Sunday, May 12, 2013

EU referendum: feeding frenzy

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Entirely typical of the Fourth Estate, the media is turning the serious question of our continued membership of the EU into a biff-bam, soap-opera style contest, centring on a putative "commons revolt" which may or may no occur some time this coming week.

Particularly prominent in this low-grade game are the two Sunday "heavies", the Sunday Times and the Sunday Telegraph, both of which offer front-page headlines relating to Tory "revolts" or "civil war".

The latest development in this saga is Michael Gove declaring that he would vote for Britain to exit Europe if there was a referendum tomorrow. 

Fortunately, there won't be a referendum tomorrow. The Times YouGov poll earlier this week (published Wednesday) had 35 percent wanting to stay in the EU, with 46 percent leaving and 20 percent "don't knows". This isn't anything like a big enough margin to ensure victory. 

The big problem with all the hyperventilation, though, is that it is not leading to any better appreciation of the problems of leaving the EU, and nor is it leading to any change in Tory strategy, which remains one of attempting to renegotiate the treaties. Thus, to have 100 or so Tory "rebels" calling for a referendum, without the first idea of how they are going to win it (assuming they do want to leave the EU), is not exactly helpful. 

Neither is the official Tory response, which is to have "strategy" chief Lyton Crosby calling for the date of an EU referendum to be brought forward a year early from the planned 2017. 

This simply means leaping over the edge of the cliff a year earlier than anticipated, as we confront a referendum that is difficult to win and which risks serious damage to the eurosceptic cause. 

On the other hand, we have Ed Miliband who is taking on the mantle of a rock of stability, refusing to countenance a referendum, and maintaining a staunch pro-EU position. 

If the Kellner view is accepted, and we are likely to lose a referendum which gives the choice between a "renegotiated" settlement and leaving, then the best option for avoiding electoral defeat is increasingly looking to be Labour. Those who can't go that far should simply vote UKIP – especially in Tory-Labour marginals - as the next best thing. 

Completely oblivious to the adverse effect of his manoeuvring, however, John Baron still pursues the idea of "paving legislation", to convince the electorate that Mr Cameron is serious in his intention to hold a referendum. 

But thereby, he misses the point. The referendum is just a means to an end, and if it is to be manipulated by a Conservative prime minister – should the party gain office – there is no real point in having one. It most certainly will not convince the hard-core "outers" that they should vote Conservative. 

Sadly, therefore, with the aid of the media, all be are getting is a huge confusion between activity and outcome. The referendum soap opera may keep the hacks entertained, as they indulge in their feeding frenzy, but withdrawal from the EU is no closer than it has ever been.