Monday, 24 October 2011


What a huge number of issues the planned Tory revolt throws up today. First it demonstrates that there is only a sticking plaster over the deep division within their party over Europe - and remember, dear reader, which party signed us up to Europe, signed us up to the Single European Act and signed us up to the Maastricht Treaty and, of course, which party has NEVER offered voters a say in a referendum on any aspect of our relationship with Europe. Aha, it was the Tories (harmonica riff here if you're a fan of Manfred Mann).

Second, it shows how foolish the Tories still are, offering their leader no support when he is arguing with other European leaders over the whole future of the continental system. If ever there was a time for closing ranks, this is it but Tories like Bill Cash and John Redwood, egged on by a new crop of petty grandstanders, cannot see beyond this issue. Third, it highlights the irrelevance of Labour as they are just as split over Europe as the Tories. Just look at the disarray on both sides over the Lisbon Treaty. Fourth, it shows that Parliament matters - a categorically good thing.

Perhaps most importantly for this utterly biased blog, it demonstrates that, whether you like the Lib Dems' views on Europe we are the only party which is consistent, clear and honest about our support for the union and for co-operation between European countries. It is, however, a disappointment that our leadership decided to 'whip' our MPs today.

Rising above the petty politics of today's debate and vote is a much larger issue, one which is considered in a very 'black and white' way. Almost all the commentaries raise the spectre of possible two- or three-speed Europes, with an inner core of Eurozone countries, an outer group of less economically committed countries and a periphery of sceptics, one of which would inevitably be Britain, since British governments have shown unfailing stupidity over Europe ever since the 1940s when the smaller countries urged us to join to counterbalance France and provide a more practical, less corrupt model for the continent than les Grenouilles managed to introduce. The notion of a multi-speed system is seen as A Bad Thing by almost everyone and a road to ruin for Britain and for Europe. Why? What evidence is there that flexibility leads to failure?

Putting aside the record of 70 years of crass stupidity and failure to lead when leadership was needed by Britain, what is wrong with a multi-speed Europe? Why should some countries not share a currency while others don't? Why shouldn't some countries retain their currencies until such time - if such time arrives - that they decide that their interests lie within a currency union? I favour membership of the EU but not on any terms so why not look at working with others to develop differently. Isn't that the gift Britain can bring to Europe? Not the narrow-minded 'in or out' argument but a more nuanced one about shared interests. Forcing countries together, as the French favour, causes discord, dissonance and a lack of buy-in by citizens of European countries. Isn't that old devil, democracy, meant to be about winning popular support for progress and competing ideas fighting for acceptance?

That's the trouble with the European debate in Britain: it isn't a debate, it's a shouting match. We're either in or out, we either have to love Europe or hate it. Can't we be mature and accept the pluses of European membership while decrying and seeking to improve on the problems, like the CAP and the farce of the Strasbourg Parliament?

Coo, with all this favouring debate, dialogue and flexibility, I'll never get anywhere in politics, will I?

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