Today’s result from Ireland on the referendum is looking to be a convincing YES vote which means it is looking very likely now that The EU Constitution will come into force in the coming months and that President Blair and an EU Foreign Commissioner will be appointed to rule us. God help us all.
So, in a “well duh” statement observers of this week’s conservative conference are going to be looking for an indication of what the Conservatives are going to do now that a pre-ratification referendum for the UK after a Cameron election is almost impossible.
That’s why I will be watching, and that is what I will be looking for. I suspect this is true of many others. Looking to a hint in the papers before the conference gets going full swing; it is perhaps a deliberate and placed message from none other than Ken Clarke that I stumble upon in the Telegraph.
Ken Clarke is a big thinker in conservative economics, but he is not the big beast he is presented to be, well at least in my opinion. He to my recollection has not cornered Mandelson since his return to the shadow front bench in January, and has no scalps to his name. The Big Beast has been tamed. On TV it seemed to me he supports much of what he is there to oppose. Mandelson quipped at the Labour conference that he had tried to call Ken Clarke but his phone was off and wondered if David Cameron had ordered it off having got wind of how often Ken and Mandy “agree privately on so much”.
Infuriatingly in his Telegraph interview he speaks well on the Economy. Take this for example:
"I've been through a fair number of spending rounds. The present deficit is a far more serious crisis than anything I ever faced." He points out that Labour's promise to halve the deficit in four years will only bring it down to the level it was at when Denis Healey had to go cap in hand to the International Monetary Fund in 1976.But what about it Ken, what about the EU? Where’s the not so hidden message before the conference from a leading Conservative. Here it is.
"We have to go faster than that. We really must start cutting the deficit faster than they are doing because that isn't an adequate aim," he says. He would prefer to cut spending "resolutely" rather than raise taxes. He praises as "wise" the leadership's decision not to rule out tax increases. "Some of my colleagues promised it in 1992 and I spent most of my time raising taxes and cutting spending. It was an embarrassment. Most Conservatives would prefer naturally not to raise tax rates." He repeats the hope that the Tories will be able to reverse the planned increase in National Insurance that will hit all incomes.
Mr Clarke urges his critics to stay quiet this weekend. He does not want a return to “the most absurd civil war” of the 1990s when the party “destroyed” itself over Europe. It would be a “disaster”. Under Mr Cameron the party is not interested in “punch-ups”.
But some are. He must know that. “I hope you’re wrong. We have got policy, I accepted it was settled and I wasn’t going to try to change it. We’re not going to move on until and unless the treaty is ratified and enforced.”ARRRRGGGGGHHHHH!!
It is the Ken Clarke paradox, a brilliant mind on economics, completely blind to the dangers and excesses of the EU. It is not an accident he is interviewed for the papers the day the Lisbon votes are counted in Ireland.
I did not of course need to go looking for a hint in the papers, like many others when I checked my emails today I got an email from David Cameron – this is his message.
This weekend we will hear the results of the referendum in Ireland on the re-named EU Constitution.
I want to make one thing clear: there will be no change in our policy on Europe and no new announcements at the Conference. There will be no change in Conservative policy as long as the Lisbon Treaty is still not in force. The Treaty has still not been ratified by the Czechs and the Poles. The Czech Prime Minister has said that the constitutional challenge before the Czech Constitutional Court could take 3-6 months to resolve.
I have said repeatedly that I want us to have a referendum. If the Treaty is not ratified in all Member States and not in force when the election is held, and if we are elected, then we will hold a referendum on it, we will name the date of the referendum in the election campaign, we will lead the campaign for a 'No' vote.
If the Treaty is ratified and in force in all Member States, we have repeatedly said we would not let matters rest there. But we have one policy at a time, and we will set out how we would proceed in those circumstances if, and only if, they happen.
Again I am not a party member, and I will not be at the Conference. Does this really cut it for EU skeptics in the Conservative party?
You tell me.
In a post Lisbon EU the UK Government will be even more limited in its function and powers and will have to subvert to the wishes of President Tony Blair. Can you see Cameron flying in for a White House summit without Tony? How about alongside, knowing that Cameron cannot over rule Blair? This is the Tip of the Iceberg as to the limitations of UK Government.
So, it will be an interesting week, I think. In my gut I think the EU Skeptic vote is about to harden without a clearer line of what David Cameron will do. My EU Skeptic Conservative friends have been happy to go along with supporting an “if it is not ratified, we will have a referendum” line. But, it will be ratified, so what is the plan now? When they take this line there is a look in their eye that is the same for most that have uttered it, they want this to be true and enough of a commitment not to send the Conservatives into a dogfight.
Me, I am a swivel-eyed EUphobic-loon who would, if I lead of a national party would campaign for an “in or out” referendum, and if the vote was in I would do all I could to protect and enhance Britains prospects. At least people will have voted on it! And if the vote was out I would have us out in a heartbeat, and would be looking to keep strong trading ties to the EU but also looking to trade deals and to reestablish stronger cultural ties with the Commonwealth Countries and with the US and Asia. I would be thinking of Britain’s place in the World, not just in Europe – Like Prime Minister used to do.
I think the debate needs to move on now from what will be done if it is not ratified. Maybe not this week, but soon. In a General Election campaign with Lisbon ratified and on current pledges, I see no reason to look to the Tories, I think I would have to look to UKIP.
Update: Thanks Boris.