Influential blogger Richard North thinks our best chance of an EU referendum is to vote Conservative this time. I think he is mistaken.
EU-skeptics like me like to think that if British people properly understood the EU and were given a chance to leave, a majority would vote to take it. So it's easy to be convinced that what we need is another referendum as early as possible.
But everything depends on how well the people are informed. Look at what happened in the 1970s. According to Albert Burgess, the media were carefully steered to foment approval of EU membership:
But how to do it? First, organized breakfast meetings at the Connaught Hotel in London; these meetings were attended by Government Ministers, MPs, the British Council for the European Movement and top people from ITV, the BBC and the national newspapers. At these meetings the media people were persuaded to remove all their front line anti-EEC reporters and to replace them with pro-EEC reporters.
They set up a department in a back room of Chatham House where five people wrote thousands of letters all purporting to come from people like you and me, every letter saying what a great idea this EEC was; but the IRD did not have a facility to distribute them, so they were distributed to the central offices of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal parties and the British Council for the European Movement. They got them signed and sent to the letters pages of the news outlets. By this method they completely skewed the public’s perception of what was best for the Kingdom and themselves and their families.
Well-known author Vernon Coleman says what happened at that time in the Press, in "How The British Media Lied
And Tricked Us Into Joining The EU" - see the "Politics" page on his website here. (Hat-tip to "JD".)
Would we get more balanced coverage now? I doubt it.
Look for example at the strange behaviour of the Mail on Sunday. Followers of anti-EU Peter Hitchens have noted that his regular Sunday column failed to appear yesterday, and there was no explanation why. Hitchens himself tells enquirers on his blog that he is "unable to comment," and has resorted to republishing his anti-Cameron, anti-New Tory pieces from 2010 (here and here) and (today) 2007. I can't wait to see what he would have said in print yesterday if allowed, but maybe we'll never know.
Things often go wrong when you redefine a problem in terms of a proposed solution. Think of the Marx Brothers' "Animal Crackers":
We're getting hung up on "referendum now", but until we can secure fair treatment of the issue over-eager Ukippers will be like turkeys voting for an early Christmas. Voting Tory falls into Cameron's trap, and he'll delight in setting up a sure-fail referendum campaign, with the eager assistance of "it's about leadership, Aleisha" Milliband (see that link from 47:03) and College-of-Europe-graduate Clegg.
Tactical voting is tricky and really if EU-skeptics had never voted for the Referendum Party and later UKIP, I very much doubt that EU membership would ever have registered with politicians as an important issue. And those who compromise their beliefs are compromised in debate when challenged on consistency. I'm still haunted by Steven Glover's Mail article (16 April) in which he says of UKIP's manifesto:
"... this is for the most part a carefully reasoned, practical and candid document. There is nothing remotely ‘fruit-cakey’ about it. It has the merit of being more specific than the manifestos of the three main parties. I am sure many millions of voters would agree with most of it. I certainly do... come May 7, like many millions of others I will be placing my ‘X’ elsewhere without much confidence that my hopes and aspirations will ever be reflected."
I emailed Glover on the 19th, saying:
"Why not vote for a manifesto that is in your opinion practically flawless? You and I are the same age, I believe (b. 1952) and have seen the two major parties ruin Britain between them over more than 40 years. Is it not a good time to vote on principle?"
Alas, no answer yet.
One of the reasons Glover gives in his article is the First Past The Post system and how that affects results, which is I suppose why he and others think we need to vote Tory simply to stop Labour. Yet as Hitchens asserts, there's not much difference between the two and increasing numbers of people hate both, hence the hung Parliament.
The key to unlock this problem is electoral reform - again. Have a look at this startling letter in today's Mail:
If the number of seats in the House of Commons reflected what is predicted about GE votes cast nationally, at c. 11% UKIP would have something like 70 MPs after May 7. And if people thought their vote really mattered, doubtless voter behaviour would change accordingly and maybe the EU-skeptics would have a really major party representation in the HoC. As it is, it's not certain that even Nigel Farage will win his seat (though Iain Dale thinks so - see #13 here).
What would make electoral reform more likely? Yet another hung Parliament, perhaps worse than last time. SNP have been snubbed by Labour, and are themselves snubbing the Tories, though we'll see how their line changes when the results are anounced.
If you must vote tactically, vote in the way that you think most likely to lead to No Overall Control. For if one party can command a majority, we're back to the same old rotten game as before.
But if you vote for what you don't believe in, don't be surprised if that's what you get.
The road to freedom is longer and harder than some of us thought.
And that's just the start. For believers in nation-based democracy, the EU is merely a regional campaign, compared to the issue of global governance and the tsunamis of money and multinational corporate trade that are roaring across the world, smashing down all opposition with no thought of the end-state of the world's economies and polities.
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