James McConalogue: Gordon Brown’s Cabinet must reform Blair's Euro-world
James McConalogue, Editor of the European Journal, argues that Brown should focus on reforming the EU, particularly the ECHR, as it has so much power to make decisions about his country.
Gordon Brown, I can appreciate, will have a tough job indeed. To undo and reform ten years of Blairite isolationism (from the parliament, public and those beyond Europe) is difficult since Blair’s key achievements – a torn “multicultural society”, an undemocratic approach of neglecting the national electorate on national and foreign policy issues, a botched attempt to reform the national health service, a tragic educational view of enriching deprived kids by placing them into multi-billion pound “successful academies”, and a joint-declaration of war on two Middle Eastern countries – have cost Britain dearly. After stepping into this predicament, there are two areas for which Gordon Brown must seek immediate remedial action: European reform and national security.
First, Brown must turn to his policy on Europe. I have many doubts of his abilities to balance the powers of Westminster with those of the EU – after all, there is no point in starting the premiership reforming the Houses of Parliament when all the decision-making now takes place in Brussels.
The British people did not seem to want the recently negotiated EU Treaty – and a massive majority want a referendum so they can express that view. The conditions for a referendum are very real and the rationale for needing one now are pertinent and realistic. When the Global Vision/Populus poll recently put to its sample:
"If the UK did sign up to any of these proposals (proposals in the Treaty), do you think there should or should not be a referendum in this country before they became law?"
A staggering 80% of the sample said there should be, whilst only 15% said we should not, and 5% didn’t know. To not have noticed the grand public opposition to his own Party’s view on Europe, whilst he simultaneously promises to “build trust in Government”, is beyond belief.
The revived EU Constitutional Treaty, which has been resurrected from the grave by EU officials after its death by referendum in France and the Netherlands only two years ago, is to be clear, a distinction without a difference. Yes, it is another tragic step into Europe but it is one in a series of EU Treaties signed by Britain that, by accumulation, amount to substantial social and political change. It is the revived attempt by the European Union to have a common Constitution so that the United States of Europe can, in essence, legally function as a state on behalf of all its member states, with a Common Foreign Ministerial Representative, an EU President, and an institution with the powers to enforce common criminal, employment and labour laws in Britain. The attempt by Blair to offer a compromise at the June EU Summit – in the shape of “red lines” – meant very little, and on the whole meant that the UK would be signed up to the framework of another EU Treaty against the wishes of the British people.
The renewed legal and political foundation which the EU now seeks from its Member States will be of such significance, it will mark something of a catastrophe in Britain’s powers to control her own national affairs. The binding treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice all present an accumulated mass of political and social change which has changed modern Britain unalterably. The British people need to be given a choice on the relationship they would like Britain to have with the EU – this cannot be done behind the backs of the British people as it is something which directly influences their everyday lives. That dilemma ought to be addressed by Gordon Brown in calling for a referendum.
I have some doubts for Brown’s reform of Britain’s relationship with the EU, given that Gordon Brown’s new Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, was the founder of the Centre for European Reform, the most formidable of all pro-European think tanks. The Centre for European Reform was set up in 1994 as a serious counter-balance to our European Foundation, founded in 1993, which the pro-Europeans regarded (both back then and now) as offering the most serious analysis of what is really going on in the European Union and pursuing the most critical voice for what is going in the UK in relation to the EU. With an unashamedly pro-European Foreign secretary on the one hand, and advisers such as Ed Balls offering an ambiguous line of “hard-headed Europeanism”, Europe is clearly going to be an issue for Brown. But it will be important to note that it is Brown and nobody else who has just built the Cabinet on the backs of pro-Europeans, whilst telling the citizens at home that he will restore faith in government.
Second, Gordon Brown must address issues of national security. Why is national security important? Blair had left undone a primary function of government. In pursuit of the New Labour multicultural rights agenda – coupled with his “liberal interventionist” foreign policy, his government failed to secure and protect the lives of British citizens. You may call that dereliction of duty. In truth, it should be phrased a gross failure of government – government itself being defined by the capacity to secure and protect one’s citizens. And since Blair effectively brought about this catastrophic state of affairs in the UK, by following a crude interventionist policy in the Middle East, it is his government that is, in part, responsible and it is the Labour government which must change.
It is a pointless task for any Western government to claim it promotes public security in Parliament, whilst in substantive law it has precipitated the very thing that undermines the protection and security of its citizens. For example, during May 2007, even John Reid, our former Home Secretary, remarked on how national security needed to be reassessed based on the UK’s troubled practice/interpretation of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). For a member of the Labour Party, his words were a significant step towards focusing on the current failures of human rights legislation in meeting the needs of national security. The incorporation of ECHR into UK law via the Human Rights Act of 1998 has been a major obstacle to public security. It needn’t be said that recent catastrophes in London and Glasgow have shown that Britain needs to put public security and suppression of terrorism at the heart of its policy making and allow for the legislative supremacy of Westminster. The British Parliament must be able to respond to the British electorate with a relevant and measured human rights agenda. Gordon Brown’s Cabinet must reform Blair’s Euro-World and they must address the double-standards in Tony Blair’s ‘rights, responsibilities and security’ equation before they can even begin to start thinking about (re)gaining the trust of the British people.