In one corner we have the EU Referendum Campaign, supported by various MPs and other personalities, particularly Jon Gaunt and promoted in the Express Newspapers; this one has been going for five months or so and is asking us to sign a pledge to .... well, to demand from our MPs that they should support an in/out referendum on the EU.
In the other corner we have The People's Pledge, a cross-party campaign, supported by various MPs and other personalities and promoted mostly by the Mail (and here), though mentioned in other newspapers such as the Express. Conservative Home has also got in on the act. This one is asking us all to sign a pledge that we vote only for politicians who agree to give us an in/out referendum on the EU.
This could become a battle between the Mail and the Express or it could turn into something that both newspapers will lose interest in. Who knows. I am inclined to add, who cares. As the Boss argued in his inimitable fashion on EUReferendum, one can feel nothing but annoyance at the sight of yet another ill-thought-out campaign taking up time, money and energy. Meanwhile, the Boy-King has assured us that there will be no in/out referendum because he seems to think that the result will be an out vote. As I wrote before, that is not a foregone conclusion, no matter what the highly inaccurate opinion polls say.
First of all, why two campaigns instead of one? Well, some say this and some say that but I fear that personal differences and people's inability to work with each other are at the bottom of this ridiculous split. It is all too tedious to go into and, in any case, that is not the problem. Not the real problem.
The real problem is that we have wasted a great deal of time on various campaigns that get us nowhere instead of doing what we ought to be: changing opinion both at the political and the popular level. Ah yes, but we have done that, I hear people cry. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.
Certainly, we have moved a long way from those days of the Maastricht debates when I became involved with the eurosceptic movement and realized why it kept losing. It is now possible and acceptable to talk of Britain pulling out of the EU and, even, of a European future beyond the EU. Partly that is our achievement, partly the EU's, which has also lost its way. But there is still no clear understanding of how the EU works, why it is a bad idea, what effects it has on Britain and its political life, how we can go about getting out and what should be done afterwards. If there is an in/out referendum the other side will use this vagueness to its advantage. Remember, the other side has not even started campaigning because it sees no need for it. So opinion polls are of little significance.
The Boss discusses one opinion poll in a posting today and there is little to add to what he says. Let us approach the problem from another angle: an opinion poll that says most people think we should have a referendum on our membership of the EU is a reflection of what people think about our politicians and their inability to keep their collective word under any circumstances. We had a similar comment almost a year ago when the Cameroonies failed to win an election against the least popular government in living memory.
People who agree that we should have a referendum will not necessarily tick the "out" box or even turn up at the polling booth. The fact that we consistently get a high percentage saying that yes, the EU is a bad idea and this is not what we voted for means little.
In 1975 the No side started with a large majority; by the time the referendum day came around a third of the electorate decided that they could not be bothered to vote and two thirds of the remaining two thirds voted "yes" to staying in the Common Market.
Ah but "we" were told that it was merely a Common Market; this is not what we voted for; blah, blah, blah. "We" were also told by a number of people who quoted the Treaty of Rome, which was available from HMSO, that the aim of the exercise is considerably more than a market, common or otherwise. It's just that "we" preferred not to listen or were scared by many of those who gave "us" the other side of the argument.
That happened when the No side had mostly well-honed arguments though their idea of organization was as daft as that of the present crop of eurosceptics. One of the causes of the defeat was the presence of the union bosses on that side. Look, said the Yes campaign, look who is arguing against the Common Market: the people who are reducing this country to complete shambles. Even those who were not especially in favour of the concept sighed and asked sorrowfully: what choice do we have, rule by Brussels or rule by Moscow. So whom do we see among the slightly moth-eaten supporters of the latest campaign? Why, none other than Bob Crow, the most hated man in the country, certainly in and around London, which accounts for a good many people.
Some 12 or 13 years ago (how time does fly, to be sure, when one is enjoying oneself) the Boss and I, together with other people looked at the situation in the country, its political class and the eurosceptic movement, which was very similar to the one now, and decided to try to do something about it. Our idea was to set up a think-tank along the lines of the IEA that would produce research and publications at various levels to discuss the various subjects that need to be discussed in order to fight the monster that is the European Union but also other bodies, such as our own state.
We laboured long and mightily but failed for reasons that are obvious: the money went elsewhere. In particular it went, as it continues to go, on various campaigns that are little more than make-work, as the Boss says. We have lost those 12 or 13 years; we have not used them to spread information or inform rational debate.
It is nothing short of tragic that the discussions today have not moved one iota beyond those we were having (or the media was having) ten, fifteen, twenty years ago. Those of us who have spent years on the common fisheries policy, for instance, unravelling its structure and development, understanding and describing its activity, building up alternative policies can only beat their heads against the wall when they see that once again, for the umpteenth time we are treated to shock-horror outbursts about discards. That's where we were 15 years ago; that's when I drafted questions and wrote briefing papers for members of the House of Lords and others on the subject. (Let us not forget the famous Conservative policy on fisheries that the Boy-King discarded the moment he became leader of the party.)
I could list many other issues where the same ignorance remains and the same feeling of just treading water pertains. For that is what the eurosceptic movement has been doing all these years: whipping up emotions and treading water as far as useful rational debate is concerned. We have wasted the years we ought to have used sensibly. We have not changed the political climate or even the terms of the debate. Why do we want a referendum? To lose it?
So we are back to that old question: what is to be done. As the Boss said to me, he has a blog and I have a blog and that is what we do. That means a return to the fray, much as I would like to abandon it. It also means having to up the game and to spread the message wider and more efficiently. So, over to my readers for ideas. And, please, do not suggest that this blog should support the EU referendum campaign(s). If you think that, you have not been paying attention.
We must make up for lost time.