Gordon Brown successfully prevented a British referendum on its relationship with the European Union despite an earlier undertaking by Tony Blair to do so. The Times reports that Brown insisted that the Treaty of Lisbon, which is substantially the same as the rejected EU constitution is technically not the same thing:
The result means that Parliament will decide whether to ratify the treaty, signed by EU leaders last December. ... Mr Brown insisted that Labour’s manifesto pledge to hold a referendum applied to Europe’s previous proposed constitution, not to the Lisbon treaty, and accused Mr Cameron of appeasing sceptics within the Conservative Party.
An opposition shadow minister, William Hague, "poured scorn on claims that the Lisbon treaty was fundamentally different from the constitutional treaty rejected in referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005, calling such arguments 'weasel words to wriggle out of a commitment'. Mr Hague said the two were substantially the same."
The Independent claimed that even if the Treaty of Lisbon and the EU Constitution were one and the same there was no need to submit its contents to something as vulgar as a referendum.
The argument over whether the treaty is substantially different from the European Union constitution rejected by French and Dutch voters three years ago is never likely to be settled. But it should be quite clear to the objective observer that this treaty does not represent a shift in Britain's relationship with the European Union worthy of a referendum, no matter what the die-hard Eurosceptic lobby maintains.
And, even if that were the case, in Britain we have a parliamentary system. Our MPs are charged with voting on legislation and treaties. Those who complain loudly that refusing a referendum is a betrayal of democracy confuse democracy with the mere process of holding a public vote.
The Independent disposes of the fact that the Labor party promised to hold a referendum on the question of the British relationship with Europe by simply saying, "we lied".
An epic catalogue of folly, arrogance and cynicism brought us to this pass. It began with the vanity of various European ministers and the former French President, Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, who insisted on making necessary reform of the EU's decision-making processes post-enlargement into a grandiose and overblown "constitution" project.
This was followed by Tony Blair's cowardly decision to promise a UK referendum before the last general election to appease the Eurosceptic press. This, in turn, resulted in Labour MPs going into the last election committed to a referendum on the constitution. There can have been few more obvious hostages to fortune in recent political history.
In other words the Independent thinks it unfortunate that the former French President called the public's attention to the fact that a political superstructure was being constructed over the nations of Europe and thinks Tony Blair was "cowardly" to promise he would consult the voters on it when the whole thing could have been handled so much more quietly in backrooms.
One of the sentiments Barack Obama has successfully tapped into is the long simmering popular suspicion that the political and media classes have morphed into a class apart, accountable to no one and answerable only to itself. And while Obama's motives for tapping into that discontent may be debatable, the discontent itself is probably quite real. The public disaffection with politicians of both parties with an unlimited capacity for making concessions to illegal immigrant lobbies, identity politics, oil sheiks, corporate interests and foreign bagmen is bottled up only by the lack of a clear alternative.
But recent events in Britain underscore just how powerful the backroom has become and how little words to the public mean. Despite Tony Blair's promises not to give up British sovereignty without asking Britons, the "fix" was in. Recently Barack Obama himself was accused of privately telling the Canadian government one thing about NAFTA while the public yet another. Although Obama denies talking out of both sides of his mouth, saying his staffers were misunderstood, the shadow of the backroom looms large over every public pronouncement. Maybe politicians don't represent the "people" any more. Just themselves.
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