Thursday, 9 June 2016

Why we're having a referendum...


The bien pensant European centre-left and those still clinging to this dysfunctional Frankenstein's Monster have concluded - after little thought and much bias - that the UK's referendum on membership of the EU is really some sort of Tory Party power play. We'll get to the internal Conservative Party matters in a bit, but first let's go back a few years so as to better understand the reasons for needing (and I mean that we need this debate and referendum) the EU vote.

In 1999 I gave a speech to an audience of Conservative members from Keighley and Ilkley constituency. This was an important occasion, for me and perhaps for them, as it was the selection meeting for that constituency's parliamentary candidate. I'd spoken and was responding to questions. One such question was about the Euro, whether we should join, and if we should have a referendum on whether we should join that single currency. This was a huge issue back then, one that resulted in an equally huge u-turn as Gordon Brown persuaded Tony Blair that signing up - even committing to joining - would be a huge political mistake.

My answer to the question was to say that the UK wouldn't join the Euro and that, if I were a betting man, my money would be on the next referendum being about membership of the whole union not just the single currency. And this would be because leaving the EU would become ever more problematic for the effectiveness of the political system and the smooth running of government. So long as the divide was purely within the Conservative Party (plus a few on the loonier fringes of the extreme left) then there was no problem. Once the divide because real - ordinary people making political choices on the matter of EU membership in large enough numbers to skew elections - then the boil had to be lanced.

When I made that observation, I concluded that I had no idea how I would vote in that election. I meant what I said (it was also tactically sensible to sit on the fence at the meeting in question) but it represented a big shift for me from an essentially pro-EU position. What I had noticed was how people had moved from a grumbly acquiescence of the EU to a more active dislike. The British had never been huge fans of our membership but had seen it as one of those necessary things - a sort of zimmer frame for our sick economy.

By 1999, we'd had eight years of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) but it was still essentially an irrelevance, an irritation - the Farage coup had taken place and UKIP had three MEPs as a result of the shift to proportional representation in the European Parliament elections of that year but nobody saw this as a problem or a threat. We were wrong - that growing annoyance with the EU, fuelled by that organisation's gauche clunkiness and publicity for some of the dafter policies (bent bananas, straight cucumbers, et al), plus the UKIP MEPs provided an escape valve for those anti-EU, anti-federalist (mostly Tory) voters.

There's a line - again from those clever centre-lefties - that UKIP is just a problem for the Tories. Yet we've seen it's support grow to the stage where, in the 2015 General Election, over 4 million people voted for Farage's party. Some of this support is part of that populist, neo-reactionary tide sweeping across Europe (and, it seems, the USA) but its core are those people - former voters from all the main parties - who want the UK to say thank-you and goodbye to the European Union.

At first it was the Conservatives who were shocked but then, as UKIP made in-roads in places where Tories fear to tread, the Labour Party woke up to a real threat from this anti-EU, inconsistent populist rabble. The shape of British politics was being changed again - as it was when pro-EEC Labour MPs created the SDP - by the curse of our membership of the EU. In simple terms, the way to solve this - the only way, there was no choice - was to hold a referendum on our continuing membership of the EU. Once this was done, the two big parties could internalise the UKIP issues around immigration, culture and political correctness. So long as the Europe issue was there, this could not happen.

It's true that the referendum decision came in part as a result of internal Conservative Party issues but far more important was the need to win the 2015 General Election. A pledge to hold a referendum not only held the Conservative Party together but also minimised the defections to UKIP from Tory-inclined voters in key marginal seats. As a bonus, such a strategy - given Labour and Liberal Democrat opposition to a referendum - encouraged voters to shift (respectively) to UKIP and the Conservatives.

The reason we are having a referendum is that there are between four and ten million voters out there who want a referendum and are prepared to vote accordingly. With polling in 2015 suggesting a comfortable majority for staying in the EU, it was seen as a pretty safe bet and a central plank in the Conservative election win of that year. The conduct of the campaign has not been pretty, with David Cameron's unrelated decision to say he wouldn't fight another election as leader creating a sort of proxy leadership scrap egged on by Westminster bubble residents and pundits.

If we had not had a referendum then the core issue for those neo-reactionary populists would remain a putrid swelling on our politics. And it would not just be the Conservatives paying a price for this - Labour recognises the threat from UKIP but fails to realise that lancing the EU membership boil is the way to reduce that poison. The Conservative decision to have a referendum - however wrapped in cynicism and tactical politics it might have been - shows, yet again, that Tories are more in touch with the ordinary voter, and especially the ordinary voter a long way from London, than Labour. We want a politics that isn't driven by racism, cultural separatism, machismo and protectionism, and to get this we have to have that referendum.

In some ways the result doesn't matter - for the record, I've voted to leave - what matters is that after the vote we've either fulfilled UKIP's stated aim by voting to leave or decided we don't want to leave. In either case we can tell Nigel Farage and UKIP to shut up and go away. The boil will have been lanced.



Anonymous said...

Whatever the outcome of the referendum, Farage should get at least a knighthood, ideally a life-peerage, for achieving more in affecting national politics, against the overwhelming weight of concerted opposition, than any other individual I can recall.

And whatever the outcome, we should certainly not want him to shut up and go away - we need more of his sort: the sort prepared to stick their heads above the parapets of conformity, to ask the unaskable questions, to raise the unraisable subjects, to challenge the unchallengeable orthodoxies, those rare people in politics who put principles before preferment.

Regardless of his failings, Farage is still worth any 100 of the feeble, brainwashed placemen occupying elected 'rotten borough' seats in Parliament and local councils across the land.

Arise, Sir Nigel, or take this ermine, Lord Farage - you deserve it.

Anonymous said...

If the vote is to remain UKIP will not go away. The tactics used by Cameron and Osborne ( with the help of Mandelson ? ) will ensure that. Personally I regard myself as having Conservative views and I have always voted Conservative despite my doubts about 'the heir to Blair'. This referendum has shown without any doubt that the majority of the Conservative M.P.'s are like their leader and are more concerned with the route to the EU gravy train, and the interests of big business than the interests of their constituents. I can't speak for anyone else but personally I doubt I will ever vote Conservative again

Anonymous said...

There are many things I wish to say, but I will state just a few problems I have understanding our being IN the EU.

We do have a constitution, its just written in different places and not as a whole. This constitution says we cannot be in the EU, full stop, yet no one addresses this to my knowledge.

In the past we had governance by means of a trio of balances, the Crown, the Lords and the Commons, it worked for many years, albeit slowly and cumbersome. The Commons decided to alter that make up, they changed the Lords, never actually asked the people, they changed it as the Lords ( in my opinion) looked out for our liberties and rights. So according to the Commons it needed to be changed as the practice of loading the Lords with political lickspittles wasn't working fast enough. I ask am I still bound to obey the Laws made by these traitors?

If we are "In" the EU, we supposedly are all equal, there cannot be a Queen, she is just another EU citizen, she must obviously become plain Mrs Windsor, so once again do I now have to give my allegiance to Mrs Windsor?

I have read time and time again that Parliament is sovereign, yet how can it be sovereign and give away its powers? Parliament is not sovereign and can never be so, as it can be usurped by voting it out of office, therefore the people are sovereign! So parliament have no right or mandate to give away said rights.

If "In" the EU, how do we reconcile the difference in laws from the EU? Ours is based on common law habeas corpus, the right to do as we wish, unless the law says otherwise. Whilst the rest of the EU works on the rule that everything is unlawful unless there is a law telling you that you can do it?

Really sorry that this is no doubt coming across as confusing and jumbled, basically I think I am asking with all the changes, supposedly made in my name, what gives Parliament the right to tell me what to do, other than threats against my money or person?

thanks for reading, Alan from Blackpool.