19 September 2006

Making you feel better

The next three weeks it is party conference time - a pretty miserable interval for anyone in Britain who is interested in serious politics. We are now to be tormented by the slap-stick version as practised by our joke political parties, of which we suffer three – the Liberal Democrats (most often known as the Lib-Dims), the (New) Labour Party (or Zanu-Lab as it is sometimes called) and the Conservative Party (more usually called the Tories, by friends and enemies alike).

The Lib-Dims go first, filling their agenda with endless policy debates of increasing unreality – like the current proposals to increase annual car tax from £190 for a modest saloon to £2000, and to add £2000 to the annual Council Tax bill. To follow is Zanu-Lab and then come the Tories, all with their carefully controlled agendas and stage-managed presentations.

Unsurprisingly, while the media pretends to take all this garbage seriously, filling acres of news space and wasting gigawatts of broadcasting power on coverage - and the more pretentious of the blogging community rush in to play at being journalists - sensible people in the political game try to arrange their holidays for this period or find urgent work abroad.

By contrast, for this short period, even our real government in Brussels looks vaguely interesting, especially as it is on the verge of being hoist with its own petard.

The precise cause of its embarrassment is the successful gathering by the OneSeat online campaign of a one million signature petition, addressed to the EU commission, demanding the end of the mad merry-go-round of alternating EU parliament sessions between Strasbourg and Brussels – wasting €200 million a year into the bargain.

This has put the commission on the spot as it has been a strong supporter of what it calls "participatory democracy" as a means of bringing "Europe closer to its citizens", leading communications commissioner Margot Wallström to be strongly in favour of this petition.

With the now failed EUs constitution having introduced a provision for one million signatures to become a "citizen initiative" for legislation, the fragrant Margot argues that Brussels must listen. "For the commission it is very important to show that we are welcoming an initiative involving so many citizens as this does and that we are happy to receive it," she says.

But there is one teensy, weensy little fly in the ointment – or nigger in the woodpile, if you prefer. The commission has absolutely now power to decide on whether Strasbourg remains a seat of the EU parliament. This bound up in the Treaty of Amsterdam, put in after John Major had been bounced by Chirac in 1992 at the Edinburgh European Council. What is in the treaties cannot be changed except by unanimity amongst the member states – and France will never allow the change.

Thus does our Margot declare, "This is not for the commission to decide on," adding rather plaintively, "but I think it is a matter of the attitude towards these types of initiatives and for citizens to know that there is somebody who listens or there is somewhere you can go with your strong views."

So there you are. We now know that there is someone out there who listens, to whom we can go with our "strong views". I am sure you all feel better for knowing that, even though it won’t make a blind bit of difference.