A daily blog on the thrills, spills, and frequent absurdities of the world's one and only 'non-imperial empire' - as Barroso himself called it - the European Union.

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Friday, 21 October 2011

The Referendum Vote: A Belated Farce

David Cameron turns his back on the electorate.

The story of the 'referendum vote' is looking more and more like the saga of a a belated farce. Originally intended to be a free and open debate on whether the government should hold a referendum on Britain's membership of the European Union, scheduled for next Thursday, it is now plain and clear that it is nothing of the sort. MPs will, in all likelihood, vote against the public having their say, in spite of all polls in the last five years saying that the public want otherwise. Prime Minister David Cameron has made doubly sure that the embarassing outcome of a popular ballot does not occur, by introducing a raft of measures against anyone who may consider voting for it.

It is a sad day when a Prime Minister orders his MPs to block a public vote. But that is precisely what Mr. Cameron has done, having issued a three-line whip to all his MPs. The threat of deselection hangs over the heads of all who do not vote accordingly. The debate itself has been brought forward to Monday - less time for MPs to browse through the angry barrage of emails that would have landed in their inbox - and the referendum itself will no longer be a standard, two-response question. It will instead have three responses. Two-thirds of the possible responses are 'In,' ensuring that those who want to remain in the EU as it is do not have to be a majority: they merely need to have a higher proportion of the votes that either of the two reformist reformists to win. Britain's future could be decided by as little as 34% of the populace. Not that all that matters much: in the unlikely event that the vote swings against the party line, and MPs vote for a referendum, for Mr. Cameron could refuse to hold one. Even if he did, history dictates that it would be repeated or ignored until we delivered the 'right' result.

There is only one argument as yet used for this astoundingly undemocratic arrangement -the Prime Minister's personal belief. David Cameron has repeatedly stated that he 'does not believe that an In/Out referendum is right.' Key word being believe. Like its immediate precursor, this government has repeatedly refused to hold an independent cost-benefit analysis. It has simply reverted to the old Labour line, saying that they don't need to carry one out as 'the benefits of EU membership are self-evident.'

This line of thinking is remarkably child-like: 'I have irrefutable evidence. It is so irrefutable that I do not have to show it to you.' It would never be accepted in open debate: if someone went on BBC Question Time, for example, claiming to have proof that could settle the argument 'once and for all,' proudly boasting of evidence that could vindicate their claims and make their opponents look patently ridiculous, would you not be a tiny bit suspicious if they then turned around and said: 'No. I'm not going to show you. You know what it is?' If you knew what it was, you wouldn't be asking! It is doubtful that this  evidence even exists: if David Cameron possessed the power of proving his case utterly and beyond refute, why would he - or any else, for that matter, hesistate to use it?

Unless he can prove it - or even back it up with facts and figures, something else he has thus far been unable or unwilling to do - then his 'belief' is worth little. It certainly should not be the grounds on which we decide our nation's future for another generation or more.

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