Sometimes what seems like a good idea at the time can come back and bite you rather hard on the arse. When Dave announced the launch of the e-petition site, it represented a concessionary crumb to what might loosely be termed 'people power'. In reality, the likelihood of government voting through something on request to which they would otherwise be opposed is slim to none, but there was at least the prospect of us little people getting our issues onto the political radar, breaking the monopoly previously held by the Westminster village in determining what 'counted', 'mattered' or was 'really important'. For that reason alone, this bunny sees the e-petitions initiative as an overwhelmingly good thing.
It's worth noting that 100,000 people have to sign an e-petition within an agreed time limit (usually 12 months) for the subject to qualify for debating time in the House of Commons. That's more difficult than one might believe at first, and means that only those issues on which a great many people genuinely care and are sufficiently motivated to sign up and spread the word will even come remotely close to making it. This bunny's favourite e-petition cause, that of None of the Above on ballot papers, is one that I've not encountered serious disagreement with when explaining its finer details, and enjoys plenty of support (certainly far more than the 166 people who've signed a petition for it).
The point is - it simply isn't an issue that evokes a decisive response from a large swathe of the population, which is what is ultimately required to secure those 100,000 signatures. The wish for a Referendum on EU membership is clearly in an altogether different ballpark, with polls suggesting that a clear majority want at least some renegotiation with regard to our terms of engagement with Brussels (an impractical and disingenuous third way thrown in by the Tories but more of that later). So perhaps the most unsettling aspect of the way this story has panned out is not Dave's attempts to terrify his charges into voting against their instincts, but this collective insistence on the part of the political class that "people don't really care about Europe". Weren't e-petitions meant to enable you and I to get across to politicians which issues we do and do not consider to be relevant? After all, it passed the threshold required to be taken seriously, so 'enough' people clearly do regard EU membership as a legitimate area of debate - deal with it.
Then there's the second curveball thrown in by the pro-EU parties in their attempt to muddy the waters. Apparently, with the Eurozone collapsing, Greece needing yet another bailout and the British taxpayer likely to once again be picking up a slice of the tab, this is 'not the right time' to be discussing whether or not the whole project is a gigantic waste of time and money that we should discard as a dismal failure and walk away from. The truth is that the federalist dream can go one of two ways as it stands - either the Greeks will be forced out of the single currency, re-adopt the drachma and begin to recover (potentially causing a domino effect amongst other struggling Eurozone nations), or the crisis will be used as the reasoning for the ever greater fiscal and political union that EU zealots always wanted.
In short, there is no better time to discuss whether we want in or out, for there will always be other shit happening in the world and the wait for a moment where nothing else is happening is likely to be a rather long one. So why is our political class resorting to these rather desperate stalling tactics?
That their real concern is of a referendum turning out the wrong result is hardly rocket science in itself, but it's clear that Dave has far more to lose from this than anyone. It was he who offered a referendum on the Lisbon treaty, only to renege on his word. Talk of repatriating powers back from Brussels, unworkable and dishonest as such a suggestion is, was his way of throwing a few bones to the 'Europhobic' wing of his party, but it really shows the Tories and their 'Euroscepticism' as the sham that it is. How many of their MPs are actually calling for British withdrawal from the EU as opposed to the current line of useless Tory nonsense that Dave has fed them? Remember 'in Europe, but not run by Europe?'.
One look at their record shows that the Conservative Party, whatever its rhetoric, has done more than anyone in modern hostory in sending Britain down the road of anti-democratic federalism. The Single European Act, Maastricht and the horror show of a decision to join the ERM were of course the significant moves in that direction, and when one examines the tide of 'ever closer union', the current has consistently flowed towards the same federalist endgame. Dave's biggest fear is having to stand before the masses during a referendum campaign, and for once say something that he really believes - namely that the EU and all that it does is wonderful and can expect his full, continued support.
Though he's probably wriggled out of it for now, this is a genie that he might regret ever letting out of the bottle - ach well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Take care and I'll catch you soon.