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back to front - it's simple, stupid


IT IS HARD to argue against holding a referendum on the proposed European Constitution, but defending the indefensible has become a kind of badge of honour with this Labour government (not that honour rides high with them on any subject). So faced with calls to hold a referendum, they wheel out what passes for heavy political guns these days.

What they want to say is that democracy, for them, means that they rule. Our role in the process is to mark a grubby cross with a stubby pencil once every four or five years, then leave it to their wiser heads to decide what is best for us.

They can't put it quite like that, so we have Peter Mandelson and Peter Hain telling us that on the one hand the issue is very simple, a mere tidying up of existing treaties, and that on the other hand it is so complex that ordinary people simply aren't equipped to make a judgement on it.

So which is it? Simple or complex? Ask an ordinary person whether they want to be a citizen of Britain or of a United States of Europe? Now that's a simple question. Or do they want economic policy, foreign policy, defence, taxation and the legal systems to be determined from Brussels. That's a simple question, too.

The problem for these anti-democrats is not that ordinary people are too stupid and ignorant, it is that ordinary people are way too clever and knowledgeable.

Anti-democrats have a long and dishonourable tradition in British history, and in general they end badly. The Rump Parliament was fittingly and physically expelled by Cromwell. Charles I, one of the very few people whose belief in his divine right to rule might have been as strong as Blair's, lost his head in Whitehall. Wellington had to ride around London in a coach with drawn shutters to avoid being recognised and stoned. Thatcher's reign ended in tears in the back of a car. How will workers bid farewell to Blair and his gang?

Side by side with this there is another long and dishonourable tradition in our working class history, that of opting out by voting for someone else to act on our behalf. That is how Blair got where he is today. It's even how Thatcher got where she did. And it's where the next anti-democratic name will come from if we permit change to be confined to ballot boxes and parliamentary seats.

You can see them all lining up, the heirs apparent, all autocrats to the core: Straw, Clarke, Brown, and all the other wannabees on the opposition benches.

What has to change is not who we elect, but how we give effect to our will. We must take responsibility, both for the present state of affairs, and their future direction. The British people cannot allow parliament to pass this constitution, which would transfer us, bound hand and foot, to the power of a United States of Europe.

Our future as a nation is at stake. We cannot trust parliament to consider it. In every forum where workers meet, we must demand a referendum.