Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Walking the walk

One of my favourite quotes from Michael Meadowcroft, the former Liberal MP who is one of the best liberal thinkers around, is that "Liberals are anarchists by inclination, but constitutionalists by necessity."

Jo Anglezarke clearly doesn't agree. She doesn't approve of yesterday's walk-out from the House of Commons by Lib Dem MPs, in protest against the Speaker ruling that an amendment to the Lisbon Treaty calling for a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU was out of order. She questions whether she is a member of the British Anarchist Party and tells the MPs to grow up.

Now, on the substantive issue, I'm not convinced that a referendum needs to be held, but I think that Nick Clegg and Ed Davey are right to say that if there is to be a referendum, it should be on the whole question of Britain's future relationship with the EU, not just the rather technical points contained in the Lisbon Treaty such as the number of European Commissioners or the existence of an EU foreign minister.

But it is absurd that the Lib Dems should be denied the opportunity to put forward their views for debate on the treaty because of arcane parliamentary procedures, especially after taking extensive advice from the parliamentary authorities about an acceptable form of wording for the referendum amendment.

But having had their amendment turned down, the Lib Dem MPs had the choice of either sitting there and meekly accepting the situation or kicking up a fuss. Contrary to what the Sermon on the Mount claims, the meek do not inherit the earth, certainly not in a political context. I therefore think it was entirely right for the MPs to take the action they did yesterday.

Indeed, I think the parliamentary party should take action like this far more often. Our political system is far too centralised, undemocratic, inefficient and rooted in the past. And no matter how good the speeches we might make in the House of Commons against it, let's face it, nobody pays attention to those. But a carefully targeted political stunt, such as the one the Lib Dems did yesterday, can make the point very well.

I'm not saying we should do something like that all the time: it would lose its effect if we did. But if this, combined with his pledge to break the law on ID cards, is what Nick Clegg had in mind by ensuring the Lib Dems had an edgy feel about them under his leadership, then I'm all for it.

1 comment:

Stephen B said...

To paraphrase Rosie Kane, I'm sure we going to be amazed at all the madness and craziness that's going to happen in parliament caused by the Lib Dems...

Incidentally, why didn't the Lib Dems insist that the devolution referendums in 1999 should have been on the whole question of Scotland's future relationship with Britain, not just the rather technical points such as the number of MSPs or the existence of particular minister?

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