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Power to the people?

Nick Robinson | 11:04 UK time, Tuesday, 23 October 2007

What do we want? Power to the people. When do we want it? Now but, er, not necessarily in the future... because that's a hypothetical question.

That, in summary, was David Cameron's answer to repeated questioning at his news conference this morning.

Eurosceptic Tories want him to promise that whenever he comes to office, and whether or not the Treaty has been agreed by Parliament or, indeed, all other EU countries, he will give the people their say. This would amount to a commitment to re-negotiate Britain's whole relationship with the EU which is precisely why the Tory leader wants to avoid it. On the other hand he does not want to say no and thus antagonise the sceptics and possibly trigger a battle about the next Tory manifesto.

So, he said that it was a hypothetical question based on the assumption that Gordon Brown cannot be persauded by Parliament or the people to change his mind.

He did, however, misspeak (I assume) in a way which may be seized on by the sceptics. He promised to have a referendum after the next election "if we can". I suspect he meant if the treaty has not become law but that is not what he actually said and sceptics will surely point out that Britain can give the people their say whenever she likes.


  • 1.
  • At 12:06 PM on 23 Oct 2007,
  • Robbie wrote:

We want conviction, honesty and honour.

When do we want it?

Like yesterday!!!

Elections should be changed so that if a candidate does not get at least 30% of the vote the seat is recontested yearly.

Politicians want our votes.

Make the electorate an offer we cannot refuse!!!

Nick - canot (sic) - apologies for being a pedant.

  • 2.
  • At 12:15 PM on 23 Oct 2007,
  • michael berry wrote:

honestly nick there is no pleasing the tory old guard is there? as it is i see no reason why cameron won't promise to hold a vote if he becomes PM.

it worries me that if the lib dems put down there amendment calling for a vote on the wider issue of europe then david cameron could have a rebellion on his hands.

i think that all mps should be given a free vote i can't understand why labour and lib dem mps so scared of their whips it makes wonder what goes on

  • 3.
  • At 12:44 PM on 23 Oct 2007,
  • Malcolm wrote:

Membership of the EU has been the poison chalice of British politics for all governments for nearly three decades. I would like to see what historians make of this period in our nation's story in a hundred years. Will they be able to believe that in the aftermath of a world war which cost so much in blood and treasure, fought in order to preserve our liberty and freedoms, no government had the honour, much less the courage, to seek a mandate from the people before signing those very freedoms away?

Politics is supposed to be about arguing a position and winning consent for that view by persuasion. It speaks volumes that no government since 1975 has felt confident enough in its stance on Europe to put that case to the people and win a mandate through honest and open debate. I have no faith in Brown changing his mind (unless parliament finds its conscience and forces through a referendum) but neither on past showing do I believe that if Cameron somehow gained the keys to number 10 anything would change.

I am forced to the conclusion that our membership of the EU is indefensible once the facts are laid bare, and so no government will see fit to defend it. Those of us (I suspect an increasing majority) who see more than a touch of "the emperors clothes" in the EU must simply bide our time until the whole thing comes crashing down under the weight of its own corruption and absurdity, as it inevitably will, but it is a very sorry advertisment for democracy.

I like that. The Tories want a referendum now, because the result will undoubtedly give Labour a bloody nose. But they don't want a referendum in the hypothetical situation where they actually win an election, and the result might give them a bloody nose. Nice.

But of course, that's an oversimplification, because we now have different ideas about what the referendum should be for. We keep hearing about an 'EU referendum', which could mean:

A referendum on the EU [treatstitution]


A referendum on [the UK's continued membership of] the EU

Gordon Brown doesn't want either. David Cameron wants the former but not the latter. Many Tories, and much of the public, want the latter. Much of the public think that the former is the latter.

I despair sometimes.

  • 5.
  • At 10:26 PM on 23 Oct 2007,
  • Max Sceptic wrote:

David Cameron will have hit a very timely - and popular - note if he campaigns to 'return power to the people' - and keeps pressing at every occasion for a EU referendum.

If this means opening up old wounds with the old EUrophilic tories, then so be it. Cameron will find that since Brown's cowardly bottling out of both a general election and a EU referendum, people are sick of decietful politicians and are more EUrosceptic as a result.

And, talking of promises, this is a good opportunity for Cameron to confirm his EUrosceptic credentials by reafirming his promise to withdraw from the EPP.

  • 6.
  • At 11:17 PM on 23 Oct 2007,
  • Quietzapple wrote:

MacCamaroon is a hypocrite and not yet entirely in the control of the right wing euroloonies, but on his way.

Another 18 months and he will be their cipher if they have their way. They already have saddled him with an agenda he doesn't want because of their panic over the election which wasn't.

If Gordon Brown fights and wins the public battle MacCamaroony should also be fighting, as I expect, he will still be stranded in a party committed to ongoing confusion re the EU, and utterly unelectable.

How many generations of Tory politicos have died the death of a thousand euro divisions?

  • 7.
  • At 11:55 PM on 23 Oct 2007,
  • Robert wrote:

What matters, surely, is not what Cameron wants or the Tories want but what Rupert Murdoch wants.

Cameron needs to squirm himself into Murdoch's position and favour, no-one elses.

  • 8.
  • At 08:26 AM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • BGarvie wrote:

MPs should be given a 'free vote' on this EU Reform Treaty, otherwise it will be seen as the Labour Party aided by the Lib/Dems as settling this matter. A free vote would be seen as fair,albeit not conclusive.It is a question of trust. Brown's denial after a promised referendum is gross.Nobody will believe him, his credibility has absolutely been blown.

There is an urgent need for an open EU debate based on a cost benefit analysis of our membership.Now that would certainly get the debate moving.

  • 9.
  • At 10:24 AM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • BlueFlag wrote:

What do we want? neutral journalism!

When will we get it? by the looks of things nick, not very soon...

  • 10.
  • At 02:01 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Romanus Renatus wrote:

Red lines or red lies!

  • 11.
  • At 04:09 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Wiggle wrote:

"What do we want? neutral journalism!

When will we get it? by the looks of things nick, not very soon..."

Really? Sorry but anyone who considers BBC journalism to have any kind of bias is an idiot.

  • 12.
  • At 06:09 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Anthony wrote:

BGarvie (8): I think we can all agree that there is no oppression more grievous and no political trick more deceitful than the elected Government of the day taking a decision by a vote in Parliament. What has the world come to?

  • 13.
  • At 06:43 PM on 24 Oct 2007,
  • Alex Swanson wrote:

Michael Berry: it's easy to please the "tory old guard"; just provide truth, freedom and democracy. What's the problem?

Quietzapple: how do you reason that adopting a policy which most of the public wants would result in a party being "unelectable"?

  • 14.
  • At 02:42 AM on 25 Oct 2007,
  • GRAND YORKIE wrote:

I thought m.p.s were elected by the voters, and vote on behalf of their constituants. if ,as we know they donot,only look after their own interest. its time we cut down the number of M.P.s by half,reduced their salaries, and cut the pension plans..ITS TIME WE CONTROLLED OUR EMPLOYEES, AND NOT THE OTHER WAY ROUND.WE SHOULD ALSO CUT THE TIME FOR A PARTY TO BE A GOVERMENT DOWN TO 2 YEARS, , IN ANY CASE WHY DO WE NEED LOCAL M.P.s, WHEN WE ARE BEING GOVERNED FROM THE E.U.

  • 15.
  • At 11:59 AM on 29 Oct 2007,
  • J.WESTERMAN wrote:

Why all this argy - bargy?
Who expects the Tories to do post-election what they implied pre-election? It is not how they operate.Their problem is that they are being rumbled by more and more people(voters).

  • 16.
  • At 12:40 PM on 29 Oct 2007,
  • Quietzapple wrote:

Quietzapple was asked by Alex Swanson 'how do you reason that adopting a policy which most of the public wants would result in a party being "unelectable"?'

People often say, in large numbers , that they want contradictory things. Ask any honest pollster.

In an election many more look more carefully at such menus and see that squirrel fricasse doesnt go on the same plate as spotted dick and custard very well.

Most Brits want the fruits of the EU and independance from it. Only fools believe that is possible on withdrawal (lets not pretend we are in the same position as the Swiss/Swedes, shall we?)

Does anyone really believe our rivals in France and Germany etc will feel they owe us favours, especially after we have set red lines, demanded rebates etc for 30 years?

It is clear that there is an even more inherently contradiction in the Tory positions on the EU. The much vaunted Referendum would not be ennacted if they won, as they will not agree on what it is to actually be ON, and of course, their record on non consultation in government, even on listening, is unrivalled.

The Tories ALWAYS unravel on Europe, it is their party's nature, just as they used to unravel on free trade, empire preference, the corn laws etc in centuries gone by.

This time even a "NO" vote in Ireland and/or elsewhere will not rescue them. They are committed to a magnum Euro-row, the blood has been tasted, and the hounds are out.

The "Referendum" silver bullet is going to pass through MacCamaroon's heart, and prob Hague's too . . .

  • 17.
  • At 09:22 PM on 01 Nov 2007,
  • Enima Pod wrote:

I must confess to being an idiot, because I have not seen so much Bias emanating from the BBC camp since the Miners' strike, and I do NOT like what I see. Maybe it Should be up to Journalists to decide on a change in the Leadership of the Liberal Party, but it is not so in this country, and Nick, unless you are thinking of being transported off to the salt mines of Siberia, it will never be up to you. So if the cap fits...

  • 18.
  • At 04:46 PM on 12 Nov 2007,
  • Adrian Peirson wrote:

The EU has been a Lib Lab Con Stitch up Since 1975.
Recently released FCO Docs show the Foreign office talking of European Integration, not just discussing it but discussing how it should be a chieved by first using existing structures.
Other documents from the early seventies show Both Labour, Conservative central office and the FCO conspiring together against enoch Powell, and People like Frere Smith.

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