In danger of turning out to be a gamble too far by Cameron – he should have known his party better and maybe even the people! There’s been significant and increasingly vociferous anti EU element here ever since the late 80’s-
When in January 2013 DavidCameron promised that in the event of the Conservatives winning the 2015 General Election he would hold a Referendum on UK’s membership of the European Union.
There was no general clamour in the country at large for a referendum but pressure had been building up inside the Tory party over membership of the EU and he succumbed and he also delighted UKIP along with some others
He did it with two real motives in mind, the first was to attempt to wrong foot UKIP and the other was to pacify the anti EU wing of his party and thereby keep the party united. On both those counts he has clearly miscalculated.
Evident that Cameron did not think the whole issue through and the final outcome of his negotiations with the EU leaders did not impress a big part of his party.
A year ago I warned that if this referendum goes wrong then David Cameron will go down in history as the Prime Minister who was instrumental in the UK leaving the EU and also over a period of a few years after bring about the end of the UK Union.
Although initially in the late 1970’s and for a few years after Margaret Thatcher was in favour of the UK remaining in the then European Community and indeed played a big part in bringing about the Single Market she became increasingly Eurosceptic during themed – late; 1980s especially when the EU moved towards implementing the Social Chapter.
The manner of her demise from power was full of drama as the pro-Europeans inside the Tory party had their pound of flesh! – particularly Heseltine, Geoffrey Howe, Kenneth Clarke and indeed Nigel Lawson who was pro the EU in those days.
However those people were never forgiven by a significant section of the party and throughout John Major’s premiership they were a constant thorn in his side on EU matters.
After the loss of the 1997 General Election the Euro sceptics started getting the upper-hand as William Hague, Ian Duncan Smith and Michael Howard became leaders of the party. Although Hague is now in the Remain camp now, back then he most certainly was an Euro sceptic.
Without expanding further suffice it to say if David Cameron ever thought that calling a referendum would smooth the waters he has without doubt miscalculated badly and never properly understood the mood of his party in Parliament and the country. After all in 2016 almost half the MPs and several senior members of the Government are in the Brexit camp
Central to this story of course is not just the right wing of the Tory, the Referendum Party and the rise of UKIP along with strident voices of the far right National Front, BNP and so on have played their part in fashioning a good percentage of peoples’ opinions towards the EU.
Complicit in where we find ourselves today – a week before polling – has been the ineffective performance of the Labour opposition and Trade Union movement in the early stages of the Referendum campaign. I won’t pursue that line in this post but it has taken them a long time to wake up to the dangers of a Brexit victory.
Now they have in the last few days and thank God they have because it is only a strong vote to Remain in the EU by Labour supporters that can save the UK and Cameron now in this Referendum.
Another difficulty has been the sad and serious decline of the Liberal Democrats – for decades the most pro-EU party of all. In the good days from mid-80’s to 2010 it gathered over 5 - 6 million votes in General Elections until the debacle of 2015. At present its voice and influence has been greatly marginalised and pretty much ignored in Parliament and the media. However the fact remains that even with 2.5 million votes there is no doubt that their support too is needed now in order to win this Referendum.
But as important is the overriding impression I have had from speaking at several meetings, following social media comment and the rest that a significant body of the voters are just not listening.
Despite a daily diet of facts on the key issues being daily made available to them on a wide range of key issues there is distrust, cynicism if not disbelief in the air. This is particularly the case amongst working class people and those less well-off.
Too often have I been told and read
‘I don’t want to be governed by Brussels’
‘We are being told a bunch of lies’
‘We want our country back’
It is a fact that in the UK, both interest in,and knowledge about the EU are low. The 2016 Audit of Political Engagement found that only 38 per cent of people were confident about their understanding of the EU.
Many people have bemoaned the current state of the campaign. The regularity with which facts are either not being believed or distorted, others not checked with what is viewed as ‘inconvenient facts’ are routinely dismissed as exaggerations and downright lies. The a lot of speculation is being presented as hard evidence and most certainly the references to Hitler and so on all inhibit and divert attention from having a proper debate about the costs and benefits of EU membership.
Furthermore the social media has resulted in people being surrounded with voices expressing similar views to their own.
But why has all this happened?
Well similar things are happening in other parts of the world – with right-wing populists movements across Europe and in the USA are trying to make their country great again by arguments for ‘keeping immigrants out’, clamouring to ‘have their country back’ and propounding falsehoods on matters such sovereignty and democracy
After the 2008 financial crash and subsequent austerity years people are poorer than they expected to be so they are looking for someone or something to blame and they don't feel like being generous to immigrants anymore or supporting international aid.
This is even true in the erstwhile socialist countries of Denmark, Sweden and Finland, where the right-wing Danish People's Party, Sweden Democrats and Finns Party have all risen near the top of the polls.
The current social, economic and political climate is fertile for politicians that often target migrants already here, who often subtly rail against the ‘elites’, the ‘fat cats’ and cleverly peddle an ‘anti-parliament, anti-politics’ line. All this is done by people such as Farage, Boris and Gove who epitomise privilege. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove voted for the austerity that is punishing working families, while Nigel Farage has argued for privatising the NHS.
The difficulty all of us who support the European Union have is that working class families, low income earners and those caught in a poverty trap are angry with how this country has been governed for a decade and more
They are right to be angry and agitated about such grotesque inequalities, low wages, poor jobs, bad housing, can’t get GP appointments, hospital waiting lists lengthening, the NHS in a bad state, schools full and struggling while the richest can afford to pay for private medical care and education.
But all of this is not the fault of the EU but to try and convince them otherwise is proving difficult because, as I have said earlier, they are not in the mood to listen or believe.
Indeed even if the prospect of what a Boris Johnson/Michael Gove government would do they don’t seem to be particularly troubled at the moment.
So with a week to go the challenge is a serious one and it is one the Remain campaign really cannot afford to lose not just for the sake of the country but also for the sake of all those very people who will be most affected should the UK end up outside the EU.
Then here’s another thought could there be after all a ray of hope? What if the result is close? this referendum is not legally binding but that topic is for a future post!