An interesting little article over at Direct Democracy today about how the question of an in/out referendum regarding the EU won't go away, how many Tories are turning to UKIP and the phenomenon of cross bench agreement between Labour and Conservative MPs in their support for such a referendum. It's a rum old do, and I do think the debate about the votes for prisoners was the moment a very large penny dropped.
I remember the days when Labour were EUro-sceptic, well in part at least, there was a very real danger that Labour in opposition in '93 could have wrecked the ratification of the Maastricht treaty. Of course they didn't because even then, their top table was completely in hock to the EUro project. I remember being raging at the time as a very naive teenager who was foresquare behind the EU, I've worken up since then. But the world has changed since the early nineties, not least because Labour are starting to lose votes to the BNP. I don't think this is because Labour are propped up by a bunch of horrible racists, Socialists have many ugly facets, but casual racism isn't one of them, it is because so many people are utterly fed up with the EU. Those Labour voters who are fed up with it aren't likely to vote UKIP, because they are at heart Tories. Despite their discomfort about the BNP's agenda, they are the only party offering what they want in a left centric fashion (pay no heed to the hype, there is nothing right wing about the BNP, they are as red as red can be, just as Mussolini was), so they will go there.
For the Tories the argument is simpler, they understand markets and are not burdened by a sense of loyalty - my party right or wrong - as it were. If the party they follow stops offering what they want, they will take their vote elsewhere. Unfortunately for the Tories their top table is also hopelessly, helplessly wedded to le projet. The backbenchers will stamp their feet, and can do it all they like, it will make no difference, the only thing cast iron about Dave and his chums is that he will do everything he can to ensure that the UK remains in the EU. Just like Mubarak in Egypt, Cameron will defy the wishes of the majority to the bitter end, right up until the moment a man with a (metaphorical in i-Dave's case) gun taps him on the shoulder. It is no coincedence that one of Cameron's first gambits was to neuter the 1922 Committee.
Even so, it is easier for the Tories to unseat their leader than it is for Labour. Lest we forget, Labour have never chucked a leader out on his ear, it just doesn't work that way, and the current leader was elected by the internationalist trade unions, not the party membership.
The Labour back benchers could find themselves slapped down in short order.
The Tory backbenchers will be studiously ignored.
The LibDems, well, just look at Nick's history, they talk a brave fight, calling for a full referendum when everyone else was calling for one over Lisbon was one of the more transparent bluffs I've ever seen. They'd run a mile if they thought one was ever on the horizon. They're a blusted flush, anyway. When Farrage talks about UKIP being the proper voice of the opposition right now, I don't think he's too far from the truth.
I've always maintained that Labour sold their heritage down the river when they plumped for Blair and Brown, they abandoned their core constituency because they wanted power. That damage will take years to repair, if it ever is.
The Tories did the same thing when they elected Cameron, they'd rather be in power than have a leader who represented their views. Well, it was your party, your choice.
So, it is all about courage.
Will the MP's have the courage to jeopardise their hands being on the levers of power? Will those who vote for the big two have the courage to vote in a way which means their tribe may not have power?
Do the Labour backbench MPs have the courage to go against their newly imposed leader? Doubt it.
Do the Tory backbench MPs (who at least have two options) have the courage to either defy their leader and try to bring about a leadership challenge, or even more radically try hold him to ransom by threatening to bring the government down by taking the UKIP whip if he doesn't submit to their demands, and do they have the courage to actually do it if he calls their bluff? Doubt that too.
No, the real courage must come from the voters. Do the electorate have the courage to realise that our continued membership of the EU is the biggest issue out there? Make no mistake about it, if you want to be a resident in a territory that is a constituent part of a Federal single European state, then you want to stay in. If you don't then you want to get out. There are, and can be, no half measures here, the stated aim of the EU is clear, if you think it won't end in one bloody great big country stretching from the Bosphorus to the Atlantic, then you're kidding yourself.
Do the electorate have the courage to end their own abusive relationship with their tribal party and vote elsewhere? Is there really a desire to get out of the EU? Do people really care?
Unfortunately I fear not, and this is what the EU, the European Commission and the leaderships of the big three bank on. I'm confident that if a referendum came to pass, that an out vote would win the day, but I don't think the electorate have the gumption to force the issue through the lobby or the ballot box. I think that those who do care can make life uncomfortable for their natural parties, but I don't think they can bring the house down.
So that means it is down to our MPs to do the right thing and give us the chance to have our say, once and for all, whichever way it goes. The prospect of relying on them chills me to the bone.