Sunday, March 02, 2008

A gamble succeeds

We make no bones about it. We were extremely dubious about the wisdom of holding private referendums on the constitutional Lisbon treaty. The result was a forgone conclusion – the majority would vote for a referendum, but the key issue was the turnout. A "good" result on a low turnout would, we felt, simply display our weakness.

As it turns out, our fears were not entirely borne out. The results from the ten constituencies announced to day by the I Want a Referendum campaign recorded 152,520 people turning out to vote, representing an overall 36.2 percent turnout – higher than in local elections.

The average turnout for local elections (when not held with general elections) since 1996 is 35.4 percent. Incidentally, the average turnout in referendums on directly elected mayors - including in London - was 30.1 percent.

In the ballot, voters were asked two questions: "Should the United Kingdom hold a national referendum on the EU's Lisbon Treaty?" and, "Should the United Kingdom approve the EU's Lisbon Treaty?"

Predictably, 88 percent voted yes to the first question and 12 percent voted no. Less than one percent did not answer. In the second question, 89 percent voted against the treaty and eight percent voted in favour. Three percent did not answer. A full table of the results in detail is available here.

Of course, the "antis" will argue that this was a self-selecting majority. There has been a sustained campaign by some of the targeted MPs to denigrate the exercise.

Europe Minister Jim Murphy sent a leaflet to all constituents telling them not to vote. It falsely claimed that the Conservatives had organised it, that if people voted the Conservative Party would know how they individually voted, and implied that a referendum would cost his constituents £110 million.

Bizarrely, when challenged about the misleading leaflet on BBC Scotland he pleaded ignorance about the activity of his own constituency party. He said: "You'd have to ask the Labour party about that."

However, with independent opinion polls consistently showing around four-fifths of those who express an opinion support a referendum, these results are in line with those polls.

Furthermore, as an added bonus, during the course of the campaign two MPs in the seats concerned came out in favour of a referendum. David Heath, Liberal Democrat MP for Somerton and Frome, announced during the campaign that he would defy the party whip and vote for a referendum on the Treaty. Paul Truswell, Labour MP for Pudsey, also announced that he will vote for a referendum.

Needless to say, with a crucial vote in the Commons on Wednesday, when an amendment on a referendum is expected, the Labour tribe – with a few honourable exceptions - will ignore these results and obey their party's whip. Nick Clegg – ex-MEP and commission official – will continue to play his dirty game, and instruct his party to abstain. That will ensure a government victory, despite some of the more honourable members voting against the whip.

Five Tories will vote with the government, defying their own party's whip. These will be David Curry, Ken Clarke, John Gummer and Ian Taylor plus, according to Conservative Home John Bercow – who puts himself still further beyond the pale.

England Expects also reports the results, offering his heartiest congratulations to all involved, then asking, "Now can we start to work as a team?"

That, unfortunately, is unlikely – and is the direct reason for much of our antipathy towards the Open Europe team and thus its I Want a Referendum clone.

Undoubtedly, they are doing good work and much of what they produce is of good value – but not all of it. And, if they continue to treat the campaign as their exclusive domain, they and their supporters can hardly complain if some of us continue to pursue our own line. Unlike the EU, euroscepticism does not require blind adherence to an official mantra.


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