Labour must demand a referendum on Lisbon….
One of the mistakes that Labour made in government was not to give people a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. As an ardent pro-European I find it frustrating that proponents of the European Union seem to rely on drumming people into acceptance through fiat and are adverse to putting their arguments to the test of democracy. Indeed, in doing so they are part of the problem with regards to how people perceive the EU without even realising it; people perceive Europe as remote and distant, something they can’t control therefore fear. Democracy and democratisation of the EU is the antidote to that but it’s something that is rarely in supply and the fact that there was no referendum over Lisbon remains a scandal.
However, like Banquo’s ghost Lisbon just refuses to die a quiet death and now, following an Intergovernmental Conference in June it looks likely that Lisbon will have to be re-ratified by national parliaments. Conservative Home and its Eurosceptic followers are understandably delighted seeing this as an opportunity to right the wrongs of Lisbon and put it to the vote. I agree with them and feel it’s an opportunity for Labour to right a wrong in its past; not just for principled reasons but also for strategic reasons. Similar to aforementioned ghost, Lisbon now looks set to become an unwelcome guest haunting the Coalition feast. It should be at odds over Europe. It should be but isn’t because Clegg was more than willing to opportunistically water down his parties pro-Europeanism long before this coalition was a conceivable glint in his or Cameron’s eye.
However, his party does not feel the same way and Clegg’s first test in office was in-fact a rebellion by members of his front bench team in favour of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. A repeat performance over a referendum amendment would be more than likely; making an alliance of Lib Dem and Conservative rebels along with the opposition probably strong enough to defeat the government. So, not only would Labour be putting a principled case if it were to demand a referendum but it would also be inflicting yet another defeat on the government. It could then enter a referendum ready to make the principled case for a ‘yes’ vote as well as pushing an agenda for real change to the EU; change that would not only benefit it but gradually turn back the Eurosceptic tide.