If you can’t stand the Heath, get out of the kitchen cabinet

Brian Blessed as Prince Voltan in Flash Gordon (1980)Ming’s successor, the Emperor Barin, has demanded undying loyalty from Prince Vultan over his policy to block a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. Two questions arise from this. Firstly, should Barin have Voltan executed? Secondly, what does it say about iwantareferendum that they are targeting Heath anyway, regardless of his well-known views on the Reform Treaty?

The second one is easy to answer and it merely helps reinforce the point I’ve been making here for weeks. Iwantareferendum is of course a Tory front. Those people out there worried that the UK might eventually see US-style “soft money” derailing British politics simply haven’t been paying attention. In the last election the Tories did a great job at using the hunting issue (another fringe subject) to seize several seats via the “independent” likes of Vote OK. Iwantareferendum is remarkably similar.

Both purport to be democratic organisations, yet both are coincidentally partisan and are about exploiting a profoundly undemocratic electoral system that makes a few thousand swing voters in key marginal constituencies the ones who will decide the entire national election result. If we didn’t have first-past-the-post these campaign organisations simply would not exist. They don’t enjoy popular support and they are dependent on exploiting a broken electoral system. I’ve just returned from Amsterdam. You might expect that in the Netherlands, feelings would be running high over the fact that despite rejecting the constitutional treaty by referendum in 2005, Lisbon is simply being ratified by Parliament. Yet notwithstanding the usual suspects – who are in no fewer numbers than in the UK but who lack an electoral system they can exploit – it simply isn’t an issue for them.

Back to Voltan/Heath, Barin/Clegg is on dangerous ground if he intends to lay down the law here. Regardless of the rights and wrongs of our policy not to have a referendum on Lisbon, the simple fact is that it has not been approved by conference. Both candidates agreed with the Ming line during the leadership election so party opinion was not tested then either. As anyone who has followed the debate on the blogosphere will recognise, the argument over whether to have a referendum on Lisbon or an in/out one is at best finely balanced at worst obscurationist in the extreme. Fundamentally, the public are disinterested in such nuance. At least anti-referendum-at-all people like Jonathan Calder have a consistent, clearly put position.

I have to admit that I assumed that this matter had been resolved within the Parliamentary Party months ago, which was why Clegg was comfortable with taking it one step further and not merely abstain from the Lisbon referendum vote but actually oppose it. Clearly I was naive, but no less naive than Clegg and his kitchen cabinet were being by making this commitment.

David Heath is being asked to stick to his principles and lose his front bench job or blindly follow Clegg and lose his seat. It is absurd of Clegg to put him in such a position. And once again, there is a vague hint that he is doing so out of a desire to look “tough.” As I’ve written before, highlighting our own divisions at a time when the Conservatives’ splits are ripe to be exploited is a foolish course of action.

We’re a grown up party that can manage disagreement without going into meltdown. It is one of our greatest strengths. Yet it is one that in this instance the party establishment, as it so often does, has run scared from. We haven’t had a wider debate on this issue. If ever there was an issue to relax the whip, it is now.


  1. The really annoying thing about this is that Mike Hancock is one of the major backers, giving legitimacy to this so called ‘cross bench’ campaign. In Somerton and Frome, the press releases from iwantareferendum include quotes from David Heath’s tory opponent attacking him. How the hell is Hancock getting such a free ride essentially targeting Huhne, Heath etc for Tory gain?

  2. I `m not sure what you are saying about ‘I want a referendum ‘or the hunting lobby . Are you saying that if the Conservative constituency largely agree with a particular view point then any campaigning for it should be banned ?…On the electoral system the usual specious clap trap , better 800,000 voters on the margin than two or three deal making courtiers at several removes from anyone at all , your option.

    I am not at all sre that the hunting lobby actually does much good for the Conservative Party’s need for swing voters as these are all Conservatives anyway. The referendum point is stew of your own making . If you were not such utter liars then you would not be in this fix and accepting disagreement of this sort is not grown up it is a farce and a n imposture fro any organisation which pretends to be a political Party and not just a franchise for nutty protests of any incoherent sort whatsoever .

  3. It’s sad that the top people think we need to be ‘tough’, its a misconception of why the party wont vote for us rather than anything else and its one which will probably end up losing more votes than anything else.

  4. newmania – I don’t recall calling for anything to be banned (Why is it that whenever you highlight something people assume you are trying to ban it? What does it say about their instincts I wonder?), just for people to be aware of the links. Iwantareferendum is particularly interesting because it is clearly bankrolled to the hilt. All I’m saying is that it is soft money.

    better 800,000 voters on the margin than two or three deal making courtiers at several removes from anyone at all , your option.

    Actually, it’s potentially 8,000 voters who could make the difference, although obviously you’d have to target more than that. As for “two or three deal making courtiers” – meaning PR – what planet are you on? Governance in this country has been stitched up in smoke filled rooms for centuries – FPTP does that. PR on the other hand brings all that out in the open, often bloodily (see Wales 9 months ago for instance).

    But of course you know all that and are just trying to bamboozle people. Plus ca change.

  5. ‘Iwantareferendum’ is run and funded by the same people who brought us the ‘No’ Campaign and before that ‘Business for Sterling’.

    They have used the same messages i.e. pro-EU but opposed to the euro/constitution/Lisbon Treaty, and the same tactics e.g. highlight dissenting Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs to create the impression of division in the parties and apply pressure to pro-Europeans in marginal constituencies.

    They are certainly front groups. But it is far too simple to describe them as a cover for the Tories (despite the many years I spent at BiE doing so). They are not. When it comes to Europe the normal rules have never applied. Instead these groups are merely a front for those who believe that Britain should leave the EU. Nothing more, nothing less. It just happens to be that there are lots of Tories who support this and the Party itself are currently the biggest electoral beneficiaries from the, mostly superficial, anti-European sentiment in the UK.

  6. This isn’t meant to wind you up, but why is Clegg defending the Speaker calling criticism a withc-hunt. Clegg’s making a disastrous leader.

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