In the Telegraph, Mathew D’Ancona writes that the Second Reading of the Bill to ratify the EU Constitution (Lisbon Treaty) in The Commons is going to be a tough debate for both Brown and Cameron.
He sees the main problem as being for David Cameron though, keeping the Conservative side from appearing divided and overly hostile, and ensuring that Brown is not able to get away with sounding reasonable after abandoning his manifesto promise to have a national referendum. If the Conservatives sound overly anti-EU in the Commons, Brown would then easily portray the Conservative position as being the extreme one, and accuse Cameron of simply wanting to exit the EU.
As this danger is already being written about far and wide by many commentators, it is not likely that Conservative MPs will undermine their leader and oblige Gordon Brown in this way, just at the moment Cameron is at last in a commanding position in the polls. Events rarely comply with the prognostications of commentators especially when they are nearly all in agreement as to the likely outcome of events. Conservative MPs will surely behave themselves.
The more interesting part, to my mind will be whether Labour MPs will decide that this issue threatens their seats, and rebel. Labour survival instincts are more likely to take over, leading to a rebellion to force a referendum, than Conservative MPs are to jeopardise the strength of their current position. I think that Labour MPs breaking out against Gordon Brown’s gameplan is a more likely scenario.
Just imagine the position if Labour MPs did rebel in sufficient numbers to force a referendum.
If the subsequent referendum were to reject the Treaty, the problem for Conservative sceptics would be that Gordon Brown or at least a Labour PM would be handling the renegotiation and not David Cameron. A renegotiation would be dressed up and sold back to Britain and repolled a while later. If Brown/Labour lost the first referendum, he might win a subsequent one, but whatever the outcome, Labour would be perceived as having traded fairly with the electorate.
Conservative eurosceptics would clearly do better to let Brown succeed in ratifying the Constitution through the Commons breaking his referendum manifesto pledge, and focus purely on winning power in 2010. They could then open up on the EU once in power, bringing all the issues to a head then while in a position of strength. Then it would be Cameron handling any renegotiation.
If Brown/Labour had already had a renegotiation, and succeeded in winning a second-time-around referendum, it would be far harder if not impossible for Cameron to open up on the core issues that he and Conservatives wish to address, as the Constitution would have been ratified openly and democratically.
It would be in Conservative eurosceptic interests to let Brown win for now, but pay a high price politically for doing so. It would, however without doubt be in Labour’s best interests to ensure that he fails to ratify the Constitution in this way, that the promised referendum is held, and that they are seen not to have ratted on their referendum manifesto promise.
But will labour MPs act in their own best interests by blocking Brown and rebelling?
And will Conservatives act in their best interests by letting Brown win?
It’s not often that both sides to a contest would do better by losing it.
Only Gordon Brown wants to see the Constitution ratified without a popular vote, breaking all his promises. It is because he is the supremely arrogant non-democrat that he is so unpopular. His unpopularity can only grow, the more arrogant and unwilling he is to face electors on any issue, whether it be his leadership, a general election or on this ratification procedure.
Meanwhile Cameron is remembering Napoleon’s dictum – ‘Never disturb your enemy when he’s making a mistake.’ Cameron must be patient, and wait while Brown weakens himself and his Party yet further. Conservative eurosceptics will have to be tied up and gagged for one month. Sorry, chaps.
A little debate might expose weak points in the government’s and the EU’s position, and those cards should be played. But unless the amendment backing the Referendum has a clear chance of passing with a big enough Labour revolt, Conservatives must not oblige Brown by venting their anger and frustration. If Conservatives win in 2010, they will finally get to sink their teeth.