Sunday, May 16, 2004

"Europe yes, constitution no"

In what could turn out to be a spectacular own goal, the self-appointed "no" campaign is setting out to use "Europe yes, constitution no" as its main slogan for the referendum fight.

According to the Sunday Times today (print version only), Alex Hickman – he of the "no to the euro campaign" – has been appointed as chief executive, and money is flooding in from a wide range of businesses. The campaign has the support of such “tycoons” as Steward Wheeler, founder of the spread-betting firm IG Index, Sir Stanley Kalms, and Rodney Leach.

The slogan, no doubt, has been chosen to emulate the "success" of the "Europe yes, euro no" slogan, but it is far from certain that the slogan was a winner, especially as it was never tested in a fully-fledged campaign.

On the other hand, it was treated with derision by many Eurosceptic campaigners, and parallels were drawn between the campaign and the Maginot line. While the "no" forces were defending the ramparts against the euro, the tanks of European integration were sweeping through the Ardennes unchecked.

A similar miscalculation may be in place with the new campaign, especially as, to be successful, the "no" campaign is going to have to mobilise a wide range of support. The "in yer face" support for "Europe" may deter many potential campaigners - who might be uneasy associating themselves with a "yes to Europe" banner – from joining fully in the campaign.

This will almost certainly apply to UKIP campaigners – who have already distanced themselves from the "no" campaign with their endorsement of Blair’s claim that voting against the constitution means leaving the EU – but there any many others who, while not going as far as UKIP, will find it difficult to give their enthusiastic support to what might become the official campaign.

A further lack of tactical awareness is also suggested by the Sunday Times, which reports that the campaign is gearing itself for a launch when the leaders of EU member states agree the new constitutional treaty, which they expect to happen on 17 June.

However, even if there is an IGC summit, and a treaty is agreed in June – which is looking increasingly unlikely – it looks more and more certain that the Poles are facing a general election this August, when a strongly Eurosceptic coalition will take power. Even if the current Polish caretaker government agrees the treaty, therefore, there is a high probability that their successors will never ratify it and the constitution will fall.

If that happens, a British "no" campaign may well prove unnecessary. If the proposed slogan is any indication of their tactical skills and thinking, that will probably be just as well.

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