Constitutional Crisis

Watching the special ‘EU Constitution Question Time‘ last night left me saddened. The vote in France is going to be worryingly close – and France has had a very open and public debate, with a serious attempt to bring awareness of the issues to a wide audience.Despite the information overload, French voters seem willing to destroy the treaty for one of three reasons:

  1. They see the constitution as ‘Thatcherite’ in it’s economic outlook
  2. They are sceptical about the accession of Turkey
  3. They don’t like Chirac and want to give him a bloody nose

The constitution does underpin a free market – but that’s hardly ‘Thatcherism’ – if it were I’d be against it too! If they don’t like Chirac, they must remember that the fallout from their decision on Sunday will be around long after Jacques has been forgotten about. I could write a whole piece about why we should try to get Turkey into the EU – but it’s completely unconnected with getting this constitution ratified.

I really hope the French forget these issues on Sunday and vote on what really matters, they have a habit of proving opinion polls wrong.

But what about us? If France votes ‘non’, then whatever anyone says, the treaty is scuppered. We will all have to go back to the drawing board – there is absolutely no point in us holding a referendum on a treaty France has rejected. However, if the French vote ‘oui’ – where does that leave us? We have had no real unbiased coverage of the constitution, we have a largely eurosceptic press full of nonsense stories about straight bananas – and we have a deeply unpopular Prime Minister. The battle for hearts and minds on this side of the channel is going to be a tough one.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Good to see Charles Kennedy has taken up my mantle. For anyone who missed it, he’s written an open letter to Tony Blair enquiring as to where he now stands on electoral reform (published on the front page of today’s Independent). I hope that he has more luck getting an answer than I did – but I won’t hold my breath.Word is that Tony Blair is going to be gunning hard for the Lib Dems from now on – any pretence at detant is now all but dead. A great pity, but one can’t help feeling he used the Lib Dems for as long as he could, keeping up a pretence of sympathy for electoral reform. Lord Jenkins must be spinning in his grave.

Tony Blair is doing more to undermine the progressive consensus than any Lib Dem has ever done. If the Tories sneak in with a minority government in 2009 or 2010 – he will only have himself to blame.

Spend the money on something useful

Charles Clarke is trying to sell us the insidious ID card scheme again. Basically the message is along the lines of ‘it’s not that bad – it’s not compulsory and we’re not going to include too much data’. Mr Clarke, the detail is almost irrelevant. Once you have an ID card in place you can easily:

  • Increase the scope of data held
  • Make it compulsory
  • Increase the cost
  • Make the data available to other groups or agencies

All on the basis that ‘it’s in the national interest’. The only way to guarantee we don’t end up with an intrusive compulsory scheme is to not launch a thin-end-of-the-wedge voluntary one. If we do end up with an ID card scheme I make two predictions

  1. The first convincing forgeries will surface within months if not weeks
  2. It will become as good as compulsory because of all the things that you cannot do, get or access without one within two years

We don’t need it. We don’t want it. Spend the money on something useful

Where do Eurosceptics get their suntans?

Why are we so depressingly anti-European? The Independent today visited Lorraine and spoke to a retired French priest who had lived though the occupation. In school he had been taught English and German – French being illegal. Of course, he will be voting ‘Oui’ in the French EU Constitution referendum. But he’s worried about younger eurosceptics. At the top of the list of ‘what has the EU ever given us?’ must be ’60 years of peace, co-operation and trade between former enemies’.However, the EU isn’t just a peacekeeping system – it’s so much more than that. It’s a union that has delivered greater prosperity to all of it’s member states. Former Soviet bloc countries are queueing up at the gates, clamouring to be allowed to join. Britain is a trading nation, and today, half of all our international trade is with other EU countries – free from tariffs and other trade barriers.

We in Britain cannot wait to board our cheap flights and even cheaper ferries to spend our holidays and weekends in our neighbouring EU countries, we enjoy food, culture and climate and return with our luggage stuffed full of cheap goodies.

Even rabid eurosceptics like Kilroy (the permatanned one) own properties in sunnier parts of europe to top up their tans. An uneasy coalition of far-left and right wing parties are planning a glossy, high profile ‘No’ campaign to try to derail the constitution. Since these people have no coherent message as to why we should vote no, we shouldn’t listen to them for too long – but I fear we will. The euro-knockers will try hard to derail the treaty, so that they can once again claim that the EU doesn’t work well. It’s too divided and too difficult to keep all of the disparate nations working together.

Which is precisely why we do need the treaty. The constitution is a must to solidify the framework in which all of the nations can work together and move forward. Yes, the CAP needs replacing or reforming – but it will be easier to do this in a well structured EU with a clear constitution. If the constitution fails, we are only going to perpetuate those things about the EU that we all agree need to change!

Something to help you sleep soundly

I am indebted to a colleague for this article from the New York Times. The US Air Force is lobbying President Bush for approval for a new Space Weapons Program. Yes, you can sleep soundly in your beds knowing that Uncle Sam is planning:

  • Common Aero Vehicle – a military space plane capable of striking anywhere in the world at 45 minutes notice (where have we heard that figure before)
  • Rods From The Gods – a program to hurl cylinders of titanium, tungsten or even uranium at targets on the ground at speeds of 7,200 mph
  • Laser Weapons – which can be bounced off satellites to targets on the ground
  • Radio Weapons – with powers ranging from ‘tap on the shoulder’ to ‘toast’

Gen. Lance Lord, who leads the Air Force Space Command, told Congress recently:

“Simply put, it’s the American way of fighting.” Air Force doctrine defines space superiority as “freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack” in space.

Don’t you feel reassured now?