I don't like referenda. But it is perfectly obvious that the majority in the country does not believe that the "Reform Treaty" is not the Constitutional Treaty dressed up, and that they want a referendum on the subject as promised. And yet Tony and Gordon seem inclined to push on with ratification without allowing the public to have a say. The question is, what are people going to do about it?
If we leave it to the parliamentary process, Gordon will be able to ram it through despite opposition. People need to demonstrate their strength of feeling on this issue, to force him and his MPs to consider the electoral consequences.
The Telegraph has the right idea, but is botching the implementation. They have launched an online "petition" for a referendum on the subject. Except, it's not a petition, it's a poll (and as such will be accused, rightly, of not being based on a representative sample). And you have to register with their site in order to vote. Currently, 58 people have voted. I wonder how many clicked on the "Yes" button, but then, like me, gave up when they were asked to register with the site before their vote could be registered? This isn't going to work, and will be used by the Government to argue that opposition is negligible.
Even without these obstacles, the Telegraph website is the wrong place to do this. The Times, Mail, Express and Sun have all called for the Government to honour its commitment to a referendum. In this age of modern media, we ought also to consider the readership of the various blogs, and those who get their news from the TV, radio, or from one of the pro-Treaty papers (The Mirror, Guardian, and, to some extent, The Independent) but disagree with their stance on this issue. Most of these people are not going to go to the Telegraph website to register and vote.
What is needed is neutral territory, where all the papers, bloggers etc can point their readership to register their call for a referendum. There is one obvious location. The road-pricing protest showed its power. It is the No.10 petition site.
There are already a number of petitions on there on this subject, but none of them expresses the issue clearly and in a way that is likely to find the greatest common ground amongst the public. And the existence of several alternatives dilutes the message if people don't know which one to vote for.
We need a new petition, carefully worded to attract a range of opinion, from those who want a complete withdrawal, to those who support the European project but feel that there is a point of principle at stake here - for the Government to honour its commitment. Once we have a good form of words, a new petition should be created, and all the papers, pundits and other members of the media and the blogosphere (is the blogosphere part of the media? I'm never quite sure) who support the call for a referendum should run campaigns to point their readers, listeners or viewers to the petition to vote.
This must be concerted action. A half-cocked campaign that did not garner substantial support would be thrown back at opponents of the Treaty as evidence that the country does not feel strongly on the issue. But if the five papers mentioned, the blogosphere and independent TV and radio (e.g. TalkSport) threw their weight behind a petition, I am confident that they could comfortably beat the number of signatures garnered for the road-pricing petition.
So what should the precise wording be? Something along the lines of:
That Her Majesty's Government should not ratify the so-called Reform Treaty without putting it to a referendum of the people of the United Kingdom.
How would you change/improve this? Drop the "so-called"? I put it in, because I didn't want to imply acceptance that this was a fundamentally different treaty to the Constitutional Treaty by appearing to accept the alternative designation, but it is probably unnecessary. Will everyone know what is being referred to by the "Reform Treaty" or does it need more clarification? Should it refer to "honouring their promise to put it to a referendum", rather than simply "putting it to a referendum"? I kept it simple, because it offers less wiggle room for the Government to cavil about whether this Treaty is sufficiently similar to the Constitutional Treaty for their promise to be relevant.
Does this offer the option for the Government to hold a referendum and then ignore the outcome, and still be able to say that they complied with the terms of the petition? I reckon that would be a sophism too far, even for this Government, and that they would be destroyed at the next election if they tried it on. But if you think it needs tightening up, how would you clarify that the results of the referendum should be binding? Have I just answered my own question? If I make that "...putting it to a binding referendum...", does that do the trick?
Or is this whole suggestion barking up the wrong tree?