Friday, February 18, 2011

Another Powell moment for the Tories? And whither UKIP?

Let's say that Labour offer an In/Out referendum as is being suggested in a few well informed places. Joe Litobarski write in CiF today from a pro-European Perspective as well.

What happens next. The election is probably a long way away. The boy Dave can look and see what it does to Labour's polling rating.

Or they wait until 2013 to offer it. That would be European Election year.

Now cast your mind back a few years. The Tories offered a referendum on the EU Constitution. The European Elections took place. The Tories won the election handsomely, but the UKIP vote more than doubled, going from 3 seats to 12.

Labour, realsied that the Eurosceptic position on Europe was popular, that people wanted a referendum. Indeed it was the only area where the Tories were consistently ahead of Labour in the polls. Combined with a remarkable showing for UKIP, Britain had voted overwhelmingly for Eurosceptisism of the soft or hard kind.

Thus, realising that in a Westminster election most of the 2 million plus votes that went to UKIP would go to the Tories and needing to kybosh the Tories strongest card at the next general elections, Labour announced that it too would be holding a referendum on the European Constitution in the Queens speech of that year.

This was despite the implacable opposition of the colleagues across the channel. Chirac was fuming, and the Commission muttered darkly.

This move by Blair was ultimately the reason why public opinion in France forced Chirac to offer a referendum in that country. The French population demanded that they too had a say. This public pressure spilled northwards into Holland. The Constitution ultimately died because of the votes in Britain's Euro elections.

That it would resurface again as the Lisbon Treaty was no real surprise but the ambitions of Europe had taken a knock, a knock that it has yet to fully recover from. In Britain at least the shenanigans over forcing through the Lisbon Treaty, the sight of all three major UK parties wriggling and reneging on their promises has pushed a hard Euroscepticism up the agenda.

So what happens next now.

If History be our guide then I would suggest that if Labour offer an In/Out referendum, and it is perceived to be popular, then the Tories will be forced to offer the same.

If they did not they would face the prospect of hundreds of thousands of their own MPs' voters and members doing an Enoch Powell and lending their vote to Labour in order to get that referendum. Countless activists could not campaign against it in al conscience. Cameron in order to have credibility with his own people, in order to stop the Labour Party outflanking him on what he perceives to be his own territory would have offer it.

He by then will have had years of frustration dealing with the dead hand of European influence on policy.

Issues such as prisoner votes will bedevill his premiership between now and then and his patience with the Brussels elite will be getting stronger month by month.

And therefore we can ask what of UKIP? It will slowly be consolidating its position over this time. The sympathy of the general public will be moving its way as the same issues that harass the Tories push more and more in its direction.

It's vote share in Westminster polling will increase, up from last year's 3% to this year's 5%. Upwards of 7-8% where its support will cause psephological havoc in marginals.

The Lib Dems will no doubt be in a quandary, but many of them, like the Labour Party will see the bleak decision of in and out as their only chance of lancing the Eurosceptic boil pustulating across the land. They too will offer a referendum on our membership, as they did last time.

The net result will be that al parties will go into the next election offering a referendum on our membership of the EU. The UKIP campaign will be as much based on its small state localist agenda, on choice in education, in civil liberties on fairer, simpler flatter taxes, on a serious approach to crime and criminality, on all those areas where the mainstream has left the population behind.

And the country will finally have a chance to set itself free.

Bring it on.


Edward Spalton said...

I would not be at all confident that an "in/out" referendum would result in an "out" vote. Public opinion is remarkably fickle and, whilst Euroscepticism is widespread, it is shallow - often directed against EU institutions and regulations rather than against the Quislings and Vichyites who signed us up to them.
Mr.Clegg and Mr Vaz would like a referendum too!

I discussed this with Tony Coughlan of Irish National Platform a while ago. He said that, in the last Irish referendum, it was "the fear of the people not the will of the people" which swung the vote in favour of Lisbon.

If Mr. Cameron feels that his Wilsonian moment has come to lance the boil of his party's Euroscepticism , he will have the whole Blairite spin machine in government and amongst the quangos at his disposal - far greater than the highly effective machinations of the early Seventies, revealed in the Royle report. He might also take the gamble to go early before job losses really bite (but people are very frightened of the possibility) and major on the "Three Million Jobs" mantra which Labour used.

I have not seen the slightest sign amongst those campaigning for a referendum that anybody has given a thought about how to win it - a process which should start years ahead of the actual, official campaign. They seem content to relax on the wave of public opinion which "is moving our way", they say. A serious campaign would have started (at least with concurrent activity) to assure itself of the necessary means and well-briefed teams of publicly respected "champions" to carry the day. Otherwise it can all end like the Charge of the Light Brigade. "C'est magnifique mais ce n'est pas la guerre".

Don't forget that, once a referendum is called, it will be at a time and under conditions of the enemy's choosing. Lose it and we have lost the war.

Anonymous said...

Blair offered a referendum on the constitution two months *before* the 2004 Euro elections.

Old Codger said...

Will it happen? I doubt it.

How many parties have offered an EU referendum of some sort? Which parties have held the referendum they promised?


Only UKIP still have any credibility in that area.

Tapestry said...

Labour see UKIP as a coming threat under AV.

Conservatives in 2015 will vote

1. Conservative
3. Labour if offering In/Out.


2. Labour if offering In/Out
3. Conservative

The Coalition will be wiped out. UKIP could hold the balance of power next time. This would be an attempt to forestall that possibility.

If Miliband D had won the leadership, the possibility of an In/Out referendum would not have been there.

Gawain Towler said...

Edward, I take your point about planning, and the necessary outcome. But to not hope that we get a referendum would be a strange tactical position for someone to take who wishes to leave.

We must have the opportunity, and we must plan to campaign, and we must win.

Codge, I will say that I expect it, but it is possible.

Tap, again I can see where you are coming from. The UKIP vote is an odd beast, and under AV it will be odder still, it exists in a psephologists vacuum.

Edward Spalton said...


You don't have to have a referendum. A Commons majority of one is sufficient.
We didn't need a referendum to get in, did we?

I don't think we should become solely fixated upon a referendum. It means that MPs are off the hook and can say "We'll leave it to the people" as Wilson did in '75, confident that years of preparation had done their work.

I was appalled to hear a leading pro-referendum campaigner say publicly and passionately "I want my say. I want a referendum and I don't care what the result is".

The late Sir Isaiah Berlin, a man who loved the traditions of this, his adopted country, wrote that no modern government could lose a referendum, if it used the resources of the state to campaign for the answer it wanted and, he went on to say, "The slaves vote that they are free".

The one thing we will not get is a fair campaign. You can be absolutely sure of that. Many people's minds will have been made up long before the official start, which is only the beginning of the home straight.

We talk mostly to people who share our views. I also suspect that others, who don't share them entirely, probably appear to agree with us to avoid being bored by the resulting earful! Genuine, principled, committed, pro-independence people are pretty thin on the ground - or UKIP would have had some MPs long ago. I think that the UKIP vote in Westminster elections is probably the most reliable barometer of persuaded, firm opinion on the matter. Of course, many more would take the opportunity to
vote "out" but, against the combined persuasive power and tribal loyalties of all the main parties and supporting interest groups, I doubt whether it would be sufficient.

You are probably right that a referendum will play some part in getting out (or locking us in) forever.
To campaign for one without having FIRST calculated the forces necessary to win - and being reasonably assured of them - is IMHO quite irresponsible.