Sunday, May 31

Politics Today

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A Populus poll for The Times published yesterday has the Tories on 30 percent for the euros with UKIP in second place on 19, relegating Labour to third place on 16. The Lib-Dems get 12 percent, the Greens poll 10 and the BNP are on 5 percent (eight percent in the North of England).
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What is interesting about this is that Cameron's speech about needing a "massive, sweeping, radical redistribution of power ... from the EU to Britain ..." seems to have made no difference to UKIP's fortunes. Nor indeed has his apparently unequivocal pledge to give us a referendum on the Lisbon treaty.
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Would be Conservative voters are it would apear abandoning the Conservative Party in favour of UKIP.No doubt this is because the majority of people did not believe that Cameron meant what he said, doubt that was – it appears – entirely justified from comments in The Daily Telegraph on Saturday. In that paper, Andrew Porter interviews Cameron asking him outright whether he will "finally promise to hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, even if it has been ratified elsewhere?" And the reply is the stock Tory answer: we will "not let matters rest, I think everybody understands this, if the treaty is ratified by everyone and the election isn't until 2010 and the Irish vote yes then obviously I won't be content with that."
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Thus, as suspected all along, the apparent promise to hold a referendum come what may was not a promise after all. Mr Cameron was playing word games and nothing at all has changed. By coincidence though, William Hague is interviewed by The Spectator, where he tells us that: "Trust in politics is now at an unprecedented low point; the shameless and deliberate abrogation of a binding manifesto pledge [on the treaty referendum] is surely one of the reasons why."Another reason is that thinking votors know that the Conservatives are playing word games on the possibility of a referendum on the Niece Treaty. Empty promises, it seems, are the politicians' stock in trade – and people are getting a tad sick of them.
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On the back of the Populus poll which brought us the current expectations of UKIP success in the euro-elections also come indications of support for "radical" reform of parliament. These included provision for a "recall", referendums on "important issues", fixed-term parliaments, more "free votes" in parliament, a cut in the number of MPs, stopping MPs having second jobs and a fully elected House of Lords. Also proposed was a change to proportional representation.
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It almost goes without saying that all proposals got a favourable reception. Seventy-seven percent went for more referendums, 74 percent backed fixed-term parliaments and 73 percent wanted more free votes. Even proportional representation got 56 percent support, a small but clear majority in favour.
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What precisely is the point of conducting this survey is not clear. Asking people, the majority of whom most probably have a limited grasp of how parliament works, much less of governance in general and constitutional theory, what is needed to fix a broken system, seems to have limited utility.
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The whole process is akin to taking a broken-down car to the garage, to be confronted with a list of possible repairs, with the family being asked to vote on what should be done.The great danger of this approach is that it gives spurious legitimacy to changes which will not necessarily fix the problem. With Gordon Brown also mooting changes, including proportional representation, the whole process is in danger of getting out of control.In days gone by, before even considering changes, we would have had something like a Royal Commission, thoroughly to explore the problem and to produce a report, following which there would be widespread discussion and debate.
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Whatever else, we must avoid knee-jerk reactions and quick-fix Elastoplast solutions. Above all, the politicians – who have made the mess in the first place – must not be allowed to dictate the terms of any reforms, with or without opinion polls.
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