Everything you need to know about the moves to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership in 2017
What is the coalition line on an EU referendum?
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats supported a bill (now law) saying there would be a referendum in the future on any proposal to transfer further powers to Brussels. But they are split on an in-out referendum. The Tories want to hold one by 2017, after a renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU. The Lib Dems are not supporting legislation now, although Nick Clegg has said that he thinks a referendum of some kind at some point in the future is now inevitable.
What happened on Wednesday?
There was a vote on an amendment to the Queen’s speech motion saying the Queen’s speech should have included legislation for an EU referendum bill. Government MPs don’t normally vote against the Queen’s speech, but David Cameron knew many of his MPs would vote for this and so he allowed backbenchers a free vote. Conservative ministers were told to abstain. Some 114 Tories supported the amendment, but it was defeated by Labour and the Lib Dems.
Why did the Tories publish a draft bill?
In January Cameron said he would publish a draft bill for an EU referendum before the general election. He published a short bill on Tuesday, partly so that a Tory MP coming near the top in Thursday’s private members’ bill ballot could adopt it and partly in the hope that this might reduce the number of MPs voting against the Queen’s speech on Wednesday.
What happens next?
On Thursday the Conservative MP James Wharton came top in the private members’ ballot. He said he would adopt the EU referendum bill and so now a second reading debate will take place, possibly on Friday 5 July. The Tories have said that their MPs will be told to vote for the bill.
What will Labour and the Lib Dems do?
Labour and the Lib Dems do not support legislation now. But it is not clear yet whether they will turn up in large numbers to vote against it at second reading.
Will the bill become law?
Probably not. Even if it gets passed at second reading, it is relatively easy for just a handful of MPs to block a private member’s bill by using delaying tactics. The Tories could get round this by using a timetable motion to guillotine debate. But only a minister can table a timetable motion and so a move of that kind would have to be taken by the government. Although the Tories support the bill, the government as a whole doesn’t because the Lib Dems are still resisting legislation.
I have been driven to write in sheer frustration at the ability of the Liberal Democrats to believe whatever it is that comes out of their mouths. On Tuesday Nick Clegg appeared on BBC Radio 4’s the World at One and pronounced that there was new money being put through the pupil premium for children in deprived areas (Politics blog, 30 April). In fact, this money has been top-sliced from the schools budget and the previous deprivation formula for distribution has now been abolished. Yes, the schools budget has been protected, but by redistributing it. As it happens, I am in favour of the pupil premium – but, in the words of Nick Clegg, as an addition not as a substitute for what really existed.
Simon Hughes also described it as “extra money” on Radio 4’s Today programme. And he mirrored his leader’s misuse of facts when he claimed more money had been put into child care. Nick Clegg had gone further and claimed the Lib Dems were responsible for the extension of funding for early years. The Liberal Democrats have colluded in the demolition job that has been done on Sure Start which, as those who have experienced it know, has transformed the life chances, not just of children, but of the families that have been touched by this holistic approach to early years.
Above all the Lib Dems have allowed the government to abolish the early intervention grant. Part of this has been used for the expansion of what had already been initiated by the Labour government, namely 15 hours of support for two year olds. I’m still not clear whether the Lib Dems do not know what they are doing or having done it, have managed to persuade themselves that they didn’t.
David Blunkett MP
Lab, Sheffield Brightside
Nick Clegg says UK is not ‘out of the woods yet’ as Labour highlights slow pace of recovery
Senior members of government have welcomed the news that Britain has avoided a triple-dip recession but the Conservatives’ coalition partners warned that the economy has a long way to go as Labour highlighted the slow pace of growth.
The chancellor, George Osborne, said the figures showing the economy had expanded by a stronger-than-expected 0.3% in the first quarter of 2013 were “an encouraging sign the economy is healing”.
He said: “I can’t promise the road ahead will always be smooth, but by continuing to confront our problems head on Britain is recovering and we are building an economy fit for the future.”
The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, said the figures were better than many anticipated but warned: “I don’t want anyone to think that somehow we are out of the woods yet. We have still got a lot of work to do. The healing of the British economy is taking longer than we had anticipated and we will continue to work hard to make sure the country and the economy grow from strength to strength.”
The business secretary, Vince Cable, called the growth “modestly encouraging” and another sign that things were going in the right direction. “However, there is still a long way to go and some serious issues such as the systemic lack of bank lending to SMEs [small and medium-sized enterprises], the weakness in the construction sector and the need to press further on trade and exports, which I am doing now on my visit to Brazil,” he said. “These issues all need to be addressed before people feel like the economy is genuinely starting to recover.”
Labour attacked the figures as further proof that a change in approach was needed. The shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, described them as “lacklustre” and said Osborne and David Cameron were presiding over for the slowest recovery for more than 100 years.
“This stagnation in our economy is the reason why people are worse off than when this government came to office. They took an economy that was starting to grow strongly, with falling unemployment and a falling deficit, and delivered stagnation, rising unemployment and £245bn more borrowing than planned,” he said.
Balls suggested his own medicine for the economy, which included bank reform, building thousands of affordable homes, a compulsory jobs guarantee for the long-term unemployed and a 10p starting rate of income tax.
The Labour MP John Mann, a member of the House of Commons Treasury committee, said the economy was stuck in a rut similar to that which afflicted Japan.
He told BBC News: “In Japan, their economy stagnated – sometimes it went down to below zero, sometimes just above it, but it kept on this very low-growth trend and kept there for 15 years and it’s been a disaster for Japan.
“We are in the same cycle and breaking out of it will need a change of policy.”
Deputy PM says party is too male and too white, and defends coalition’s attempts to cut deficit
The Liberal Democrat party is too male and too white and needs to change if it is to build on its recent byelection success in Eastleigh, Nick Clegg has said.
Only seven of the Lib Dems’ 56 MPs are women. Clegg said: “This party is too male and that needs to change.”
He added: “We need more Liberal Democrat role models for black and Asian boys and girls, for disabled boys and girls and for young gay men and women too. We must be a more diverse party. And we will be a better party for it.”
Speaking at the Welsh Liberal Democrats’ spring conference in Cardiff, the deputy prime minister defended the coalition government, insisting that while cutting the deficit it remained flexible.
“I want to make one thing clear: we will not flinch on the deficit. But to be unflinching is not to be unthinking. Balancing the books is a judgment, not a science. And our plan has always allowed room for manoeuvre,” he said. “The fiscal contraction this year and next is less than Obama’s reduction plans and less than France and Spain’s too. It is simply not true that we are slashing and burning the state.”
The Lib Dems would not allow the government to move to the right, said Clegg. “Conservative backbenchers can huff and puff as much as they like, but the Liberal Democrats will keep this government anchored firmly in the centre ground.”
Activists at Scottish Lib Dems’ spring conference agree that islands should loosen ties with both Scotland and UK
Shetland and Orkney should loosen their ties with Scotland and the UK to run their own affairs, according to Liberal Democrats. Activists at the Scottish Lib Dems’ spring conference in Dundee agreed unanimously that the islands should develop their own relationship with central government – regardless of the outcome of the independence referendum next year.
They also agreed that Shetland and Orkney had a separate right to self-determination.
Tavish Scott, Shetland MSP and former leader of the Scottish party, said current “constitutional navel-gazing” offered a fresh opportunity for the Northern Isles. Islanders should also use oil and gas off their coasts for any future negotiations, he said – an argument already deployed by the Scottish government.
“Shetland and Orkney may never have a stronger opportunity to negotiate a future for the islands,” he said. “A future that benefits the economy, culture and our identity in the wider world for the advantage of future generations of islanders.
“If we do nothing then the future is clear: schools and local ferries dictated by the central belt and the emasculation of local accountability. This time can be our time, an island time. I’m a Shetland islander first, a Scot second and a Brit third.”
At the last Holyrood election, the Scottish Lib Dems only managed to win first-past-the-post constituencies in Shetland and Orkney.
Scott said his argument against centralisation extended across Scottish islands and rural areas. “We don’t want more centralising, know it all, top-down nationalism,” he said, “This SNP government doesn’t care about the outer extremities of the country.”
Scott put forward the Isle of Man as an example that the Northern Isles could follow. He said: “The powers of the Tynwald and the powers that the isle has could be copied in Shetland. So would the SNP oppose Shetland becoming a crown dependency?”
Orkney and Shetland became part of Scotland in 1468 as security for the dowry of a Danish princess who married King James III, he told delegates.
In the first of a series of posts on the fortunes of the three main parties across northern England in 2012, Ed Jacobs looks at the Liberal Democrats’ year in numbers.
The words ‘It’s been a tough year for the Lib Dems’ are ones which could have been used last Christmas and the Christmas before, and will likely be appropriate next year and the year after that as well.
As 2012 draws to an end, we find the party seeking to outline a distinct identity within the coalition over the Leveson Report and the green agenda, and trying to portray itself as the conscience of a Government which, without the Lib Dem presence would be doing many, many, unspecified, ‘nasty’ things.
The reality is, that when we look at the Liberal Democrat year in numbers, it has not been one to remember. Seldom have the words to the carol In the bleak midwinter been so appropriate for a political party.
Here then is a rundown of the key numbers:
6.1 is the average percentage of support for the Lib Dems in northern England has measured by the Guardian‘s regular polling by ICM Research. To put that into perspective, the final prediction by ICM for the Guardian in May 2010 before the General Election put the Lib Dems in the north on 16%.
Three is the number of northern parliamentary seats which the Lib Dems would have lost had May’s local elections been a general election – over a quarter of the party’s 11 seats in the three northern regions. Third is also where the Lib Dems found themselves at the Middlesbrough by-election, behind UKIP. At the General Election the party came second with 19.9% of the vote. This time round they managed 9.9%.
Fourth is the position the Lib Dems came in the shock victory of George Galloway in the Bradford West by-election. In 2010, the party came third with 11.7% of the votes cast. In the by-election they achieved just 4.59% of the vote.
Second was a rare electoral bright spot as the party was runner-up in the Manchester Central by-election, a chink of light in its fight to avoid political irrelevance in the north. But the party won only 9.4% of the votes cast compared with 26.6% at the 2010 election.
Eighth was by far the most dismal performance by the Lib Dems this year as they limped home in the Rotherham by-election with just 2.1%. Ahead of them were Labour, UKIP, the BNP, Respect, Conservatives, English Democrats and an independent candidate. In 2010 the party was third with 16%.
Nil was the number of successful Lib Dems in November’s Police and Crime Commissioner elections, not only in the north but over the country as a whole.
It is perhaps a sign of the times that it is taken as a given that the Lib Dem’s electoral prospects as things currently stand have all the potential of a chocolate fire guard.
What will the party will do and, more importantly, when they will do it, to get themselves out of the electoral collapse they have seen across the north this year? Ideas welcome. And check out the views of the Lib Dem MP for Redcar Ian Swales in a companion Guardian Northerner post to this piece.
In narrow party political terms, at least Mr Osborne produced a plan. The same cannot be said of the Liberal Democrats
He may not have an economic strategy, but George Osborne showed he has a clear political game. And it is, in essence, a Thatcherite game: to rally the hard-grafting and upwardly mobile against those they imagine respond to economic adversity by lounging about. In the parlance of the hour, he seeks to set the strivers against the skivers.
That core idea was reflected in the mini-budget’s biggest-ticket item, diddling benefit claimants of the cash they’ll need to cover rising prices for the next three years. But there were other aspects to the white-van Conservatism in which the chancellor plans to escape from the “posh boy” bar in which he has been drinking since cutting top tax in March – most notably a giveaway at the pumps. One backbencher crowed that the duty freeze put “fuel back in the tank” of working-class Toryism, but using desperately scarce resources like this also pours petrol upon the pyre of Cameronian greenery. The chancellor’s enthusiasm for fracking underlined the point.
There are risks here, most obviously renewing the nasty party tag which Tory modernisers once toiled to bury. After Thursday’s newspapers explain how (defensible) fiddling with thresholds will mean more strivers paying 40% tax, Mr Osborne could find that the resentment he had hoped to rouse against the workless will turn back on him instead. Indeed, once working families discover that it is they, and not the workless, who will absorb 60% of the near-freezing of benefits and credits, the strategy could sour. But with no growth, any decision will offend someone. In narrow party political terms, at least Mr Osborne produced a plan.
The same cannot be said of the Liberal Democrats. A year ago, they fought a noble battle to protect the poor from resurgent inflation. On Wednesday, they sold the pass – not merely for one year, but for three in a row. Nick Clegg sat sombrely on the frontbench while the chancellor knocked down his rational hopes for new property taxes with prime ministerial prejudice. In return for compliance with all of this, the Lib Dems secured a modest move against the tax perks of big pensions, bringing in about a quarter of the cash raided from welfare, and a small increase in the personal allowance, worth about half the funds spent on petrol. Dubiously, the Lib Dems have made the allowance the talisman of their achievement in office, even though it was always money showered far and wide. And the chancellor spread Wednesday’s modest rise even further, by sharing it with higher-rate payers too.
The party pleads that welfare would have been cut more savagely without their efforts behind the scenes. Perhaps so, but counterfactual claims are not an electoral strategy, particularly not for a party that recently came eighth in a byelection. Ahead of a spending review, now set for next spring, which will signal the way that the unending pain is to be shared beyond the election, Mr Osborne has thrown down the gauntlet. The Lib Dems are yet to respond, and the clock is not on their side.
The chancellor’s bright-eyed optimism that served as the coalition’s defining mission turns to dust in the Commons
The disaster of March and the omnishambles budget meant the bar was set low for George Osborne’s autumn statement. So long as he avoided a move as politically disastrous as his slashing of the 50p top rate, so long as he didn’t riddle his text with a cluster of tax bombshells – like those that exploded in the face of grannies and pasty-eaters – the Conservative benches would exhale with relief. The Tories’ poll numbers have never recovered from the damage inflicted by that spring budget, so their minimal demand was an autumn statement that did no obvious further harm.
Judged by that low standard, Osborne survived his test: there were no obvious, fall-down-flat stumbles. If you were looking at the small picture, it looked acceptable. But the big picture was bleak. The chancellor came to the House of Commons to announce that everything he had once promised and predicted was wrong.
The old, optimistic growth forecasts were torn up, replaced by the glum admission that this year the economy will have shrunk by 0.1%. The initial, bright-eyed vow that served as the defining mission of the coalition – to eradicate the deficit by 2015, thereby winning re-election as a reward for clearing up the economic mess – has turned to dust.
Osborne had to admit that the nation’s debt won’t even begin to fall as a share of GDP until a full year after the next election, in 2016/17. The age of austerity, once scheduled to last a single parliamentary term, will now stretch to 2018. Paul Johnson of the independent Institute of Fiscal Studies said the appropriate reaction to these numbers was to be “appalled”. Osborne tried to prettify his bulletin of gloom as best he could but, in US parlance, he was putting lipstick on a pig. He succeeded in wrongfooting Labour with the boast that the deficit – the amount by which the debt is increased each year – was shrinking.
That worked long enough to throw Ed Balls off his stride, but soon unravelled. The small print revealed that Osborne claimed a fall in borrowing largely by factoring in the proceeds of a 4G telecomms auction that has not yet happened. In the technical argot of economics, this is known as counting your chickens before they are hatched. And there was plenty more in that vein, plumping up the balance sheet with sums of money that have not yet come in and are far from guaranteed.
Osborne has two roles in the government, chancellor and chief electoral strategist, but it is a mistake to think of these as separate. Every decision he takes is political and this was an intensely political mini-budget. For one thing, he gave a clear preview of the strategy he will run in 2015. Since the message cannot now be “job done”, it will be instead “we’re on the right track, don’t turn back.” But if growth remains elusive, if Britain does enter a triple-dip recession and loses its cherished AAA credit rating in the new year – both of which are highly possible – that will become a harder argument to make.
Politics throbbed through every line of the speech. He announced a below-inflation, 1% increase on benefits, thereby cutting the living standards of some of the poorest members of society – to be approved in a Commons vote. Such a vote is not strictly necessary, but it is politically useful: now Labour will have to declare whether it’s for or against such a real-terms benefits cut. Osborne is calculating that the Labour base will demand a no vote, thereby positioning Ed Miliband on the side of the scroungers against the strivers, as the Tory machine will cast it. Crude, but the polling suggests public opinion will side with the government. That was one among several moves that suggested Osborne’s ear was finely tuned to the Conservative Home frequency. Its favoured groups did well, whether motorists rewarded with the cancellation of a 3p rise in fuel duty – the headline move designed to win tabloid cheers – or the elderly given a 2.5% rise in the state pension. The pain was to be most acute for those on benefits: squeezed already, they will bear the brunt of a £3.75bn cut in welfare spending. According to the Resolution Foundation, the poorest 10% will lose 1.2% of their income as a result of the main measures announced yesterday, while the richest 10% will lose just 0.2% of theirs.
There were some clear political winners and losers. Michael Gove emerged stronger, his education department praised for underspending its budget and rewarded with the scrapping of national pay scales for teachers. School heads will now be able to set their own, performance-related pay, setting up a confrontation with the teaching unions which Osborne and Gove may relish.
As for losers, it’s hard not to point once again at the Liberal Democrats. They briefed that it would have been so much worse if the wicked Tories had been allowed to have their way unimpeded, that Osborne would have slashed £10bn from welfare rather than £3.75bn.
But that argument wears thin when Nick Clegg has to sit silently while the chancellor trashes his mansion tax policy and spends so much more on his pet policies than on those demanded by the Lib Dems. The age of austerity is hard for the Lib Dems, but harder still for the country. And now we know it will go on and on, no matter how much George Osborne tries to make ugly numbers look pretty.
Lord Oakeshott says leader must show more independence if autumn statement is not bold enough on economic growth
Supporters of Vince Cable, the business secretary, have urged Nick Clegg to show greater independence from his Conservative coalition partners if this week’s autumn statement fails to set out a big enough package to lift the UK economy out of its current stagnant state.
Lord Oakeshott, the Liberal Democrats’ former Treasury spokesman in the Lords, said he wanted Clegg to show the same vigour and forthrightness as he had demonstrated over his response to the Leveson report.
He suggested that if his party did not collectively raise its game it was “heading for relegation from the Premiership”. He said the party’s byelection results last week had been disastrous.
The warning from Lord Oakeshott reflects wider fears among senior Liberal Democrats that the focus in the runup to the autumn statement on how to distribute the pain of further deficit reduction between pensions reliefs for the rich and cutting welfare misses the deeper fundamental failing over the absence of growth.
Some in the cabinet now fear that the economy will either slip back into a third recession or at best continue with growth stuck at 1% or 1.5% for the rest of the parliament.
They believe the scope for further quantitative easing is over and the best option now is a large-scale direct government capital injection for a housebuilding programme, something the Treasury resists.
Cable has openly argued for a 100,000-a-year housebuilding programme, creating 500,000 jobs. Faced by the continued slowdown, he has in essence shifted his emphasis in the past few months away from focusing on deficit reduction to a Keynesian demand boost.
His allies believe that spending could be undertaken without breaching the government fiscal rules on the current deficit or leading to a negative reaction from the credit rating agencies. It is expected that George Osborne, the chancellor, will reverse some of the cuts in capital spending in the autumn statement, but not as much as the Liberal Democrats want.
The scale of unease over the direction of economic policy in the Liberal Democrats has been masked by an order from Nick Clegg to colleagues not to repeat the leaks that undermined the budget earlier this year and angered Osborne. But there is growing concern in the party at the imminence of the general election and the threat the party faces.
Oakeshott told the BBC’s Sunday Politics: “The problem we have got is the economy outside London is going backwards. We did start cutting the deficit and now it is slipping back again, and the government must be much bolder in getting the economy growing. The two black holes are banking and building.
“We need to have a much more vigorous strategy and fight much harder to get the economy growing. We need to up our game, change radically and we need to start Thursday and if the autumn statement does not do the things that need to be done to get the economy growing I hope Nick Clegg – he has been very forthright on Leveson – will say the same on the autumn statement because many of us Liberal Democrats certainly will.”
The dearth of housebuilding, he said, was not about planning permission. “There are half a million housing permissions out there. It is about making the banks lend and letting housing associations and councils build.” He described the Royal Bank of Scotland as a zombie bank failing to lend to business.
In his conference speech, Cable started to mark out distinctive ground, sympathising with Osborne’s dilemma over the deficit but saying “right now we are fighting recession. The need is for a demand stimulus. And that does not just mean pumping more money into the banks. That great liberal Keynes had exactly the right analysis of the problem we now have – not enough spending power in the economy. And not only him but also the International Monetary Fund, who no one could accuse of financial irresponsibility.”
He added: “The central point is that the country must not get stuck on a downward escalator where slow or no growth means bigger deficits leading to more cuts and even slower growth. That is the way to economic disaster and political oblivion. We will not let that happen.”
These results are good for Labour, dire for the two governing coalition parties and headline grabbing for Ukip
In the two and a half years since the 2010 general election, there have now been 12 parliamentary byelections in Britain, plus one in Northern Ireland. In a sequence which threatens to overturn the laws of probability, all bar one of those dozen contests – the exception being Corby earlier this month – have taken place in Labour-held seats. Three of them took place on Thursday, in Croydon North, Middlesbrough and Rotherham. All were very safe seats and, in spite of the best efforts of the bookies to encourage an upset, Labour won all three with predictably comfortable majorities. End of story? Pretty much. But not quite.
Byelections march to their own drum. Their results don’t tell us the outcome of the next general election, but nor should their lessons be ignored. The principal message from Thursday – though not the most newsworthy one – is that these results are good for Labour. Three wins are three wins, and in each case Labour put its share of the vote up. Yet the rise in the Labour share was uneven. It ranged from a 15% increase in Middlesbrough, through 9% in Croydon to a mere 2% in Rotherham. Special factors were perhaps especially in play in Rotherham, where the former MP resigned in an expenses scandal and the local Labour council then caused a storm by removing three foster children from the care of Ukip members a week before polling. The overall picture is again, as at Corby, of Labour doing well but not yet well enough to win a working Westminster majority. Nothing about these results should lull Labour into complacency.
This week’s results were dire for the two governing coalition parties. This too was predictable, but it was nonetheless significant for that. Neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats would have expected to do well in Labour strongholds, but nor can they be indifferent to their respective collapses. The Tory performance in Croydon was borderline respectable. But their humiliations in the northern contests are a reminder that the Conservatives are quite simply no longer a national party. They are beginning to wither in the urban north the way they withered a generation ago in Scotland. The Tory party will struggle to gain the overall majority it craves, and which so many of its activists think is their due, unless it can become a national party once again. The way to do that is certainly not to embrace Ukip.
The Lib Dems’ performances on Thursday were simply abject. They were beaten by Ukip in all three contests, and they finished eighth – repeat, eighth – in Rotherham, down among the fringe parties. These results pose basic questions that the Lib Dems must answer. But so did the results two weeks ago in three other byelections and in the police and crime commissioner elections. So did the spring local elections. The Lib Dems are entitled to argue that these byelections took place in unpromising territory for them, and to assert that they will do better in a general election, but they should beware of confusing hope with reality. The party’s trajectory in byelections is down. They lost half their vote in Middlesbrough, three-quarters of their vote in Croydon and almost six-sevenths of their vote in Rotherham. A party can’t go on ignoring results like these.
Ukip produced the headline-grabbing performance of the week, with two second places and one third. With the draining away of Lib Dem support, they are close to being the new third party in English politics more generally. Yet Ukip should keep its head. These results confirm that Ukip is now the protest vote of choice for Tory voters. But their rise has more to do with the Tories’ unpopularity than with Europe’s. Ukip’s threat to the Conservatives should not be exaggerated. The deep Tory electoral problem is in the centre not on the right. Nevertheless, David Cameron should pray that his MPs remain in good health and that byelections in Tory seats remain such rarities.