Thursday, December 22, 2011

Words have meanings

The Boss over on EUReferendum has been waging a valiant fight against what he calls "fantasy politics" as have numerous other bloggers. This blog has been doing its poor best to bring some sanity into the debate and, to be fair, a number of journalists out in the big bad MSM have been doing the same. For the time being we are overwhelmed by people who accept the Boy-King's notion that, like Humpty-Dumpty in Through the Looking-Glass, he can make a word he uses mean what he wants it to mean.

The word I am talking about is, as readers would have realized, veto. There is a strange belief out there that the Boy-King has vetoed a treaty and all is well with the world. Setting aside the truth that we are still in the EU and subject to its ever more insane laws and regulations, there is a problem with the word. To quote The Princess Bride (ha, didn't expect that, did you): "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." To be fair, I have no idea what the Boy-King, his supporters, the ToryBoy blog or the so-called eurosceptics who are still whooping with joy think the word "veto" means. But I do not think it means whatever it is they think it means.

So, back to basics. The word comes from the Latin veto, vetare (first conjugation if memory serves), which means to forbid. Not to stay away from the discussions and the signature but to forbid.

In the sixth century BC the Roman Republic introduced the concept of the veto, the intercessio that could be used by the People's Tribunes (such as the Gracchi) and, possibly, one or both of the Consuls in order to control and moderate the Senate. When vetoed, a bill was denied the force of law, that is, its use was prevented.

With me so far? Good. Let us carry on.

According to the New Oxford Dictionary of English, a volume I tend to trust, though like Lady Bracknell with "the Court Guides of the period", I have known strange errors in that publication. However, the definitions of veto (noun and verb) seem correct.

Veto (n.): - a constitutional right to reject a decision or proposal made by a law-making body
               - such a rejection
              - a prohibition

For example, the President of the United States has the veto over legislation sent to him by Congress. He does, of course, need to have the legislation first and, once he has exercised his veto, it does not enter the law. Or, to give another example, a committee or board may have a veto over an appointment. There has to be a position and a person who has been appointed for the veto to apply and when it has been applied, the person does not get the job or position.

Veto (v.): - exercise a veto against a decision or proposal by a law-making body
               - refuse to accept or allow

Again, one needs something that one can refuse or allow in order to veto it and, once that has been vetoed, it is stopped from proceeding. Is that quite clear? Good.

The question is on what did Mr Cameron, the man who, by some freak of historical development, appears to be the Prime Minister of this country, exercise his veto on. He does have a veto on certain decisions, none of which had been made during the European Council that he graced with his presence, if rumour is to be believed, and on treaties that are produced by the Inter-Governmental Conference (IGC). There had been no Conference so there was no treaty which he could have vetoed. QED.

Moving right along, we have to acknowledge that whatever is vetoed cannot happen. That is the whole point of a veto: it stops a certain event, piece of legislation or, in the case of the EU, treaty from going ahead. Well, what's this? Scotch mist? As it happens, this is the agreement (carefully not called a treaty but it is in all but name) that the Boy-King was supposed to have vetoed. It is called: DRAFT INTERNATIONAL AGREEMENT ON A REINFORCED ECONOMIC UNION and it has all the various measures that were supposed to have been vetoed.

The idea that the agreement when it is signed in March will have no effect on this country is moonshine. If nothing else this will make it easier for legislation to be passed under QMV, which is how all Single Market legislation and, as it happens, all those directives aimed at the City, which Mr Cameron was intent on saving, passed. (He might consider trying to save it from his own Chancellor but that would be like asking him to equip a fleet of porcine aircraft.)

So, we have Humpty-Dumpty Cameron telling us that the word veto and the word treaty mean exactly what he says they mean, which is a huffy exit and a wave of the hand to let the others get on with whatever it is they wanted to do. And we have a very large number of people, including all Tory MPs, the entire Conservative party and many others outside it in the media and among so-called political activists who believe it. Alice did better than that. She argued with Humpty-Dumpty, who then had a great fall.

Instead of a vetoed treaty that has been stopped in its tracks, we have an agreement that is going ahead, will undoubtedly be signed, will, if implemented, indubitably affect this country. The one thing we do not have is Cameron's right to veto it. That's right. He has actually given up his right to veto the next agreement because he was so anxious "not to bring a treaty back to Parliament". And while other countries will debate the resultant agreement, look for some kind of a desperate political alliance to implement it (in Austria, for instance, they will need two-thirds of the vote) and, quite possibly, be forced to have a referendum (as it is being discussed in Ireland, Denmark and Sweden already) we shall be sitting back, waiting for the decision to happen or not to happen.

That is not quite the way the veto was envisaged in the Roman Republic. But then, what did those Romans do for us?


  1. WitteringsfromWitneyDecember 22, 2011 at 9:45 PM

    Nice post, Helen, my compliments - for what that is worth!

    We are to believe that the USA constitution is based on a form of Direct Democracy?

    "For example, the President of the United States has the veto over legislation sent to him by Congress. He does, of course, need to have the legislation first and, once he has exercised his veto, it does not enter the law."

    Perhaps the definition of the form of democracy exercised in the USA should be changed to what we have over here - ie, democratised dictatorship?

  2. I wouldn't say that about the US. The President can veto but is unlikely to do so because the Constitution creates a balance between the three separate branches: legislative, executive and judicial. The balance does tilt from time to time but it is there. We have no separation of powers and that is what has created a democratized dictatorship here not in America.

  3. I'm not sure what has caused the animus in your take on this, but I will try to explain what I thought was important about the recent event. Both in the UK and the rest of the EU, Camerons action was deemed deeply symbolic. The non-Euro countries were expected by everybody to pal along and 'do the right thing', and bail out the eurozone. And the desperate thrashing about of the Germans and French to try to construct this strict regime of scrutinising peoples budgets was just going to be waved on through like everything is waved on through. The shock to the body politic when it WASN'T is still rippling around the EU, and the world. Who really cares if it was veto or a no to something that hasn't been written yet? What it represents is a body blow to business as usual, and an assertion that Britain will defend its interests in a way that the EU was meant to destroy forever. To try to maintain in the face of that that people are being silly because they don't understand what a veto is is... to me anyway... silly.

  4. I am sorry Andrew but I cannot agree with you. What this has done is make people take their attention away from what matters, which is that business is proceeding as usual. Cameron and the colleagues have performed some smoke and mirrors magic and everybody has said how wonderful, we can now trust this man to do the right thing. By the time it will sink in that absolutely nothing has been achieved in reality, it will be too late. More regulations will have gone through. It could have been avoided with a real treaty and a real veto or in some other way in which Britain's interests were defended. As it is, they were NOT defended. Quite the opposite. Everything the colleagues wanted they got, including an agreement without the difficulties of an IGC. So, no, I don't think this event was of the slightest importance except to prove how easy it is to bamboozle even people who know more than the average. Them, perhaps, even more.