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.