The Blair government faces a very difficult battle to win a referendum next year on the EU constitution. Tim Garton-Ash puts the odds at 4:1 against (see below), which may be generous.
One thing that isn’t going to help very much is paying a PR firm £40,000 to promote the good things about the new constitution, as today’s Financial Times reports. There’s predictable outrage from anti-Europe lobby groups, but they should be chortling. As long as the government subcontracts this kind of work, the anti-Europeans are going to continue to gain support and momentum (and someone should have noted that £40k doesn’t get you very much in the way of PR services). Pro-Europeans like me are still waiting for the day when Blair and other government heavyweights wade into the fray on the constitution and the role Britain must play in Europe.
This isn’t, incidentally, the same kind of thing as the slowly growing Ketchum scandal in the US. Jay Rosen has an excellent summary of this sordid “pay for play” deal between the US Department of Education and a major PR group.
Tim Garton-Ash interviews Tony Blair on foreign policy, the G8 agenda and a second Bush administration in today’s Guardian. There are no major surprises, but Garton-Ash ends on a modestly hopeful note.
|Stepping out of the famous front door of No 10, on to a red carpet that has appeared for the president of Serbia, I reckon that the chances of Blair realising his strategic vision of a Britain standing firmly on those twin pillars [of relationships with the US and Europe] are now about 4:1 against. Too many cards are now stacked against him, starting with the glowering resentment of his chancellor of the exchequer just a few yards away at No 11. Then there are the massed armies of the Eurosceptic press, the damage Iraq has done to his credibility in much of continental Europe, and the stubborn militarism of the vice-president’s office in Washington DC. If he fails, as most politicians ultimately do, then we will find engraved on his heart the word “Iraq”.|
|Yet listening to the new — and sometimes rather Blairite — rhetoric of President Bush and his nominee for secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and listening to the strength of the pro-European arguments that Blair could deploy directly to the British people (especially if the rest of the EU votes yes to the constitutional treaty), I sense there is still just a chance that he can pull it off. Who will seriously argue that it would be a bad thing for Britain, Europe or America if he did?|
Much to the surprise of many of my friends, I remain on the whole a strong Blair supporter. I think he made a terrible error on Iraq, but the overall impact of his premiership since 1997 has been good for Britain and the world. So I share Garton-Ash’s cautious optimism.
(One minor, inside baseball point. In the print edition of The Guardian, you’d be lucky to notice the Blair interview even happened unless you read Garton-Ash’s column. No front page trailer, no mention even in the standfirst of the column. Very, very odd. Personal interviews with the prime minister aren’t that common. On the web, it does get a banner of its own. Can’t understand the editorial decision making in Farringdon Road on this one.)