Yesterday, on the Labour Conference fringe, an event entitled "the big debate" on the EU constitution was arranged by the Foreign Policy Centre, starring John Redwood and Denis McShame.
Reports of the proceedings are sketchy, but one observer present remarked that McShame was "appalling". He spoke for twenty minutes without once mentioning what was in the Constitution or what the consequence of signing it would be. He talked about the "sceptic myths" - most of which were in fact quite true - and referred many times to the "lies" of the sceptics.
Coincidentally, a colleague of mine was in Scotland the same night, leading a debate in an Edinburgh university, speaking to a motion that "this house believes we should leave Europe" – the word "Europe", incidentally, being a last-minute substitution for "European Union". He reports that the opposers concentrated their attack mainly on the behaviour of UKIP, rarely addressing the substantive issues.
Put that together with Gary Titley’s speech to the Labour Party Conference and we have something of a pattern. It seems the Europhiles are gearing up for a negative campaign, attacking the opposition rather than fighting their corner.
This, of course, may change – especially if Christopher Patten takes the helm of Britain in Europe. He is far too intelligent to indulge in such self-defeating tactics. But, for the moment, it looks like we are in for a dirty fight.
(Yes, and I know I keep referring to Denis McShane as "McShame". And I will continue to do so until he has the decency to apologise for tarring all Eurosceptics with the "Xenophobe" brush.)