Douglas Carswell, MP for Harwich & Clacton, reviews the week that was in the House of Commons chamber.
The mood on the Conservative benches this week was good. We have a common purpose about us – matched only by the visible despondency opposite.
Take Europe, for example. Once a topic that caused bitter division, Monday’s statement on the EU conference in Lisbon showed Labour, rather than Conservative, weaknesses. Gordon Brown spoke like a man who does not believe in what he himself was telling us. It was déjà vu all over again as yet another Labour Prime Minister said how the agreement they had reached in Lisbon would mean more jobs, more competitiveness, prosperity, blah, blah, blah. Isn’t that precisely what Tony Blair promised after his Lisbon EU meeting back in 2000 – only with more panache?
David Cameron responded by demanding a referendum. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells) pressed home on the same theme, reminding Brown of his promise only three months ago to trust people to have a greater say. Brown’s counter assertion that "if we were discussing the old constitutional treaty, there would be a referendum" when everyone listening knew that 95% of the new treaty is identical to the old, simply made him look shifty. And I think he knows it.
With Brown looking ever more bogus, the Conservatives need to be consistent. That is why a growing number of Conservative MPs have now signed Bill Cash’s EDM demanding a referendum on the constitutional treaty "before or after ratification". If this constitutional treaty is bad for Britain before ratification, it will still be bad once the ink is dry. Without a popular vote, it can have no true legitimacy.
Vince Cable (Twickenham) was this week’s stand-in Lib Dem leader,
suggesting Brown call a referendum not on the treaty, but on Britain’s
membership of the EU altogether.
Watching it all, I had a fleeting thought that perhaps Gordon Brown
might do precisely as the Lib Dems urge. Having bottled out of calling
a general election, it may seem unlikely Brown could find the
decisiveness to call a referendum on EU membership. But what if he
did? Might it help him out of the increasingly difficult position he
finds himself? Would it make tactical sense or risk strategic
If the findings in Tuesday’s report on the way decisions were made over
the Scottish elections are anything to go by, you can be sure that
whatever Brown decides, he will make his calculation based on
electoral, not national, interest. The report revealed that a
blatantly "partisan political self-interest" had been at work north of
the border. The Scottish Labour Party showing partisan political
self-interest? Surely some mistake?
That at least seemed to be Mr Brown’s line at Prime Minister
Questions. Brown was brazen in his attempts to duck out of it. How
different it would have been if Blair was still Labour leader. A show
of earnestness. A quick smile – and even a self-deprecating remark,
and he would have wiggled free. Not Brown. He was clumsy and
cumbersome. Worst of all he lost his temper.
The fact that the Speaker was forced to admonish him for not using
"temperate language" concealed the real story; here is a Labour leader
visible floundering with most of his own side sitting is sullen
Even less inspiring was his near namesake, Des Browne, during defence
questions. This Browne lapses into official-speak when answering
questions. He is all talk about "considered requests" and "relevant
information" being dealt with on an "appropriate basis". Despite that,
Adrian Bailey (West Bromwich, West) got him to admit that "We have not
quite got the numbers of vehicles into the operational theatre that we
What Des Browne definitely did not say was "I’m really sorry to tell
Parliament, but the truth is that the £8billion we spend each year on
defence procurement buys the kit it suits the defence contractors to
supply – not the kit our troops actually need. That’s why our armed
forces don’t have enough vehicles, men, UAVs, helicopters and much
else. Its time to take my officials, Lord Drayson and the defence
contractors to task for the sorry mess that they have made of it all.
It is the least our troops deserve"
If I was Des Browne, that is what I would say. But that is why I will
not be made Defence Minister. I shall have to settle for trying to
become Britain’s last ever Minister for Europe…