Osborne wants an EU referendum. Maybe.

Is Uncle Cable still smiling?

OK.  So it’s out in the open.  Semi-official.  George Osborne wants an EU referendum.  Clarke, Clegg and Cable must be choking on their pasties.

The first thing to note is the reported reason why Osborne wants an EU referendum.  It’s not because he believes in it (although he may).  It’s because Osborne, ever the tactician, is worried about UKIP.  And this is a remarkable success for UKIP.  Not only did we scare the daylights out of the old parties in the 2009 euro-elections — we’ve now pressured the Tories into buying one of our key policies.  For those who say that a fourth (or third) party can’t influence policy, this may be a wake-up call.  Yes we can.  And we just did.  On the great issue of our time.

And not just the Tories.  This issue has a lot of traction with voters.  Just as with the promise years ago of a €uro referendum, the two big parties will now start to out-bid each other.  If the Tories promise one, Labour can’t be left behind.

But before we break out the champagne, there are a few questions to answer.

Can we believe them?  Or put it the other way around, can they ever convince the electorate to trust them again?  We had Dave’s 2007 “Cast Iron Guarantee” of a Lisbon Referendum.  And we know the excuses off by heart.  “There’s no point in a referendum after it’s been ratified”.  Oh yes there is.  Harold Wilson, God bless him, set the precedent with his post-facto referendum in 1975.  The only EU referendum we ever had was after the event, so please don’t tell us we can’t have one.  “Our coalition partners won’t let us”.  But if the Tories make a credible promise, they may not need coalition partners.  “We can’t have a referendum in the middle of a €uro crisis”.  Oh yes we can.  That’s exactly the time to have it.  If we were to have it later when the situation had calmed down (though it probably won’t), the urgency would have gone out of the issue.

What is the question?  It seems that Osborne wants not an In/Out referendum, but an “authority to negotiate” referendum.  “Do you authorise the government to renegotiate our relationship with Brussels?”.  But why bother to ask the question?  They can do that without a referendum — but they show little sign of doing so.  The “authority to negotiate” question seems designed to leave the maximum wriggle-room.  Again, Harold Wilson set the precedent.  He proudly offered to renegotiate the terms set by Edward Heath a couple of years earlier.  Then he came back and sought approval in the referendum for his changes — but the changes were nugatory.  A couple of minor cosmetic details that meant nothing in the medium term.  Pure smoke and mirrors.

How will the Tory Party campaign in the referendum?  Bear in mind that this is the party which has exiled sceptics to the back-benches.  Good men like Douglas Carswell, who has signed up to Better Off Out  know they will never get promotion under Cameron’s leadership.  It would be very curious for a governing party to propose a referendum, and then call for a NO vote.  But they did so on AV, and I wouldn’t be sure they might not do it again.

So Osborne’s move is excellent news, and a triumph for UKIP.  But there’s a long road ahead.  It’s way too early for UKIP to declare victory and go home.

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7 Responses to Osborne wants an EU referendum. Maybe.

  1. An election pledge will be dangerous in that some gullible voters may believe it. But if they do offer one it will be a sign of massive conservative weakness and an ideal basis for UKIP to start a big new recruitment campaign…

  2. I have personal experience of the shiftiness of not only the politicians but also of the government departments when a team of us tried to start up a free school. Oh yes, What a wonderful idea. Let’s get straight on with it. etc etc.
    Then, just at the last minute – bang!

    So I fully appreciate your apprehension. On or out – otherwise I shan’t be interested. The people in Berlaymont are not going to give up their livelihoods without a fight. You did. (I did myself actually too but we are special!)

  3. Andrew Shakespeare says:

    Great Scott! Look! It’s a pig! And it’s flying!

    Oink oink oink oink oink oink.

  4. Neil Craig says:

    That is a ridiculous question proposed. If you want us to quit you would not vote to “renegotiate”; if you don’t trust our government you would not trust them to “renegotiate” & wish to give them a mandate; on the other hand if you are a europhile you would also vote No, being happy with what we have. It is clearly a question designed to give the government a mandate to do what it intends to do anyway & deny us a real choice.

    All 3 parties manifesto promised us a referendum over Lisbon. The LudDims did the same at the last election. If they are being honest this time they can cary out a referendum immediately – they don’t have to wait to put it in their manifestos – again.

    We also have to watch out to see if the BBC can be forced to stick to their legal Charter duty of “balance”, as they so obviously didn’t in 1975 and continously on most issues since then. If the Russian elections are dodgy because of government influence on the media, ours are, indisputably, entirely undemocratic.

  5. Eric Worrall says:

    As a former Tory activist, I know that game – when doorstepping, we were told to avoid Europe, but if the voter insisted, we were to discuss Europe from a moderate perspective – agree vaguely with whatever they said.

  6. Roger Turner says:

    So we count UKIP having brought the Cons to the concept of an in/out referendum as a “victory”
    We should also add to that we have brought cross border immigration onto the agenda.
    We have also brought the concept that this nation is “Full up” I heard the lady from London TV last night on QT give a wonderful analysis of what full up meant and the services which are groaning at the seams (and she also got UKIP on the show as well).
    UKIP has also highlighted the concept of an ever closer United States of Europe coming on to the agenda and I heard Jocob Rees Mogg make a wonderful speech in Parliament on Monday,when one of the EU`s tiresome and duplicious regulations was discussed on the floor of the Commons, again I seem to recall he mentioned UKIP (I`m not saying it got him anywhere they lost 300odd votes to 30)Is it possible to see a copy/video recording in the flesh? (I don`t mean Hansard, I mean UTube)
    I do think UKIP should emphasise this last topic in particular, because I think the Cons are really shaky on this one

  7. Anne Palmer says:

    The Sad Truth of England of TODAY.

    What happened to proud old ENGLAND?
    Since this Coalition came in, for sure,
    Was “ENGLAND” such a dirty word,
    It had to be trashed, for ever more?
    No need for a flag of ENGLAND now
    With its cross of Red on White,
    For England has now been divided
    Into Regions for the EU’s full might.

    Our Country’s wealth frittered away,
    Into deep debt our Government has gone,
    Many billions of Pounds given away
    To foreigners, without war, have won.
    Sadly the flag of our England
    No longer flies its now naked pole,
    Not even been folded up gently,
    Left trampled, covered in mould.

    But soon now comes the rallying call
    For the people now long to be FREE,
    They remember St George and the Dragon,
    With his sword in his hand he once slew.
    To break the chains that have bound us
    So tightly-no life of our own to live,
    Ties to be broken, freedom once more,
    Never more our sovereignty will we give.

    Our Prime Minister promised a Referendum,
    Yet that ‘promise’ never ‘came to be’ at all,
    It will however, ensure that the Coalition
    Will now be heading for one mighty fall!
    For the people have now decided,
    That there is only one thing they can do,
    Is to use the coming General Election,
    To free us forever from the oppressive EU.

    Come the General Election in 2015,
    No ‘cross’ placed by those ‘major’ three
    But along side those that want FREEDOM
    Then at last the people will be FREE
    To Govern this Country according to law,
    Of our own Constitution now to rule,
    Never again paying or obeying foreigners
    For the British people are nobody’s FOOLS.

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