The Falkland Islands’ referendum could hardly have been more clear. Turnout was over 90%, and while 1,513 voted to stay as a British overseas territory, only 3 voted against.
Those three are intriguing. Iain Martin of the Telegraph speculates that they may have been voting for independence from Britain but not in favour of joining Argentina.
But what if they were motivated by true Argentine nationalism? After all, there are some Argentines living in the islands (real ones, I’m not adopting the Kirchner Government’s ludicrous suggestion that everyone there is legally Argentine). And any who have been resident for seven years prior to the referendum had the right to vote yesterday.
The precise number of Argentines living there isn’t clear – a spokesman for the Falkland Islands Government tells me there are “a handful”, but legal nationality wasn’t a question on the Islands’ 2012 census. The closest estimate I can find is from the BBC in 2007, who reported that:
“20 Argentines…are fully integrated into the 3,000-strong community of the archipelago”
It seems likely that those who were “fully integrated” 6 years ago would by now have lived there long enough to be entitled to vote in the referendum. Even in a worst case scenario in which half of them had died, emigrated or fallen in the sea since 2007, that would leave 10 Argentines with a vote on the future of the islands.
So it seems clear that not only did an overwhelming majority of Falkland Islanders vote to stay British – not even a majority of the Argentines eligible to do so voted to leave.
Maybe Christine de Kirchner needs to have a rethink…
Less than a year after their walloping in the AV referendum, the Lib Dems are pushing for constitutional change again. Their obsession with their hobby horse regardless of its electoral irrelevance has led them to resemble a bluebottle banging its head against a window, desperate to move ahead despite the battering it gets from its repeated failure.
This time it is House of Lords reform that forms their windowpane of choice . Supposedly, Clegg is demanding that it is prioritised in the Coalition’s legislative programme.
They will face all sorts of problems – the question of whether there should be a referendum on constitutional changes (A: Yes), the question of whether we should be discussing this while the economy is struggling (A: No) and most importantly the question of what a new House of Lords should look like (A: Who knows?)
This last question is the most important – even the Lib Dems, who have thought about little else for the last 50 years, haven’t agreed on an answer. Should it be 100% elected, or partially elected and partially selected experts? Should it be done by STV, a list system, AV or another PR electoral technique? How long should the terms be, and how great should the powers of the chamber be? For that matter, should it be called the Lords, or the Senate or something else?
Personally, I do think Britain should have an elected Upper Chamber. It is perverse to have an unelected, unaccountable chamber disrupting and sabotaging the work of a legislature elected by the people.
I emphatically do not think we should be prioritising Lords reform now, however. People want the economy boosted, and growth restored – if we had a proper system for initiating popular referenda, I strongly doubt we would see Lords reform jumping to the top of the list.
However, if the Lib Dems insist on changing it now, what should the new Lords look like?
For a start, I’d prefer to keep calling it the Lords, because I’m a bit sentimental like that. “Senates” and so on all sound a bit trendy, which is one thing Westminster definitely isn’t.
So how should we select it? The system would need to satisfy several requirements:
- it would need to be in keeping with the verdict from last year’s AV referendum that the people have no truck for obscure forms of PR (no matter how much the Lib Dems may love them)
- it would need to be affordable and efficient
- it would be important that it did not have a claim to greater legitimacy than the Commons
- it would be pointless if it simply produced a second house identical in makeup to the Commons
- if possible, it would be good if it did something to answer the concerns people have about votes being wasted in the First Past the Post system, while maintaining a constituency link where possible
I have a proposal that would fit each of these criteria. We fill the House of Lords with all those who come second in elections to the House of Commons – a “House of Losers”, if you will.
Let’s test it against the above criteria. We continue to use the First Past the Post system, which the people clearly don’t want to get rid of. We wouldn’t need to spend anything extra on holding another wave of elections. There would be no challenge to the legitimacy of the Commons, given that those on the green benches would have beaten the red benches at a general election. The new Lords would be a counterbalance to the Commons in their political makeup, providing for energetic scrutiny. Finally, millions of votes currently viewed by many as “wasted” on candidates who come second would in fact count for something – dramatically upping the proportion of voters who get a representative they voted for.
The important thing would be to get the powers of this new House of Losers right. Too little, and it would become redundant as a scrutineering chamber, too great and it would deliver gridlock. But that goes for any reform of the Lords – at least under this system we wouldn’t waste a fortune and we would improve the proportionality of our Parliamentary democracy.
The reaction of pro-EU voices to David Cameron’s refusal to support fiscal union has been very revealing.
It has been revealing in that it has demonstrated clearly that the tiny pro-EU rump left in this country are actually happy with the idea that unelected EU officials should be able to overrule democratically elected Governments to dictate how member states’ financial affairs are run.
It has been very revealing that the EU establishment clearly never intended for vetoes to be used, and in fact is happy to circumvent them – ie that they have been a smokescreen all along.
It has also revealed what many of us have been saying in and around Westminster for some time – voters are sick of seeing British leaders roll over to have their tummy tickled at the EU negotiating table. Voters overwhelmingly agree with David Cameron on this one, and he’ll gain from that. Paddy Ashdown, by contrast, must be counting himself lucky that he’s no longer accountable to the electorate, so he can safely run round town shouting the EU’s message.
Most revealing of all, in my view, is the stark demonstration that the pro-EU side of British politics deeply and fundamentally lack faith in the abilities and potential of modern Britain. Without the protective wing of Mother Brussels and her trade barriers to shelter us, we are surely lost, they claim. Not for a second do they mull the idea that Britain has the capability to stand on its own two feet.
When they talk of retaining British “influence”, they mean that we can only retain influence in a reputational sense by sacrificing it in a practical sense. They mean that only by giving up our actual control over how we run our economy, our criminal justice system, our food production, our trading relationships and much more can we retain the cosy feeling of attending EU leaders’ banquets.
This is an insidious and depressing philosophy – talking Britain down, and automatically assuming that British scientists, entrepreneurs, business people and ordinary workers can never make their own way in the world. To use a 1970s term, they want a return to managing the nation’s decline.
For far too long the EU’s cheerleaders have been able to portray themselves as being on the sunny side of the street. They loved to make out that they were the friendly, positive optimists who saw sunny uplands in Britain’s future.
Contrast that to their message today:
“Suez seems mild in comparison. What sort of nation is it that rejoices in its own defeat?” – Labourlist
“At a time of economic crisis, we have made it more attractive for investors to go to northern Europe.” – Paddy Ashdown
“A Britain which leaves the EU would be considered irrelevant by Washington and will be considered a pygmy in the world.” – Nick Clegg
“In a world in which the influences of the old powers is diminishing by the day, Britain’s prime minister has attacked his closest partners and left our country weaker and more isolated” – Chris Davies MEP
There are plenty more bits of negativity where those came from, too. The peculiar and rare strain of politics that is Euro-enthusiasm is now essentially united around the core belief that Britain is a basket case. That’s not an idea which will set the electorate on fire with enthusiasm.
It is time to seize properly on this issue, and for eurosceptics to become the voice of positivity.
Where those who believe in integration see only weakness, we see great potential in Britain. Where they want protectionism, even at the cost of our economic health and starving bellies in the Third World, we want free trade and new enterprise. Where they look to secure a bed in the Little European retirement home, slowly dwindling away with the rest of the EU’s outdated economies, we want to reach out to trade with the whole world – India, China, Brazil and others.
When you talk to voters about the great issues of the day, they want to know what the future will look like for their children. Would they rather hear someone say “we think they’re done for, so we’ll give up their democratic rights in order to buy a seat in a declining economic bloc”, or “we’ll have faith in them to innovate and trade with the whole world”? The Lib Dems’ reluctance to collapse the Coalition and face an election rather answers that.
One thing was always clear about the Government’s EU “referendum lock” – the EU’s defenders were always going to claim it didn’t actually justify a referendum. Whether they did it outright in the wording, or later in a tortured limbo around what that wording meant, is irrelevant.
So it has come to pass now that the first proposed treaty changes since the lock was passed into law have hoved into view. Nick Clegg has rushed straight out, his face painted blue with a delightful ring of yellow stars scattered across his cheeks, chin and forehead, to announce that proposals for fiscal union among the Eurozone countries are not eligible for a referendum as they don’t constitute a transfer of sovereignty from Britain to Brussels.
Underlying this is the argument being pushed by the Conservative leadership that, as Tim Montgomerie reported it, an EU referendum would “plunge Britain’s economy into chaos”.
But it is this latter argument which undermines the former.
As we can now see from the crisis hanging over us – a crisis that has emerged as a direct result of the Euro’s disastrous creation and the ongoing, eternal grind of ever closer union – losing sovereignty is not just about Brussels being able to directly overrule Britain. It is also about whether we are losing the ability to build a successful, sustainable economy on our own terms.
EU integration has made Britain more economically vulnerable to crises on the Continent, a problem which is compounded by the fact that it has also made such crises far more likely. At the same time as our exposure to EU risk has increased, the Single Market’s aggressive protectionism has forbidden us from diversifying by trading freely and fully with other economies around the world – particularly with the BRICs.
In effect, they have tied a weight to our feet, dragging us down into the ocean depths, and bound our hands, stopping us trying to swim upwards.
The decision by a core group of EU countries to integrate through a single currency has diluted our sovereignty by reducing the effectiveness of the measures the British Government might take to boost our economy. As we are currently seeing, you don’t have to be in the Euro to be screwed by its failure.
Can they seriously claim that fiscal union in the Eurozone – a step which is likely to bring down even worse disaster on all our heads – won’t have a similar effect?
We are tied to the Eurozone through our EU membership – as a result, their fate does affect our fate. That’s why we have a veto on these proposals for fiscal union. And that’s why the British people should get a referendum on whether that veto is used.
CCHQ have just issued this briefing to MPs to explain why the people don’t deserve a referendum on our relationship with the EU, and would probably find a vote too “confusing”. It hasn’t gone down well with Conservative backbenchers at all, some of whom are suggesting the document has more than a few Lib Dem fingerprints on it.
That may or may not be true, but if the Conservative Party wanted to avoid those suspicions they probably shouldn’t have titled the paper “Britain in Europe” – which also happens to be the name of the pro-EU and pro-Euro pressure group run at one time by Danny Alexander…
The Government has taken the first step towards implementing the Direct Democracy agenda by launching the new e-petitions site, which is a vast improvement on the old Number 10 petition portal. It’s still a relatively small step – 100,000 signatures gets your petition considered for a Parliamentary debate – but it’s the thin end of a positive wedge.
Would the Commons authorities really dare to turn down a petition and tell 100,000 actively engaged voters that their concern doesn’t count? If they do it once it would generate so much anger and bad publicity that I doubt they’d repeat it in a hurry.
Similarly, now that this principle is established I suspect the road to initiatives for referenda will become a lot smoother, and in an few years we may well see the right to get a referendum in return for 1 million signature or something similar. (To say nothing of the right to recall and sack MPs between elections, which would prove extremely popular).
What are the practical implications of this? In essence, direct democracy will break the barriers between the political class and the public, and smash the Westminster system by which some issues are a matter for a “consensus” which is at total odds with the voters. Politicians will have to start agreeing with the people, or face being replaced by others who are more in touch with real concerns in the real world.
These petitions will undoubtedly cover a myriad of issues but the main victim of this will be the EU. Of course we can expect a petition for a debate on leaving the EU – the polls show how popular that is becoming and the clout of the Express should make it quite easy to secure the necessary signature. More effective, though, will be the large petitions on issues in which the EU has a hand.
Votes for prisoners? The Greek bailout? The death penalty for kid killers (which is being championed by Guido)? Bin taxes? Green taxes that freeze grannies to death? Post office closures? The right to deport Philip Lawrence’s killer? On all these and more the opinion of the public is clear, and a petition on the topic would rock not just Westminster’s system of cosy taboos but also the EU, the authority which dictates that Britain must obey such bad and unpopular policies. The fundamental truth that the people never asked for the European Union would be undeniably clear on headline issue after headline issue.
The revolutionaries are at the gate – and the first, small gap has just been opened to let us in.
ConservativeHome has already drawn attention to the boom in anti-EU feeling among Conservative voters in the new Angus Reid survey – a poll which also shows support for leaving the EU outright is now at 49% against a mere 25% who want to stay in. It’s clear those of us who have been arguing for a long time that the EU is, in Dan Hannan’s words, making us “poorer, less democratic and less free” are making serious headway.
Looking at the tables, there’s an interesting message for the main party on the pro-EU side of the divide, too. The Lib Dems have traditionally been cheerleaders for the EU, ever closer union and Euro membership – but now those are small minority opinions among even their own voters.
Asked “If a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should adopt the euro as its currency were held tomorrow, how would you vote?”, Lib Dems voted 80% No to 10% Yes.(It was 92% to 4% among Tories and 79% to 11% among Labour, interestingly making Labour the most pro-Euro party).
The answer to the question “If a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union (EU) were held tomorrow, how would you vote?” was even more surprising. Lib Dem voters would vote in favour of leaving at a rate of 39% to 34%. (Conservatives support leaving by 66% to 16%, and Labour by a margin of 42% to 32%.)
This is another confirmation of how out of touch Westminster has become with the voters, but also of how even the Lib Dems have lost their pro-EU and pro-Euro base. Surely it’s time for them to ditch this out of touch, vote-losing article of faith?