Friday, November 18, 2005

Is David Davies a dangerous man?

I don't mean in a cheesewire-wielding SAS fashion. It's time to talk about the consti-bloody-tution. DD has recently done some very odd things con-wise, and they worry me. Apparently, he wants to have two (count'em!) referendums as a matter of policy. This is a little strange to begin with - after all, isn't a referendum a means of deciding policy, not the policy itself? - but it gets weirder when you hear what he wants to referend about.

Davies wants to hold a national referendum on "whether or not to reclaim powers from Brussels". This is odd: a referendum to determine the government's foreign policy? Referendums are normally held to ratify a change in the constitution ex post facto, as with the devolution polls of 1979 and 1998 and the Eureferendum of 1975. But this would be one on an executive action (diplomacy) in the future. Strange. Odder yet, it's superfluous. There already is a means of getting unimpeachable legitimacy for a future course of action: it's called a general election. Presumably he thinks we should reclaim powers from Brussels, so why not stick it in his hypothetical manifesto? He would be no more irrevocably committed to it, in fact less, than if he held a referendum and won.

Now, taking the hypothetical a few steps further - imagine DD wins an election, stages the referendum, wins that, goes to Brussels and unaccountably succeeds in getting one or more policy areas converted from qualified-majority voting to unanimous approval.

I agree this is a fairly wild scenario, but bear with me.

DD now wants to hold a further referendum, but not (as you'd think) in order to confirm the alteration of the treaties after, I suppose, he gets the amendments ratified in Parliament. No, he says he wants a further referendum on whether or not he has been successful. This is frankly bizarre. I mean, why not just commission an opinion poll if he wants to measure public opinion? No doubt Anthony Wells would be delighted to do it for a consideration.

Certainly it would be fascinating to see the results, as they would throw light on exactly how much the public understands about any of this stuff. Would the Europhobes be capable of voting "yes", as presumably they ought to...or would some unconscious force drive their dear little fingers to the NO box? If DD wants further legitimation, of course, he could just call an election. But what need? The changes to the treaty would be ratified by a parliament elected on a manifesto promising them - what more do you need?

I can see perhaps two explanations. One is that DD is simply indulging in blatant self-interest, promising to gratify the hard Right by staging a Europhobic jingofest - no, two! - at the public charge and by using the words "Europe" and "referendum" in close connection a lot. This is pathetic, and reeks of desperation. The other is that, in fact, he doesn't care for elections or parliament or the constitution and would rather have a system of executive decisions ratified by plebiscite...or something similar to Mussolini's view of the state, in other words.

He's going to lose, so it's only of theoretical value, but the possibility exists that the winner might offer him a Shadow Cabinet slot.

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