I’m not going to pretend that I am anything other than ecstatic to see the Tories fall so dramatically in the Ipsos MORI poll in yesterday’s Observer. Only six points behind Labour on 37 % as opposed to our 31%, this is surely a blow for Cameron and his Conservatives. Some have claimed it is a rogue poll, but that has yet to be seen. As of now, I am prepared to believe the findings of a respected polling organisation.
All of this begs the question why. Why are the Tories going down and why is Labour recovering? The Glasgow North-East result is clearly in the frame as a by-election win traditionally boosts the winning party’s standing. There is also the excellent news about the economy, and this Ipsos MORI poll shows that 46% of the public now believe the economy will perform better over the next year compared to 23% who think it will deteriorate and 28% who believe it will stay the same.
So we have two powerful reasons for people to go away from the Tories and come to Labour. The other, I believe, is the disarray shown by Cameron, Hague et al on Europe and their policies relating to the EU. The Tories’ EU policies quite simply lack credibility . As a veteran of Labour in the 1980s, please believe me when I know an impossible and unworkable policy when I see one.
Having watched Cameron on the Andrew Marr show on Sunday and reflected on what he said during the past day, I am absolutely convinced that Europe is the Tories’ achilles heel. It is the 2010 Tory version of Labour’s 1987 idea that nuclear disarmament coupled with an increase in ground troops was a viable option for the UK, a policy which would also allow us to fulfil our international commitments.
The voters twigged Labour then just as, I believe, they are twigging the Tories now. Just in case you missed it or found the rhetoric got in the way of what they are actually saying, David Cameron and William Hague state that in the absence of their being able to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty they will:
1) Introduce legislation to require a referendum whenever there is a treaty change in the EU
2) Renegotiate those parts of the existing treaties and agreements the Tories don’t like
I don’t think 1) is much of an issue. After all, should the Tories ever be in a position to negotiate changes to EU treaties they, as the governing party, would have a vested interest in the referendum going through. This is, therefore, a fundamentally dishonest piece of rhetoric in that the Tories are only promising referendums on their own laws and agreements.
2) This is where the Tory policy becomes very difficult, if not downright impossible. It is this which is not credible and unworkable. It is not a credible policy for the very real reason that treaties and other EU agreements are negotiated very strongly down to the last detail by all the member states before agreement. Every member state is therefore irrevocably committed to the final version. Since all member states have been through the process, every single one of them is in the same position. In most instances a change of government in a member state would not be enough to make that country wish to overturn such a treaty or agreement
So I am truly baffled by exactly how the Tories feel they can change those aspects of the EU treaties they don’t like. Even if there were one or two other member states who wished to make amendments to existing agreements that would not be enough to change things across 27 member states.
Changing the EU treaties amounts to constitutional change, something which generally requires significant momentum and a large measure of consensus. I would simply like to draw your attention to the campaign for proportional representation for the House of Commons. It ‘s been a long haul and we are only just beginning to see some movement. Another example may be the challenge the Labour Party faced in getting rid of Clause Four. These are by no means frivolous examples; constitutional change at whatever level is tough and it requires a significant groundswell to get off the ground.
As someone involved in European politics, I see no chance of the Tories achieving the promises they are currently making to the British people regarding treaty change in the EU. They are peddling policies which, since they are not credible, amount to being dishonest.
The one thing David Cameron was very clear about on the Andrew Marr show was that the Conservatives will not take Britain out of the European Union, something they now could do under the changes introduced by the Lisbon Treaty. The Tories really have put themselves between a rock and a hard place – in the EU which they detest yet not at all able to change those things they don’t like – a vulnerable achilles heel indeed.