Thursday, 13 May 2010

Hannan on the coalition agreement

Yesterday evening Daniel Hannan shared some of his thoughts on the Lib-Con coalition agreement, and provided an amusing juxtaposition:

10. The parties agree to implement… a new mechanism to prevent the proliferation of unnecessary new criminal offences.

11. The parties agree to implement… measures to make the import or possession of illegal timber a criminal offence.

Overall, though, he seems happy with the compromise, and hopes that more good news will emerge over time, especially with regard to citizen-initiated referenda. I haven't read Hannan's proposals in The Plan, but a quick search of the Conservative manifesto suggests that they were only ever intending to grant such referenda for local issues:
we will give residents the power to instigate local referendums on any local issue if 5 per cent of the local population sign up
Letting us trigger a referendum on EU membership would be far too dangerous!

Hannan's biggest criticism of the agreement is the discrepancy between its treatment of electoral reform, and its approach to the EU. The agreement confirms that "both parties will whip their Parliamentary Parties in both Houses to support a simple majority referendum on the Alternative Vote", but it only provides for a referendum on "any proposed future Treaty that transferred areas of power, or competences" to the EU. Any prospect of an In/Out referendum has been dismissed.

As Hannan explains,
Neither the Conservatives nor the Lib Dems fought the election offering a referendum on AV. If we are now to have a referendum on something that neither party promised, why not have a referendum on something that they did recently promise, namely European integration?

It hardly needs saying that I disagree with the section on the EU. I think Britain would be much better off with a Swiss-style free trade agreement. But what I think isn’t really the point. Europe, like electoral reform, is an issue that cuts laterally across the parties, and which can best be settled by a referendum. It qualifies, after all, on every constitutional criterion.

I agree. There seems little point worrying about how our MPs in Westminster are elected, when they are powerless to stop harmful Brussels directives, such as the proposed restrictions on hedge funds, which can increasingly be passed by 'qualified majority voting'.

As noted previously, the best argument for delaying an In/Out referendum on the EU is that our government mustn't be distracted while our economy is in such dire straits: the cuts must begin now.

But if a referendum on the EU can wait, then a referendum on AV certainly can. The latter won't matter until the next election anyway, wheras the former may prove crucial to our recovery as well as our sovereignty.

The democratic deficit here should have people up in arms. As Hannan concludes,
No one under the age of 55 has had the chance to vote on whether European law should have primacy over our own. It’s time to let the country decide.

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