Saturday, June 14, 2008

A good week for democracy

And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?

Come to my arms, my beamish boy!

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

He chortled in his joy.

Chortling was not enough. I yelled with joy and bounced up and down in my chair, probably wrecking the springs. It took me several minutes to calm down. I am still glowing with delight, as if I had just broken 80 (again, I might add).

The Jabberwock is an apt allegory for the EU, conveying the right degree of doom combined with something weird, unreal, incomprehensible and frightening. I was in Ireland all last week as the final stages of the referendum campaign unfolded, complete with the by then merciful moratorium on any comment about it for the final 24 hours before voting. There were various arguments from the No camp, supported only by Sinn Fein of the main political parties, some valid, some rather spurious but a recurring theme was that voters should not vote for something they don’t understand. The government, which spent far more taxpayers’ money on campaigning for a Yes vote than the privately funded No campaign needed to make its successful case, happily contributed to this by issuing every household a copy, or presumably a prĂ©cis, of the treaty text. Gunshots and bleeding feet come to mind. The treaty is as impenetrable as a Salman Rushdie novel. It takes over 67,000 words to make its dubious points. The US Constitution, including amendments, needs only 8,000 and can be understood by just about anyone. The Irish on the whole use our priceless language better than we do and have rightly objected to this insult to their common sense and values, in effect saying that if there is a good case to be made why can it not be more clearly explained? In other words, what is the government trying to hide? They even promised under pressure to use the Irish veto at the World Trade Organisation to prevent any agricultural deal that would be ‘bad for the farmers’. The farmers’ leaders seemed happy with this fudge but I heard nobody ask whether they would ask the farmers each time whether they wanted the veto used or not. This ‘trust us, we know best’ attitude is typical of most governments and in spades of the EU itself but it seems not to have fooled the Irish farmers.

On the evening news the BBC treated it a bit like a surprise result in the Euro 2008 football: not in keeping with the form book, now what happens next? Channel 4 gave us an interview with a remarkable politician I have not come across before. Gisela Stuart is the German-born Labour MP for Edgbaston, a drafter of the EU constitution, wrote an article for the Daily Telegraph criticising Gordon Brown for denying us a referendum and understands democracy - a lot of contradictions there. She is also articulate and is willing to give a straight answer to a simple question. Asked whether the treaty is now dead she said yes. Asked whether the EU has a problem with the ballot box she said yes. She berated the EU president for saying everything will still go ahead even before the official result was announced and said he is in denial. Right every time Gisela. The way in which other countries like France and Germany have jumped in to belittle the problem they now have and by implication blame Ireland is disgraceful.

All this will perhaps give Gordon Brown something else to think about as he tries to stop us noticing that he only got his 42 day detention bill through the Commons with the help of nine DUP votes and Ann Widdecome and to kid us that no deals were done in exchange. The resignation of David Davis may have confused David Cameron a bit but he’ll work it out in the end. Brown’s efforts to belittle it are hypocrisy. He firstly knows that Davis will campaign not just on the 42 day issue but on all the areas in which this government has eroded our rights and freedoms and does not relish the embarrassment this will cause and secondly he simply does not understand anyone who could do out of principle something that could harm his career prospects and will have no idea how to conduct the debate. More fun to come there with any luck. I don’t think Labour in general or Brown in particular will be crowing about this for long. The only Labour politician to come out of the 42 day business with any credit is Jacqui Smith and this despite, not because of, being in charge of the department sponsoring it. Matthew d’Ancona, after interviewing her for the Spectator, wrote ‘English, female, articulate, a human being: suddenly Labour MPs are taking a very close look indeed at their Home Secretary’. I thought the order of his adjectives interesting and significant.