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The front in front

Posted by Richard Thursday, September 06, 2007

In what is clearly a strategy borrowed from the now defunct Business for Sterling, a new campaign opens today with a preview of a cinema advertisement which will be shown in selected cinemas throughout the land.

Fronted by what appears to be a new organisation, I want a referendum, this is in fact a thinly disguised outcrop of Open Europe, chaired by Derek Scott, former adviser to Tony Blair and now a leading figure in that organisation.

Again borrowing from the tactics of Business for Sterling, it is distancing itself from mainstream Euroscepticism, in an attempt to reach out to the ordinary (and distinctly multi-ethnic) man and woman in the street. So desperate is the group actually to avoid "frightening the horses" that the EU barely gets a mention, the issue being focused entirely on the need for a referendum, relying on a vox pop format which even includes the archetypal (young) "man in pub".

Perhaps this is no bad thing at this stage but there are strong reasons for believing that this sanitised approach is the be-all and end-all of the message. What you see is all you get.

Nevertheless, The Daily Telegraph gives the campaign a good send-off, making it the front page lead, telling us that "demands for Gordon Brown to grant the British people a say on the EU reform treaty will reach new heights today when a powerful, cross-party group of MPs launches a nationwide campaign for a referendum."

Some other newspapers are somewhat more sparing in their support, with The Times offering a muted item, blandly informing us that, "Gordon Brown’s refusal to hold a referendum on the European reform treaty will face a fresh challenge today…".

Interestingly we also learn that the prime minister is determined to avoid a referendum which ministers believe would almost certainly be lost, "not necessarily because of the issue but because of the low esteem in which the EU is held by the public."

Across the political divide, The Guardian demotes the Telegraph's "new heights" to a simple "all-party push" for referendum on the EU treaty. In this piece, as elsewhere, we are told that the issue is all about demanding that "politicians keep their promises" – and not really about "Europe" at all.

Therein we see the hand of Open Europe in its alter ego as the Tory Party research department. Predictably, though, Denis MacShane and the other Euro-luvvies are having none of it. Despite Labour MP participation in the campaign, he has immediately identified it as a Tory front, declaring, "I hope most sensible people will leave William Hague and his referendum obsessions in the corner where they belong."

Whether the campaign succeeds or not remains to be seen, but with a website that, at the moment boasts a badly framed front page and nothing else, it will have to do better. Even then, an organisation which is deliberately distancing itself from Eurosceptic campaigners might have difficulty in convincing voters that it is truly a grass-roots organisation and not merely a front organisation for the Tories, which it undoubtedly is.

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