Even a Stopped Clock


…Tells the right time twice a day. I’m not holding my breath for the next time but I agree with Nadine Dorries’ blog arguing that the 81 Conservative MPs who voted for a referendum on membership of the EU need a leader. Of course, she spoils it by suggesting Liam Fox as a candidate or even by hoping that readers will infer that perhaps she might do the job.

But, if it is really true that so many people want a referendum and that so many MPs believe that there should be a fundamental change in the relationship between the UK and the EU the argument should be being made in a much stronger way. One of the other potential candidates suggested by Dorries is David Davis. He has already pointed out a way in which an issue of strong personal importance to an MP and the public can be tested. He resigned his seat (and permanently lost his front bench position) on the issue of 90 days detention without charge for terrorist suspects and forced a by-election on that single issue.

Conservative MPs who are so exercised by the issue ought to be looking not just at finding a leader but at following Davis’ precedent. Why hold out hope for a referendum being offered when it is clearly not the policy of the leadership of either of the parties in the Coalition or the main Opposition? It won’t happen. If it is such a burning issue, they need to have the courage of their convictions and at the very least resign the Conservative whip – particularly as their rebellion in last week’s vote on whether to have a referendum effectively involved doing just that over that particular issue. If they believe that they have not just the support of a majority of Conservative supporters but also of the general public, one or more could stage a referendum of their own by forcing a by-election and standing on an EU referendum ticket. Or, if they genuinely believe that there is no good counter-argument, why ask for a referendum at all, when losing it would mean losing the chance to do what they believed right and necessary?

Why isn’t anyone doing this? Is it because they don’t really believe it is so big an issue for ordinary people and that they fear losing their seat? Is it because they’d prefer to remain a vocal internal opposition to a Conservative Party led government rather than risk handing power to a pro-EU Opposition? Or are they just blindly optimistic that they can persuade their party’s leadership to undergo a complete change in direction without such drastic measures as challenging the leadership by choosing their own, resigning the Whip or forcing by-elections which could topple the government? Maybe they’re just too small c conservative to be as radical as they try to sound.

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