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Would Wellington have called this a strategy?

Posted by Helen Sunday, November 28, 2004

Last week Eurofacts published an article by the chief executive of the self-appointed Vote-No campaign. At the time my colleague analyzed it while I wrote a response for the magazine.

Unfortunately, "lack of space" has prevented the editor from publishing it. So, not wishing to waste a perfectly sound article (even though I say so myself) and at the risk of boring our readers I reproduce it here. It may start a healthy debate.


Let me get this straight.

The strategy of the self-appointed Vote-No campaign is to think of a divisive slogan and demand that everyone line up behind them; assume that the government will not win a referendum because it has lost the support of middle England because of Iraq (only people who spend their days and nights in political organizations can think Iraq is more important than taxation, education, law and order, you name it); ignore the core supporters in favour of the waverers whom they will entice with the confused message of vote no in order to stay in the EU and reform it; win the referendum; get Blair to resign and assume that whoever takes over will march in there and negotiate reforms to make "Europe" (I assume they mean the EU) more democratic.

I don't exactly know what Wellington or Monty would have said but I assume they may have noted that this “strategy” underestimates the enemy, alienates soldiers and supporters and is rather confused in its aims. At least, there is no proposal to invade Russia.

At the moment the "yes" camapaign is in disarray. That need not last. The Vote-No campaign assumes that they won over the euro and, therefore, need not bother with new ideas for this battle. Over the euro, the important thing was not to have a referendum and the man who won that was Gordon Brown. That was a cold war, this will be a hot one. Gordy will not be on our side.

Then the slogan: no to the constitution, yes to Europe. It is dishonest as they are really saying yes to the EU. How are they going to explain to those wavering voters who, presumably, are not well informed of the nuances of EU governance, that voting ‘no’ in order to stay in the EU and reform it, is, somehow different from voting ‘yes’ in order to stay in the EU and reform it?

It is a divisive slogan. Most eurosceptics will refuse to work for an organization who says that. We shall, of course, vote no in the actual referendum but few of us will go out to campaign, to speak, to persuade voters that discarding the constitution will mean a new hopeful departure for the EU.

Nor is the electorate in tune with that message. Mr Hickman mentions the North-East referendum, implying that it was a similar message that brought out the votes. Alas, it was Neil Herron and his determined, anti-EU volunteers who won that battle. Come to think of it, why does Mr Hickman not mention another phenomenon: the haemorrhaging of votes to UKIP? No matter what happens inside that rather difficult party, people are flocking to vote for it? Why? Well, Mr Hickman, they send a simple and effective message to a disenchanted electorate. The Vote-No campaign squirms and wriggles like the Conservative Party.

The aims are confused. EU reform? What's that? When Mr Hickman says he and his colleagues want a more democratic EU, what does he mean? Union-wide parties? Directly elected Commission? Less money to the regions?

How are those negotiations going to be conducted? Which of the many EU institutions will be instrumental in bringing about the reform? The European Council, another IGC, the Council of Ministers, the Commission, the European Parliament, the ECJ? Does Mr Hickman know about these institutions and the difference in them? Does he know that they are all committed to further integration and all attempts at even the slightest reform have failed because there is no way to democracy in an inherently undemocratic, unaccountable organization, as it was always intended to be?

We must, of course, win this referendum. But it will be merely one battle in a long war. The war's aim is an independent and newly democratized United Kingdom and, if possible, a newly refashioned European structure of free, democratic states, living and working together. We must not be afraid of saying this.

Unless, by the time of the referendum, we have managed to convince a large proportion of this country’s population that being outside and even without the EU is not a frightening prospect, we shall have failed, even if the vote is no. The European oligarchy will go away and return with a changed constitution or another treaty that will have tinkered at the edges. What will the self-appointed Vote-No campaign say then?