NEW POLL: were the Lib Dems right to stage Commons Euro referendum walk out?

by Stephen Tall on February 26, 2008

In the two hours since LDV posted Newsflash: Lib Dems walk out of House of Commons – in protest at the Deputy Speaker’s refusal to allow a vote on the party’s proposal there should be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty – the debate has raged in the comments thread: did our MPs do us proud by showing their anger at the denial of such an important issue being debated and voted on; or was it juvenile gesture politics designed to distract from the opposition of the likes of David Heath to the party line?

Well, here’s your chance to make your feelings clear – an LDV poll asking: “Were Lib Dem MPs right to walk out of the House of Commons in protest at the refusal to debate the party proposal for an ‘EU – in or out’ referendum?” Simple question, simple answer: yes or no. You can vote using the poll displayed in the right-hand column.

My view? Well, of course this was grandstanding politics: I’d be amazed (and disappointed) if the tactics weren’t discussed in advance. So what? Does any Lib Dem – do any of our critics – imagine that the party’s views would have been reported if our MPs had just sat there in stony-faced silence? Would that have somehow sent a dignified message? Or would it simply have been ignored by everyone?

It is clearly absurd that the Lib Dems should not be free to have debated in Parliament whether there should be a referendum on the UK’s continuing membership of the EU. For what it’s worth, I think the party has been mistaken to oppose a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, especially given we championed a referendum on Maastricht in the teeth of Tory opposition in 1993.

But I find Tory attacks on the Lib Dem stance hard to take seriously… If it were the Tory party putting forward the proposal for an ‘in or out’ EU referendum, their members would be ecstatic. And if Parliament’s arcane procedures barred them from having such a proposal discussed, the right-wing blogosphere would have exploded by now in self-righteous indignation.

So, yes there should be a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. But we all know that – whatever answer is given by the public, whether yes or no – such a vote will not settle the larger argument: do the British people want to be EU members any more, and, if so, what kind of EU do they support? The only means by which that debate can be fully had is through a referendum campaign in which proper attention can be focused on the competing claims and counter-claims.

The Lisbon Treaty is just the latest in a succession of EU treaties which affect the everyday lives of the British people. Far better that they are all debated than that we fixate on one just one aspect. That this argument cannot be made in Parliament is just one of the reasons why our Parliamentary system no longer enjoys the confidence of the public.

We would not be discussing this today unless the Lib Dems had today stuck up for the rights of the British people to be able to debate such a crucial issue. I want the party to be spiky, edgy, radical. So do most members, I reckon. Well, that’s what we’re getting. Good.

Result of last poll:

We asked Lib Dem Voice readers: “Is the Archbishop of Canterbury right to say that adoption of Sharia law is unavoidable?” Here’s what you said:

• Yes – 63 (16%)
• No – 322 (84%)
Total Votes: 385. Polling from 8th-26th Feb, 2008.

Pretty clear-cut, really.