Thursday, March 13, 2008

Europe: Shirley rules out one theory, so here's another

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the story - originating with Dominic Lawson - that:

Baroness Williams of Crosby and former leader of the LibDems in the House of Lords, had threatened to resign and rejoin the Labour Party, unless Ming Campbell likewise abandoned the dangerous policy of giving the British people a vote on the Lisbon treaty.

The artificial and insincere idea of offering us instead a vote on 'in or out of the EU' was Ming Campbell's way of wriggling out of the Liberal Democrats' commitment to a vote on the amended constitutional treaty without making the party look "undemocratic".
Shirley Williams has a letter in The Times today denying that there is any truth in the story.

So why were we saddled with this absurd policy?

Again writing a couple of weeks ago, Nick Robinson thinks he knows. Writing of Nick Clegg's decision to impose a three-line whip to force Lib Dem MPs to abstain on the vote on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, Robinson says:

So why did he order his MPs to sit on their hands, to vote neither yes nor no in this week’s referendum vote in the Commons? That is the question being asked not least by those heading today to the Lib Dem spring conference in Liverpool.

The answer is that he feared something much worse. Given a free vote, a vast majority of his MPs – some suggest as many as 50 - would have voted with the Tories to try and force a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty and to defeat the government.

The problem is that a number of key figures would have refused to join them. The former leader Charles Kennedy, the man Nick Clegg narrowly beat, Chris Huhne and above all, Mr Clegg himself.

Worse than that, the bulk of the Lib Dem MPs would have been led through the Aye lobby by Vince Cable, the media's favourite Liberal Democrat and the whispering about the leadership would have started all over again.

Support for the European project used to be the policy which proved the modernity and continued releveance of the old Liberal Party at a time when everyone else was making unkind jokes about telephone boxes and bar stools.

Today, our unconditional support for that project is beginning to have a tinge of nostalgia about it. Nick Clegg's appeal is that he seems prepared to challenge some of the party's sacred cows, such as support for the producer interest in public services.

Is he also prepared to do so on Europe?

We shall see.


Anonymous said...

I think there may be more immediate lessons to be learned from re-examining the appearance and impact of the original “story”:

- a columnist in a right-wing paper (who was once an Owenite and subsequently a Tory activist) recycles a piece by an blue-in-the-bone Tory journalist saying that he had been told* that one of the LD’s most recognised “names” (who just happened to have been a non-Owenite and a bete-noire of right wingers over several decades) effectively blackmailed the party into an awkward policy position.

In other words not just hearsay, but third or fourth order hearsay larded with several layers of political porkiness! The subsequent lack of any independent support for the story should have been a clear pointer to the whole thing being utterly permeated with wishful thinking and shit-stirring.

But the story still succeeded (and I suspect that is exactly what its originators feel about it now) in getting several of our bloggers clucking away, bouncing the tale around the echo chamber! Now it is undoubtedly wise to read and learn from what our political opponents write, but they are our opponents and rivals and do not have our best interests at heart! Can we please remember that when we interpret and react to what they write and say!

Squirrel Nutkin
Dept of the Bleeding Obvious

(* no further details on that source were given so surely it had to have been Shirley… or Ming…er, David Owen? Danny Finkelstein? Nick Ferrari? His taxi driver? Doris Stokes channelling Roy Jenkins?...Hmm)

Jonathan Calder said...

Old Brown carried Nutkin into his house, and held him up by the tail, intending to skin him; but Nutkin pulled so very hard that his tail broke in two, and he dashed up the staircase and escaped out of the attic window.

Anonymous said...

My friends and workmates will confirm that I have no visible tail. This is a voice of experience talking!

S Nutkin
(who tends to annoy starlings more than owls these days