Never in the past fifty years had the Liberal Democrats had such a giddy sense of power. And never has power been utilised to so little end and lost so fast. For reasons best known to himself the decision by Nick Clegg to demand abstention from his party in last nights vote on a referendum on the Lisbon treaty only seemed to show the Lib Dem’s as yet again a pointless party.
I knew there must have been a reason that Nick Clegg looked so school-boyish in front of Jeremy Paxman on Tuesday night. The reason is that he hadn’t done his homework. Or rather he had done it but the sums didn’t add up. Why were the Lib Dem’s abstaining on a vote on the Lisbon treaty he was asked? ‘err, to be awkward’ he may have well replied.
The fact that the Lib Dem leader introduced a ‘three line whip’ to its members to abstain in the referendum vote, subsequently won by the government, was justified on some very bizarre logic. Logic tainted perhaps by a touch of mendacity. The principle reason that the Conservative party wanted a vote on Lisbon was because it was promised by the three main parties at the last General Election. ‘Not by us’ Clegg said to Paxo. In the internet age these kind of throw-a-way comments can be dangerous.
A quick reading of their 2005 commitments show us that the Lib Dem’s DID promise in their last general election manifesto to give the British people a referendum on the new constitutional treaty. In their 2005 manifesto in a section unequivocally titled ‘Europe’ they stated ‘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 people.’
To add to their comedy value Ed Vaizey put it better than anybody yesterday when he said ‘only the Liberal Democrats need a three line whip to enforce an abstention!’.