Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Shadow-boxing over constitutional reform

Westminster has today been discussing the subject of 'constitutional renewal', prompted by a statement by Gordon Brown.

Yet when a significant proportion of Britain's laws now derive from remote EU institutions - against which a large majority so recently voted during an EU-specific election - Gordon Brown doesn't seem to think the EU even worth mentioning as part of the problem of how to reconnect politics with the public.

Throughout a statement that threw in every possible distraction - from holding a consultation on changing the voting system to the establishment of some new quango to supervise MPs - the EU didn't get one mention.

On the one hand, Brown claims, he wants the "devolution of power". This, he concludes, will lead to the "engagement of people themselves in their local communities."

But on the other, via the Lisbon Treaty, he's clearly happy to see ever more decision-making centralised in remote EU institutions in Brussels - in the process denying us a promised say - and can't see why that's causing people to disengage from Westminster politics.

"Let us stand together for integrity and democracy", he concluded - after setting out how he plans to ignore the key message of the recent European parliament election.

Instead of a proper acknowledgment of the EU's role in draining away the standing of parliament and sterilising Westminster debate, today we had the government's attempt to change the subject.

Expenses myth

The idea that last week's election wasn't really about the EU at all, but a protest vote about MPs' expenses or other aspects of how parliament works, doesn't stack up.

First, despite their MPs being arguably as badly affected by the revelations as Labour - think duck ponds and moats - the Conservative vote actually went up.

Second, the Lib Dems - a party that was deemed to have come out better from the expenses scandal, but which connived with Labour to deny us the promised referendum on the EU Constitution/Lisbon Treaty - saw their vote drop.

Where is the quest here to punish all the Westminster parties?
But the message on the EU - on the Lisbon Treaty - is crystal clear.

Those opposed to today's EU were up. Those who support the status quo - who actively blocked us being given a say on passing more power to the EU - took a hit.

Not listening

That's why today's statement couldn't be a worse response for Labour's prospects at the next election.

It couldn't be worse because it's increasingly hard to imagine that no-one in government recognises how much of a problem in our democratic system the scale of the EU's powers is now causing - and how much people want to see that change.

Rather, it shows, no-one wants to put that key problem right.

That isn't reducing the 'disconnect' between public and politics. It's making it so much worse.

Monday, 8 June 2009

People have spoken - now it's 'do or die' for Brown

Gordon Brown may have survived trial by Labour MPs, as seems to be the news emerging from this evening's meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

But he has not yet saved himself from public opinion.

The media have spent today wallowing in the twin themes of the election of two BNP candidates as MEPs and further debate about Gordon Brown's leadership of the Labour party.

These may well be the most controversial outcomes for commentators, but ultimately they are side-shows.

The danger the media must avoid is that the overall message delivered by voters is overlooked.

The glaring message from yesterday is that people want less EU integration, not more. Overwhelming support was given to a wide range of parties representing all sides of the political spectrum that oppose the Lisbon Treaty.

The spotlight must now shift on to how Gordon Brown intends to deliver what people have clearly said they want.

Not only are Labour MPs, according to those coming out of tonight's meeting, asking how their party can reconnect with the public, and what policy changes are needed to achieve this.

But also millions of people will be watching closely in the coming days to detect whether, after the uproar against our political leaders that has built over recent weeks, Westminster is finally listening.

It's all about Lisbon

As we've said already, the only response that addresses all prevailing political problems is for Gordon Brown to immediately rescind Britain's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty.

The treaty is not only an issue that, more than any other - due to the conspicuously broken manifesto promises of a referendum - speaks to problems of trust between governors and the governed.

As we will show tomorrow, the treaty's emergence in October 2007 actually kick-started the disconnect between Gordon Brown and the public that has today grown to a critical condition.

But it also speaks directly to questions of the degradation of Parliament and consequent falling public faith in our democratic system - a trend that was exacerbated by the recent MPs' expenses scandal.

So tomorrow the story must shift on to what Brown is going to do at the looming EU summit on 18-19 June to deliver on the message of this election - and deliver convincingly enough to stand a chance of saving himself at the next general election.

To go to that summit and do anything other than rescind the Lisbon Treaty is unthinkable in terms of his own fate, the fate of the Labour party and the fate of public faith in our political system.

Having seemingly survived trial by Labour MPs, Brown has 10 days to rescue his future in the court of public opinion.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Brown must act on 'less EU' election verdict

Updated Monday 8 June: 13:06

The European Parliament election has been won overwhelmingly by the 'less EU' parties of varying degrees.

The Conservatives, UKIP, Greens, Libertas, the trade union-backed No2EU and many other smaller parties who took over 63% of the vote all think, at least, that the transfer of decision-making to the EU has gone too far and that radical restructuring of the EU and our relationship with it is needed.

They all oppose the Lisbon Treaty and support a referendum. They all want to see decision-making returned from the EU to the more responsive national, or more local, level.

Votes for these parties outnumbered considerably those cast for the duplicitous New Labour and Lib Dems, who have shown themselves happy to surrender ever more decision-making to EU institutions and to deny us a say over that process - breaking clear election promises in the process.

These are the parties who have shown in their behaviour over the Lisbon Treaty that they don't want to govern. And people have taken this first chance since those events to fulfil their wish.

All-important response

The implications of how the votes have been shared out between the parties - if any of substance - can be debated later. What matters is how Gordon Brown and the government will respond.

It matters to us, but most of all it matters for Brown himself.

Because at this highly sensitive time for faith our political system, people are desperate for evidence that our leaders are listening. And in just 10 days time Gordon Brown will have a clear opportunity on a grand stage to show that he has heard us speak.

Following today's result, Brown has a choice of whether to go to the next meeting of the European Council on 18-19 June and conspicuously represent the people's verdict. Less integration, not more.

Or, despite the clear message of this election, indulge with his fellow members of Europe's political elite in another EU bout of 'carry on regardless'.

Carry on conspiring to bully the Irish people into voting twice on exactly the same rejected treaty - the document that, according to the respected House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee, is "substantially equivalent" to the EU Constitution that was also rejected by the French and Dutch peoples.

Carry on overlooking EU waste, fraud and pre-recession levels of lavish living while the rest of us tighten our belts.

Carry on believing that Britain's ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, marred by broken manifesto promises, holds any real democratic legitimacy.

Gordon faces two paths, with two very different destinations.

At the end of one stands a chance of rebuilding public faith in our political system and, alongside, bringing himself personally back from the political brink.

At the end of the other lies a further degradation in his already low levels of support, bringing on the leadership challenge that would surely end his stint as Prime Minister.

Rescind Lisbon - get powers back

For Brown to see today's result and, mere days later, be complicit in moves pushing political integration still further - such as trying to manoeuvre Ireland into voting twice on the Lisbon Treaty - would be an extraordinary two-fingered salute to voters just at a time when faith in our political system is at an all time low.

If Brown chooses to show he is listening - and there can be no doubt that his own personal future as Prime Minister now depends absolutely on him doing so - he must rescind our ratification of the Lisbon Treaty while he still can, and start the process of getting powers back. He must go to that 18 June summit and be bold in demanding radical change.

In doing so he would start the process of making our Parliament matter again.

Our political system simply will not stand another incidence of a clear public verdict being ignored. It's clear that people are sick of politicians who think they know best. Brown has a chance to act, to act decisively, and on the side of the majority expressed opinion in these elections.

The summit will be Gordon Brown's last chance. Whether he chooses a response that brings him back from the brink, or one that seals his political fate, is in his hands alone over the next few days.