.

But it seems that an unnamed "Whitehall official" said the trade and industry secretary believed the government "should hit the ground running" and that the forthcoming European celebrations of VE Day, on 8 May, offered an opportune platform "to go out and make the case".

In true Sun style, the paper picks up on this comment and recounts how "disgusted old soldiers teamed up with MPs from all sides to condemn the government". It cites Labour MP Ian Davidson, vice-chairman of the British-German All-Party Parliamentary Group, saying: "I fear ministers will be willing to fight on the beaches, fight on the landing grounds and fight in the streets — all to surrender Britain's sovereignty… They should be ashamed of trying to hijack VE Day."

Conservative leader Michael Howard is also brought into the fray, "fuming". He says: "So many people gave their lives to fight for our freedom. They fought for our democracy — not to have decisions affecting us made by politicians who are not accountable to the British people. I cannot think of a more inappropriate way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of VE Day."

The Sun then selects "Labour-voting Frank Rosier, 79", of the Normandy Veterans' Association, to say: "It's offensive. VE Day should be about remembering those boys who gave their lives — not making us puppets to further any political party’s cause."

Patricia Hewitt has put the referendum on Europe's constitutional treaty at the heart of Labour's plans for a third term, urging sceptical business leaders to back the campaign for a "yes" vote.

There is indeed something particularly crass about this attempt to link the campaign with the VE day anniversary, but it perhaps links in with the Straw theme of "making a patriotic case" for approving the constitution.

But, in the week that Tony Blair is fighting his case for overturning the Magna Carta, by seeking to introduce detention without trial on the say-so of a politician, all this goes to show is how far out of touch Labour ministers are with public sentiment.

However, the choice of date has further significance. It is now a given that the government will not launch the "yes" campaign until after the general election and with 8 May being a Sunday, this virtually confirms the date of the election as 5 May.

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