10 May 2005
Now that the election has been concluded, what lessons are there for the debate about Europe? Who won, and who lost.
Two items of good news for the pro-Europeans:
(1) a majority of seats in the House of Commons were won by pro-constitution parties, so parliamentary ratification is assured (even allowing for those Labour MPs who will vote no)
(2) a majority of votes were cast for pro-constitution candidates
Two reasons to be less cheerful:
(A) parliamentary ratification is not enough – there will be a referendum, too – so a three figure majority is useful only up to a point
(B) the fact of the forthcoming referendum meant that voters could vote for a party with the “wrong” view of the constitution quite safely. No-one is going to say that all those who voted for pro-constitution Labour and Liberal Democrat candidates are necessarily pro-constitution voters themselves.
The issue of Europe was hardly talked about during the campaign itself. UKIP and Veritas, dedicated to opposing the EU (although the UKIP leaflet I saw was more about immigration than the ELI), got nowhere, and possibly not even that far. Labour and the Liberal Democrats had nothing to hide but no-one was particularly interested in looking.
The Conservatives’ policy of withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy would probably have led to leaving the EU altogether: their opposition to the 1951 UN convention on refugees certainly would have. However, the Tories gained almost no ground since the 2001 general election so there is no risk that these crazy and immoral policies might actually be implemented. No risk, that is, until the referendum on the constitution comes round.
A defeat in the referendum could be much worse for Britain’s place in Europe than the status quo. A lot rests on the manner and tone of any defeat. The only sure way to avoid that risk is for pro-European politicians and campaigners to speak up for international democracy and the idea of Europe.
This blog entry first appeared on www.yes-campaign.net. The opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of Federal Union or of the Yes campaign.