Marc Glendening is campaign manager of the People's Pledge.
The Eurozone crisis has presented David Cameron with a huge opportunity to force Brussels to the negotiating table and get back key powers. If ever there was a chance to put a gun to the collective head of the Euro-elite and demand, 'our money and our right to do X, Y and Z or your life', this was it. Instead theTory leadership have rolled over and promised to support the EU's new drive to establish European economic governance. Following next year's treaty the Eurozone 17 will become enshrined as a majority-voting bloc and the UK will be even more vulnerable.
There's the vague promise that Angela Merkel will support a relaxation of the Working Time Directive in return for us ratifying the treaty. But, as Open Europe's Mats Persson warned in his ConHome blog last week, even this tiny concession might not happen because the European Parliament could veto it.
David Cameron could have threatened to call a referendum on membership, or even just on the forthcoming treaty, unless the Euro-elite came up with something significant. Had he been serious about this issue, he would have put the frighteners on the Lib Dems by challenging them to pull out of the coalition over it and so precipitate a general election. Cameron didn't and so we are left with the reality that there will be no re-negotiation in the lifetime of this parliament, as things stand. After 2015, and with European economic governance established, it is difficult to envisage what opportunity will then exist for a future UK government still wedded to the mantra that leaving the EU is inconceivable, to force Brussels to the negotiating table. The Tory front bench carry all the potency of C of E vicars who hold pray-ins and tea parties for local hoodies who have been stealing lead from the church roof, but who rule out prosecution.
Cameron and his supporters have tried to triangulate the EU issue by positioning themselves as a moderate third way between the EU-extremists at one end of the continuum and those, at the other, who want out. This is a bogus paradigm. The 'third way' in this context is objectively-speaking little different from the more honest, total integrationist position. Those who still maintain it is possible to get back significant powers without even the threat of a membership referendum have become effectively Fellow Travellers for the EU project. They are totally devoid of any strategy to achieve their vague agenda. And by blocking the campaign for a referendum, the Tory third way crowd are trying to ensure that the only mechanism for real change cannot be realised.
A historic window of opportunity to really turn the screw on Brussels now exists, but the Conservative leadership is determined to ensure this moment passes us by. They have thrown in the towel and are using their influence to direct – to continue the Cold War-era terminology - 'useful idiots' on the Tory backbenches to block our right to have a voice on Britain's collective constitutional future.
Two things need now to happen. First, there must be a recognition that the true choice is not between trying to re-negotiate the treaty, on the one hand, and leaving the EU, on the other. Instead, we have to decide between going through the pretence of trying to get back powers back without deploying any leverage, or, alternatively, engaging in a potent attempt at re-negotiation. This might come through Britain actually quitting and then sitting down to hammer out a trade deal with Brussels, in much the same way Switzerland and over fifty other countries have achieved. Or, at the very least, by a future government threatening to call a membership referendum should the EU refuse to negotiate.
Second, the campaign for change needs to be based on the creation of an all-party referendum alliance. It is clear that the insider, elite based strategy of trying to influence the Tory leadership has failed spectacularly. The only way left now is to harness the huge potential power of the 70% plus of the population who say they want a direct say on who governs them. This is what, to give a plug to the organisation I am involved with, the People's Pledge is working to achieve through constituency-by-constituency public registers of voters who are committed to supporting pro-referendum candidates, regardless of party. The aim is to create a cross-party majority of MPs who will vote at the earliest opportunity for a referendum. This may seem an ambitious objective. It is. But it is the only viable strategy on offer and events are changing the political atmospherics around this issue in a way that was inconceivable until very recently. Let's grasp the opportunity while we still can.