Fifty years ago, in the quaint second half of the 20th century, some folks in Europe began to imagine that life might be better if their best and brightest were not savagely sacrificed in wars. In place of old-fashioned armed conflicts and brutality, the idea began to emerge that an alliance of nations could be formed to create lasting peace and enhance living conditions through trade and development. The inherent shine began to tarnish as soon as politicians became involved in the implementation process.
The proof is in the numbers. There are 4400 words in the U.S. Constitution. It took 100 days to frame the document. The book edition of the proposed 2004 EU Constitution was 400 pages long although – to be fair – one can obtain a user-friendly PDF file version on the net which only runs 219 pages.
When it was time for the people to have their say, the citizen members of the European Union voted. Several countries said “yes” to the hefty document and the bureaucracy which it would take to make it happen. The French and the Dutch said “no thanks,” and this meant the Constitution was dead. The scheduled British ballot never came to pass.
This came as a bit of a blow to Prime Minister Tony Blair. He had faithfully promised the people of Great Britain that they would get to have a referendum on the proposed EU Constitution and so he was frustrated when the French and Dutch nay sayers made further balloting irrelevant. Tony’s frustration was based in his absolute belief that the Brits would cheerfully affirm this overwhelmingly complex EU plan to run their lives. He wanted the Euro-skeptics (people who think that the EU is an anti-British conspiracy) to be silenced once and for all. Talk about not knowing the lay of the land.
Now let’s fast-forward a bit to the present. Fresh from the worst days – so far – of his brief Prime Ministership, Gordon Brown flew off to Lisbon late last week. That is where the somewhat new cast of characters who now run the 27 EU member states were meeting to plot a sales campaign. Their goal was to get people to buy into the “new” EU Constitution that has now been repackaged as a “Reform Treaty.” The thing is, by all accounts from everyone who has read it, the “new” Treaty consists of 90 percent of the “old” and rejected, EU Constitution, with the added ten percent being even more power-grabbing.
Regular readers may recall reading here recently that Gordon Brown wants like anything to distance himself from Tony Blair, the man and the track record, despite the fact that Brown was running his fair share of the New Labour shop during the Blair decade. So what is he do in this case?
Since Tony Blair had promised the people of Britain unequivocally that they would get to vote on accepting the EU Constitution because they deserved to have a say in their own national sovereignty, this left Brown to take the opposite position. He declared that there would be no referendum on this new Treaty, which he signed on the dotted line. To assuage their concerns, Brown assured the people that he had won agreements from his EU comrades by “red lining” aspects of the new Treaty’s rules and regulations. These opt-out provisions would be sacrosanct and would not be applicable on English soil, at least for now, and for maybe as long as ten years, Brown promised. These opt outs include foreign policy and justice issues, two major components of any country’s identity.
Brown had given the Tories another battle cry. The week before, he had unilaterally decided not to give the British populace a chance to vote him his own mandate to be their Prime Minister, and now he was telling them they would not be allowed to vote on their national right to remain free of a power hungry EU bureaucracy. In Gordon Brown, the British people had found a man who was truly ballot phobic.
For a second time in as many weeks, Tory leader David Cameron rushed to the media outlets to declare that, without a referendum, any Treaty which Brown signed on behalf of the nation would be democratically illegitimate. But as usual when pressed, the Conservatives seemed unclear on what exactly they might do if the Treaty was affirmed by the present, Labour dominated, Parliament and was also ratified across Europe. Decisions are always tricky when one has mislaid one’s basic philosophical principles and cojones are in short supply.
But just when you think that a story has run its course, the running backs of irony pick up the ball and run it a bit further down the field. Much has been made of the fact that Gordon Brown hails from Scotland, a country which is now flexing its own muscles and hinting that it wants to leave the auspices of the United Kingdom. This movement toward full independence has emerged after years of a process known as devolution, a plan put in place by the Labour Party. Little by little, Scotland has been given the power to manage its own internal affairs and elect its own government to make things happen. Now, there is talk that the Scots will be offered the option of a referendum in which they get to vote on complete sovereignty. The paradox is hard to ignore.
So, much to the continuing chagrin of Gordon Brown, is the ubiquitous Tony Blair. Over the post-Lisbon weekend, the newspapers were full of leaks about a forthcoming book by Britain’s leading political biographer, Anthony Seldon. The book focuses on the hostile relationship between PM Blair and his former Chancellor (Treasury Secretary) Brown. Seldon recounts that after one very rude verbal attack on Blair, by Brown loyalist Ed Balls, poor old Tony is said to have exclaimed: "I feel like an abused and bullied wife.”
One could hear the titters all over town. But the handwriting on the wall is unmistakable. Blair and Co. are determined to undermine Gordon Brown, as if he needed their help to do that.
The second shoe was dropped in the Monday morning European rumor mill. The idea of Tony Blair becoming the first full time, non-rotating, President of the European Union resurfaced. This made news several months back when the newly elected French President Sarkozy first floated the idea publicly. Once Tony Blair does his thing in the Middle East and finishes his memoir (for which he got a multi million dollar advance thanks to Bill Clinton’s book agent), how could he refuse an appointed (not elective) position with far-reaching perks and power?
Will the British ever get to have their EU Treaty referendum? That question remains unanswered unless and until the Tories find the courage to make a do or die stand. If they fail to win the day, the British people will clearly lose what is left of their heritage and their dignity.