I have to confess to being rather pleased that Mr Blair is to call a referendum on the future European Constitution. For a long time I was strongly in favour of our involvement in the European project. But over the last few years I have become increasingly unsettled by the whole thing.
My big problem is to do with the lack of democracy. The whole structure is run by unelected officials who seem unaccountable to anyone. The hiatus of two or three years ago, where the whole commission resigned over corruption allegations, brought the position into sharp relief. Apparently nothing much has changed – only the faces. We elect Euro-MPs but they seem to have little power. No wonder so few people turn out (20-30%?) for the Euro-elections.
Therefore, to hand over more powers to the EU under a new constitution seems to be a bad idea without first dealing with the democracy deficit that exists. We need clear accountability to the people.
I have always been against referendums. It seems to me that it is often proposed as a device to sidestep parliament. We must recognise that our elected representatives are just that – representatives of the people. In electing them, we trust them to act on our behalf. If we don’t like what they do we get rid of them. Simple, huh?
However, Tony Benn made what I thought was a good point yesterday on morning TV news. (I don’t appreciate his very left-wing politics, but I respect him as an advocate of democracy for the British people.) He noted that MPs are also guardians of our (i.e. British) constitution. They have no right to change it, only defend it. To change it requires consent. Therefore a referendum is necessary. This to me is a compelling argument.
The flaw I can see, however, is that we have no written constitution in this country. We have constitution by tradition and precedent. It is obscure and unclear in many areas. So to defend it is rather like trying to hold water in a basket!
Anyway, I think a referendum is a ‘good thing’.