I sometimes find it difficult to understand why the most innocent remarks by some politicians can be reported by the media as carrying some great significance. Today's comments by Kenneth Clarke about the UK's relationship with the European Union are an example. Seemed to me he was just stating the obvious. Yet we have other party's spokesmen working themselves up into a fine pseudo-lather, claiming that he has let some 'cat out of the bag'. But hearing David Miliband accusing the Conservatives of 'flip flopping' led me to assume it was his attempt at self deprecating humour!
Over the period leading up to last week's election to the European Parliament, one of the main issues was David Cameron's commitment to hold a referendum on whether the UK should agree to sign the Lisbon Treaty. Straightforward enough. We promised that a referendum would be arranged before signing up to the new constitutional treaty before the last general election, as did Labour and the Liberal Democrats. We stand by our promise, which they don't. But what happens if Gordon Brown does not hold a General Election until after the Lisbon treaty has been signed by all 27 EU countries, and it has become a part of EU law? What would a Conservative Government do then? Never see the sense in answering these 'what if' questions. What I've understood though is that a Conservative Government would 'not let matters rest there'. What this means precisely would form part of our manifesto - if we have not had the election that the nation wants. Kenneth Clarke was reflecting on what this might be.
There are demands from several quarters that Cameron/Hague should promise now that a referendum would be held even if the Lisbon Treaty had been signed. I imagine there would be some significant issues of legality involved in the UK withdrawing from a treaty which we had just signed up to - and anyway, it would be a bit dumb to weaken the pressure on Gordon Brown to call that election now. What every Euro-sceptic in the UK should be demanding is a general election before the Irish vote in their referendum. That's the best way to secure the vote that we want.