Charge of the Referendum Light Brigade

Having been derided for his aspiration of leading the Conservative Party, Adam Afriyie, has now determined how he plans to exact revenge – declaring via the Daily Mail’s RightMinds section that he will force David Cameron to hold an in-out referendum on EU membership ‘now’.

This really is a new charge of a light brigade, misguided and doomed to failure.  While it may elicit excitement among Eurosceptics, an early referendum would almost certainly be lost and the UK would be shackled to the twitching corpse of the EU, for decades to come or until the whole ediface comes crashing down under its own weight.

The facts are these.  The Eurosceptics are in appalling shape and nowhere close to ready to fighting the kind of campaign required to win public support for an ‘out’ vote.  We would face a biased and distorting media where the selected voices on our side will be those who will undermine us with undecided voters and where, with the exception of the Express, even the supposed Eurosceptic press like the Mail and the Telegraph will support continued EU membership and push the false ‘renegotiation’ meme.

Add in to this the fact that Afriyie is not really pushing an early referendum to hasten UK withdrawal from the EU, but for narrow party political considerations.  Always delve into a piece if you want to find the author’s genuine motivations.  The headline rationale is the ‘acceptable’ argument only put there to earn sympathy from the audience.  As a piece goes on, the author lets slip what is really on their mind.  Afriyie’s piece is no different and his motives are clear in his article:

I think people understand the argument that if you vote Conservative you will get a referendum and if you vote Labour you won’t.

But we must not rely too heavily on the belief that the promise of a referendum will persuade people to vote Conservative nor trust the Labour Party not to change its position.

In reality, the British people are unsure whether the Conservative leadership would be able to stick to its promise of holding a referendum after the Election, especially if in coalition once again.

It seems to me that if we don’t hold the referendum before 2015, large numbers of people will continue to vote UKIP whatever happens – and if they do, there is a distinct danger that Labour will gain a majority and we will never see a referendum at all.

Protest votes are understandable mid-term, but mainstream politicians continue to underestimate and dismiss the power and significance of populism – currently expressed in the form of UKIP votes. Because at the heart of a populist movement is a legitimate concern unacknowledged by the political establishment.

By holding an early EU referendum, we would have recognised, embraced and addressed those concerns.

An early EU referendum would resolve the issue for all political parties as well as the British people. And for my party, I believe it will reunite the wider Conservative family so that we can win convincingly in 2015.

That is his Afriyie’s real agenda.  Stealing a march on Labour and neutering UKIP’s capacity for harming Conservative electoral prospects.

So we now can see the only reason why Afriyie wants an early referendum.  Narrow, party political advantage.  The conventional wisdom is that the Conservatives would benefit regardless of the outcome of the referendum – and that is what Afriyie is trying to sell to his Tory colleagues right now ahead of tomorrow’s amendment.  The national and public interest, which would be served by freeing this country from the EU, isn’t the primary consideration.

That can only spell bad news for our prospects of securing our exit from the EU.  Those who are currently excited by Afriyie’s construct should be careful for what they wish for.  Rather than throwing compliments at Afriyie, they should be hurling brickbats.  We have to suit up for a referendum campaign and be strong in order to win it.  The suit has not been stitched and we are severely under our fighting weight.  An early referendum is to be avoided.

20 Responses to “Charge of the Referendum Light Brigade”

  1. 1 theboilingfrog 06/10/2013 at 12:06 pm

    Spot on post AM. The other consideration is that, as Richard North, notes there’s a new EU treaty coming along the track which is likely to go for substantial further integration.

    With this in mind it’s best for the Europhiles to get an in/out referendum out of the way, which they’re likely to win, thus tying us to the EU for decades, before the public become aware of the UK’s invovment in another treaty which undoubtably will mean giving up even more powers.

  2. 2 blackswansblog 06/10/2013 at 12:16 pm

    I’m prepared to take the risk. I can’t help remembering those trial unofficial local constituency votes against the Lisbon Treaty which produced 78 – 80% votes against it. Entirely against the establishment expectations! So much so that instead of continuing with the (mainly Tory party) plans for 20 such unofficial local polls, after 3 local results it was all quickly forgotten! If this Afriyie plan goes ahead in Oct 2014, I suspect the electorate will very much enjoy “dis”-pleasing the establishment – & as far as Scotland is concerned, uniting the anti-SNP vote by holding the EU poll so soon after the Scots nationalist one in Sept 2014.

    But in reality the Afriyie amendment won’t get anywhere. Instead it’ll help Wharton’s half-hearted EU Ref bill (for a poll in 2017) get talked out. But otherwise: anything that helps confirm Cameron’s double-dealing over the EU deserves applause!

  3. 3 Derek Buxton 06/10/2013 at 12:39 pm

    Does Camerons “double dealing” over the EU need confirming? Every PM since the notorious Heath has been at it and Camo is no exception.

  4. 4 Mark B 06/10/2013 at 2:20 pm

    Looks like a ‘False Flag Operation’ by a few desperate Conservative backbenchers’.

    It will die a death and probably backfire.

  5. 5 theboilingfrog 06/10/2013 at 3:09 pm

    @blackswansblog “I’m prepared to take the risk”

    What’s the point in taking the risk if the odds are stacked against you? You are simply certain to lose.

    Take horse racing betting; who wins the punter or the bookie? The answer is obvious for the reason that the bookie manipulates heavily the market in the form of ‘over-round’. Thus he’s always guaranteed to win.

    The problem with an early referendum it’s rather like taking a punt on the Grand National. It’s very popular but because of the high level of uncertainty and the number of horses, bookies are able to disguise very high percentages of what they call over-round – built in margins. Coupled with the fact it’s one of the rare occasion most people bet, often ill-informed regarding horse racing (“I like the name”) it’s a bookie’s favourite race.

    In an early referendum, we would be faced with many horses against us; the media, the establishment, the “status quo effect” of referendums on a subject many don’t understand.

    Thus what we need to do is to try to reduce it to a two horse race with more manageable over-round odds to give ourselves a chance. And that will take time. Otherwise we’ll certainly lose, we’ll have to rip our betting slips and that’s it all over for a generation.

    I’m not prepared to take that risk.

  6. 6 Sean O'Hare 06/10/2013 at 6:25 pm

    The question is will “we” being the totality of anti-EU people (individuals, political parties, media and pressure groups), be any more ready for a referendum in 2017+ than we are now? Somehow I doubt it. We seem incapable of getting our collective act together and unless that happens the “out” side is never going to win a referendum.

    We really do need to pull together, but to do that we need to sort out those genuinely anti-EU from the Europlastics. I hear what you say with regard to UKIP (I remain a member of 2 years standing), but they are the best known Eurosceptic party and will be needed on board if we are to stand a chance.

    In recent months it seems to me that the three musketeers have had an impact on UKIP party policy so all I can say is keep it up, but don’t alienate the UKIP membership too much.

  7. 7 ombzhch 06/10/2013 at 6:58 pm

    Mr. O’Hare, if you are not soon ready, you will assuredly loose. There are four connected issues: (1) Immigration, (2) EU and AGW == (Green+Renewable), (3) The Economy & finally (4) Probity+Proper_real_Democracy that create the Perfect Storm for the incumbent liers and troughers.

    Talking, not doing, is the curse of Britain. “Action this Day” is dimly remembered, which is why everything take three times too long and costs five times too much. get your act together.

  8. 8 Steve 06/10/2013 at 7:03 pm

    I’ve read this blog for a while, along with Richard North’s blog. I’m a big fan of both, however, do you guys honestly belive the ‘out camp’ will be any better organised in 2017?

  9. 9 Sean O'Hare 06/10/2013 at 7:14 pm

    @ombzhch Items The people do not really connect any of the 4 items you mention with the EU. In the public’s mind items 1 and 3 are completely separate topics and under total control of the government of the day. Item 2 (AGW) is generally accepted by the people as fact, green taxes are hidden from them and the EU is not blamed in any way. Item 4 doesn’t seems to raise little concern. If you try talking to people about national sovereignty their eyes glaze over and you lose them within 30 seconds.

    “Action this day” would be nice, but if it leads to “defeat tomorrow” what’s the point? I don’t know the best route to getting out of the EU, I wish I did, but I’m willing to do anything in my power to assist anyone who shows the way. It is my assessment that Dr North, The Boiling Frog and Autonomous Mind have it about right – even if they do show antipathy to my party’s leadership.

  10. 10 Sean O'Hare 06/10/2013 at 7:17 pm

    Sorry about the garbled text above. We could really do with an edit facility. A time limited one (say 5 mins after comment) would be great!

  11. 11 Autonomous Mind 06/10/2013 at 7:53 pm

    There’s a lot that can be achieved in the next 2-3 years. We would certainly be better prepared than today.

    The intervening period needs to see a solid Eurosceptic message that counters the FUD that has been left to go unchallenged. I think that can and will happen.

  12. 12 Spinwatch 06/10/2013 at 8:05 pm

    The whole thing looks like a pantomime farce, and it makes you ask if it is a storm in a teacup manufactured to divert attention from something more serious?

    There is speculation in the Mail that the amendment will cause the Bill to be lost, which might suit Cameron – whose recent contortions were exposed on EUreferendum. He now apparently favours an IGC which would cause a 2017 date not to be met.

    The only other real possibility is that polling has shown the Tories to lose ballast after the traditional fillip of a party conference never materialised. With their votes going to UKIP, they are panicking.

    With no scope for returning lost powers through renegotiation anyway, the ‘logic’ of opting for a 2014 vote and only bringing forward the day of reckoning is baffling!

  13. 13 Sean O'Hare 06/10/2013 at 8:34 pm

    @AM I do so hope that you are right about it being possible to achieve a lot in 3 years. So far the Europhiles are winning hands down. I feel pretty helpless to further the cause being simply a keyboard warrior. In my younger days I would have been out there knocking on doors. I think I have turned a few people against the EU in my local pub, but that is about the limit of my political influence.

  14. 14 wg 06/10/2013 at 10:07 pm

    I just wonder how ambitious Adam Afriyie is – making a nuisance of oneself is sometimes a good way to get on.

    And appearing eurosceptic seems to be popular – even in a party that has given away most on EU matters.

    I would suggest to blackswansblog, in the nicest way, that a vote for a referendum on the Lisbon treaty is not on a par with a vote to leave the EU.

    Once the establishment bullies and blackmailers get to work an evenly divided vote can become a large majority in the wrong direction.

    What is needed is a consistent and persistent narrative – we must convince people that there is a credible alternative of leaving and remaining trading partners with the EU.

    As pleasant a thought it is of burning all the previous treaties and tarring and feathering all the clowns who have brought about our present situation – we have to remain sober and responsible.

    And a last point – we are discussing here a plan to be ready when the referendum finally comes around – but shouldn’t we already be prepared with such a plan?

  15. 15 Richard Carey 07/10/2013 at 12:42 am

    I reckon as long as the current mainstream narrative is peddled, then we will always be sidelined by idiots talking nonsense about non-issues. E.g. William Hague talking about renegotiating the “ever-closer Union” principle.

    The pressing need is to walk off the fake battle-field, and start a new battle over the real issues, which I believe to be how we are to be governed in this country. I say this assuming that the correct way to exit the EU would be via EFTA, which would cause minimal changes to trade and regulations. If this is the case, then nearly all of the current mainstream narrative, with on one side claims of economic apocalypse and on the other a beautiful new day of de-regulation, is worthless hot air. The question follows: what would the exit actually achieve? Maybe this is what the Harrogate Agenda is looking into.

  16. 16 Adam West 07/10/2013 at 2:10 am

    blackswanblog said: “I’m prepared to take the risk. I can’t help remembering those trial unofficial local constituency votes against the Lisbon Treaty which produced 78 – 80% votes against it. Entirely against the establishment expectations! ”

    In that instance the public could vote for the status quo by rejecting the treaty. The treaty was a change from the situation at the time and rejecting it came with no real downsides as we would still be in the EU, still in the single market and still have those institutions.

    With an early in/out referendum the status quo option will *appear* to be to stay in the EU. What the public need to realise is that the EU is changing whether we like it or not. Status quo is not an option but holding the referendum early will allow it to be presented as if staying in would maintain things as they are.

  17. 17 blackswansblog 07/10/2013 at 2:40 am

    I know this is all conjecture, but let’s imagine that Labour surprisingly do back an early referendum – maybe to be held on the same day as the 2015 general election – then perhaps the electorate might deliver a double paradox. A Labour victory (unfortunately), but as compensation an anti-Labour EU poll – ie an “out” vote re the EU. Just conjecture, of course!

  18. 18 Richard North 07/10/2013 at 10:05 am

    Steve: 06/10/2013 at 7:03 pm asks – “do you guys honestly believe the ‘out camp’ will be any better organised in 2017?”

    Well, the “out camp” is a big tent (or perhaps lots of tents, some big and some small). We certainly intend to have our bit well organised. We also hope that THA will be a force to be reckoned with, and will be looking for partners to put up a bid to become the official “no” campaign.

    And I do note what Sean is saying about not antagonising the membership of UKIP. Certainly, (some) UKIP members are going to be an important part of the out/no campaign, but the problem is that some are going to be a handicap. Sorting the wheat from the chaff is going to be difficult.

  19. 19 cosmic 07/10/2013 at 1:49 pm


    “I’ve read this blog for a while, along with Richard North’s blog. I’m a big fan of both, however, do you guys honestly belive the ‘out camp’ will be any better organised in 2017?”

    Probably not better orgainsed and as the ‘in’ camp has the backing of the establishment, including the BBC and almost all the press, it would be very well organised or at least naturally more powerful.

    However, the reason there has been an increase in anti-EU feeling these last three years isn’t because the ‘out’ camp has become noticeably better organised or that people have suddenly started to see the logic of ‘out’ arguments as a pure intellectual exercise. It’s because the Euro is seen as a shambles and the chaos has been contantly in the papers, and because the effects of the EU are harder to hide behind the screen of Westminster. e.g. Cameron’s alcohol pricing scheme scuppered by conflicting with EU rules. There’s also a growing problem with immigration which will get worse with the cultural riches piled at our feet by the Roma.

    Also the EU has to consolidate into the Eurozone and those committed to join it, and the others; the UK, Denmark and Sweden. The prospect for the UK is to become a second class member of an organisation which looks like a declining economic power and carries all sorts of other problems. No ‘leading from the heart of Europe, not shouting from the sidelines’ as we’d be undeniably on the sidelines and the Eurozone core would be deaf to us, whether or not we shouted.

    Presently, a large number of the electorate are suspicious of the EU and its direction of travel, but happy to stay in if it can be reformed in some way. Until the reform option is realised to be a deceit, these are the people who would keep us in in a referendum.

    Time and events are on the side of the ‘out’ camp.

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