Tuesday, 9 August 2011

100,000 signatures. Now we want our say!

At last, after a lot of hard work Nikki Sinclaire has amassed the 100,000 signatures that should prompt a debate on our continued membership of the EU in the House of Commons. Of course, Cameron is already trying to renege on his election promise, but that comes as no surprise to anybody. His 'Cast Iron Guarantee' of a referendum on the Lisbon treaty turned out to be nothing more than rhetoric - it appears that Mr Cameron's word is worth little - as he dropped that promise at the earliest opportunity.

So what does this mean?

Nikki also sponsored a YouGov poll at the weekend, in which 52% of respondents said that they would vote to leave the EU. There is clearly a lot of strong feeling about this, and the government is morally, if not legally, bound to heed the will of the majority. The 100,000 signatories do include a lot of UKIP members, but they also include those of other parties, including at least one senior Tory peer. Most of the signatories, however, signed up in the streets of towns and cities up and down the UK, online, or through the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, or the many local newspapers that ran ads for the campaign.

The important thing now is not to allow the issue to be placed in a box. The establishment does have a convenient box, marked 'UKIP', in which it can deposit troublesome issues. Note how within the last week or so two issues have generated a great deal of debate - this referendum campaign and a similar one run by the Daily Express - and the HS2 high speed rail link. The UKIP leadership has never supported Nikki's campaign, and seems, according to a leaked e-mail from the leader's office, not to have a great deal of faith in referenda. UKIP also supported the idea of a high speed link in it's last manifesto. Now both issues are at the forefront, up to the plate comes Nigel Farage, who throws his 'weight' behind the Express campaign, and condemns HS2 without a thought for his own manifesto. Bingo - both issues are now consigned to the box marked 'UKIP', where they can be dismissed as peripheral.

We must not allow this to happen. This is the single most important political issue of the day. And here I am not actually referring to membership of the EU - as important as that is - but to the right of the people to expect that politicians will honour their pre-election promises. British politicians rightly criticised the EU for refusing to recognise the French, Dutch and Irish no votes on Nice, the Constitution, and Lisbon. It appears, however, that Mr Cameron has learned a lot from the Commission approach to democratic obligation.

The EU is, beleive it or not, struggling to get to grips with its own 'democratic deficit', and to address it, although it has some funny ways of going about it. In terms of democratic integrity it can never tick all the boxes and satisfy all its member states, as I would argue that it can never be a classical Liberal Democracy, which is the only form of democracy acceptable to we Brits. But while we criticise the EU, it is sad to note that our own country is slipping somewhat in its standards.

Let there be more petitions, lets keep piling them up on the Speaker's chair, and waving them outside the gates of Downing Street. Perhaps the British people are waking up at last!

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