April 19, 2004

LAST RITES (via Mike Daley)

A referendum: brave, right and risky (Daily Telegraph, 19/04/2004)

If, as now seems likely, Tony Blair commits himself to a referendum on the EU constitution, he will be doing something brave and right. This newspaper has spent much of the past two years demanding that the matter be put directly to voters.

Now that we finally appear to have got our way, it would be petty to cavil about whether the poll will be manipulated, or gloat at Mr Blair's U-turn. The plain fact is that the Prime Minister is putting his future on the line for the sake of his principles, and that is something every democrat should applaud. This logic ought also to apply, by the way, to the Tories. They have every reason to be annoyed, having planned to fight the European election largely on this issue; but muttering about rigged questions comes across as sour grapes. Of course, Labour will do everything it can to win, by fair means or foul. [...]

This is one of the most serious political risks Mr Blair will ever take. If he lost on an issue of such magnitude, he would almost certainly have to resign. Even if he clung on, his authority would be destroyed. But the question of Britain's relationship with the EU is bigger than any prime
minister. At stake is whether we want to be an independent country, living under our own laws, or part of a bigger country called Europe. Nothing could matter more.

Blair bows to pressure for EU poll (Toby Helm, 19/04/2004, Daily Telegraph)
The move, which follows strong pressure from Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, represents a complete about-turn by Mr Blair.

He has repeatedly insisted that he will not call a referendum because the constitution will not have a profound effect on the way the United Kingdom is governed. "There will be no referendum," he said at a Brussels summit in October.

Sources said the main reason Mr Blair had changed his mind was that the Conservatives had recently vowed to renegotiate the constitutional treaty, raising the stakes in the debate between the two main parties on Europe.

But the decision is also clearly aimed at depriving the Tories, who have demanded a referendum as a means of rejecting the constitution, of a key issue on which to fight the European elections on June 10 and then the general election, expected next spring or summer.

The change, while embarrassing for Mr Blair, will leave the Tories having to rethink their strategy.

Don't you have to assume he's scheduled the vote now because he's given up on European Union and wants it to fail for good?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2004 7:56 AM

Not sure of the motivation. Blair has seemed very eager to join the EU and it could just be an election ploy as one of the articles suggests. If this failed and Blair is reelected he could continue to push for EU membership.

Posted by: AWW at April 19, 2004 11:14 AM

Maybe so, but I think the simplest answer is that this is exactly what it seems to be; Blair putting his career on the line for a principle he believes in, exactly as he put it on the line last year in his epic battle to convince Parliament that the war in Iraq was right. It's another example of why Blair is one of the most admired, if not _the- single most esteemed, British prime ministers among Americans, ever.

Posted by: Joe at April 19, 2004 5:37 PM