Thursday, 6 March 2008

Were the Fifteen Truer on Principle?

Altogether yesterday fifteen Liberal Democrat MPs ignored Nick Clegg's call to follow the majority view of the Parliamentary Party to abstain on the issue of a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. But did Alistair Carmichael, Tim Farron and David Heath resign from the front bench in vain or were they holding true to the manifesto promises? Did the 12 others who joined them on the two divisions get it wrong?

Personally I was sitting with 2005 manifesto in hand as I listened out the end of the days debate, which included my own MP who is also Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee. The exact pledge to the public that is at issue is:

European enlargement means the EU needs reform to become more efficient and more accountable. The new constitution helps to achieve this by improving EU coherence, strengthening the powers of the elected European Parliament compared to the Council of Ministers, allowing proper oversight of the unelected Commission, and enhancing the role of the national parliaments. It also more clearly defines and limit=s the powers of the EU, reflecting diversity and preventing overcentralisation. We are therefore clear in our support for the constitution, which we believe is in Britain's interest - but ratification must be subject to a referendum of the British Public.

Does the Lisbon Treaty not set out to do all the things listed above? Is not what 62 of those MPs, the exception being the MP for Dunfermline and West Fife, myself and hundreds of others stood on just under 3 years ago? Isn't that what we our party approved at conference almost exactly 3 years ago?

In my view the three front bench spokespersons got it right along with John Pugh, Annette Brooke, Richard Younger-Ross, Martin Horwood, Greg Mulholland, Sandra Gidley, John Leech, Mark Williams, John Hemming, Paul Holmes, Andrew George, and Mike Hancock. We are a party of principle and these 15 maintained theirs.

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