Will a “Manifesto Mandate” do instead of a referendum?

Will a “Manifesto Mandate” do instead of a referendum?

Could this solve Cameron’s Lisbon ratification difficulties?

Tim Montgomerie at ConservativeHome has an important post tonight setting out what he believes will be Cameron’s new approach to the EU issue following the likely ratification within the next few days of the Lisbon Treaty.

In broad terms the plan is to substitute the holding of a referendum (which always looked difficult once ratification happened) with putting the fight for repatriation of key EU powers in the Tory general election manifesto – and take an election victory as giving the party a clear mandate.

Tim writes: “.. I’m told to expect a “muscular” response to Lisbon’s ratification and a manifesto commitment to fight for repatriation of key powers from Brussels. One member of the shadow cabinet told me that ‘we don’t need a mandate to renegotiate from a referendum… A manifesto mandate will be just as good’. CCHQ is worried that a referendum could easily become about issues other than Europe. ‘Imagine,’ said one key official at CCHQ, ‘if we are in the middle of very, very difficult budget cuts. The unions and our political opponents would urge voters to use the referendum to kick the Tory government in the teeth. A manifesto mandate is safer, cleaner, less distracting.”

Clearly the Tory team needed to have a more thought out response than the current one of “dealing with one policy at a time” and Tim’s post, which he emphasises is not based on briefings, sounds plausible.

The party needs a strong position to maintain unity and to prevent seepage to UKIP. They also need a clear response to the increasing number of questions that are being asked.

The big unknown is whether this will be enough to neutralise the EU as an election issue. We shall have to wait and see.

Mike Smithson

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