By Harry Phibbs
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Silver Blaze, a Sherlock Holmes short story, includes the following passage:
Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): "Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?"
Holmes: "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."
Gregory: "The dog did nothing in the night-time."
Holmes: "That was the curious incident."
David Cameron's speech is being analysed for what it didn't say as well as for what it did. If I was a Police and Crime Commissioner Candidate I would have been disappointed not to hear any reference to those elections. Not mentioning the Liberal Democrats struck me as a diplomatic compromise between being rude or being polite.
It was the failure to give a clear announcement on the EU referendum that was the curious incident. I suspect the problem is that the policy has not yet been decided. Fine to go for a renegotiation and then put whatever results to a vote. But if we vote No what would that mean? Would that mean we would carry on with our EU membership on the existing terms? Or would we withdraw altogether? Would it be an in/in referendum or an in/out referendum?
Dan Hannan blogged about Mr Cameron's dilemma. It just doesn't seem to me to be credible to have a referendum where a No vote would mean anything other than withdrawal. My feeling is the briefing given to James Forsyth in The Spectator in May is credible. Yet this can't be left as a matter for personal speculation. We can't have endless muddled briefings given to different journalists. There must be a clear, basic, guarantee of what would happen during the next Parliament, in the event of a Conservative majority.
Offering that referendum, before the Labour Party offer it, could well determine the result of the next General Election. Perhaps it was best for the Prime Minister to say nothing until he gets his story straight. But he mustn't delay for too long. He doesn't need to commit himself to whether he personally would campaign for a Yes or No vote. But he does need to commit to giving us a choice on our continued membership of the EU.
In terms of what he did say, it was an excellent speech. British politics used to be characterised by some people, as the Conservatives being the practical choice, due to their competence and efficiency. Labour were the moral choice. You could vote with your heart for Labour. Or vote with your head for the Conservatives. I have always regarded Socialism, with its basis in coercion, as morally bankrupt, as well as economically inefficient.
Last week Ed Miliband made clear that the Labour Party would challenge the Government on competence. With rather more credibility, today David Cameron's rallying cry showed that the Conservatives will challenge Labour on morality.