The political firestorm over MP’s expenses shows no sign of abating, as public anger continues to grow at seemingly unending stories of home flipping and unjustifiable claims. By itself, the stench of corruption can often be enough to bring down a government. However, it is the growing sense of mistrust that Labour has cultivated in its past three terms which have had such a damaging cumulative effect on political life more generally.
Labour’s broken promise to hold a referendum on the European Constitution (later Lisbon Treaty) is undoubtedly a big part of the public’s mistrust of this Government. At the last General Election, all three major political parties were committed to holding a referendum on the European Constitution. Yet only the Conservatives stood behind their commitment when EU elites birthed a virtually identical twin and gave it a new name.
Labour’s broken promise to hold a referendum on the Treaty didn’t come close to bringing down the Government. However, it confirmed to the British electorate a sense that regardless of what they promise in their manifestos, governments no longer feel honor-bound to stand behind those commitments. Labour’s sheer brazenness over Lisbon has not gone unnoticed and it will not go unpunished.
There is a lesson here for the Conservatives. David Cameron’s lightning quick reaction to the expenses scandal has been deservedly praised. By demanding that all Tory MP’s publish their expenses online, he has left no wiggle room for the electorate to question his sincerity in increasing transparency and accountability. The same can be said for his commitment to remove the Conservatives from the EPP, the Tories’ passionately-federalist grouping in the European Parliament. Yet he continues to remain equivocal on whether the Conservatives will hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it is implemented before the next General Election, which polls show will result in a large Conservative majority in Westminster. William Hague has gone as far as saying that the Conservatives are ‘likely’ to do so; but ‘likely’ is not ‘definitely’.
The renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the European Union is a major issue of British political life, and crucial to the defense of Britain’s long-term interests. David Cameron’s Conservative Party is slowly but surely setting the agenda on the biggest questions confronting Britain, and therefore Europe should be no exception. David Cameron can take on the European question, as he has already shown he can do with regards to the EPP issue. A commitment by the Conservatives to hold a referendum on Lisbon – no if’s, no buts – demonstrates his willingness to be honest with the British public on this keystone issue.