Meeting title: The EU and the Future of Britain
Tim Aker (Ukip MEP)
John Redwood (Tory MP)
Peter Oborne (Associate editor of the Spectator magazine)
The meeting was well attended with in excess of 200 people present, many of whom stayed throughout despite having to stand. Particularly pleasing and encouraging were the number of young faces, which made up perhaps a quarter of the audience. The audience was very animated and a positive forest of hands were going up when questions were taken.
The order of the speakers was Aker – Redwood – Oborne. However, for ease of summary of their views both in their speeches and in answer to audience questions I shall deal with them with them in this order: Redwood – Aker – Oborne.
Redwood was so out of touch with the feeling of the audience that he came close to being booed. As it was there were frequent cries of “no”, “rubbish” and general murmurings of dissent as he asked the audience to trust Cameron’s honesty in his attempt to renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the EU and put forward a plan for the OUT campaign which side-lined Nigel Farage . (The traffic of audience disapproval was countered by support for Redwood , but judged by the noise made those against him were considerably more numerous than his supporters).
Redwood said that he believed in Cameron’s honest intent in his negotiations with EU. Consequently, he would not make up his mind whether to vote to leave until Cameron had completed his negotiations. Also said explicitly that he would vote to stay in if the renegotiations were successful. I think most people who have followed Redwood’s voluminous pronouncements on the EU over the years will be more than a little surprised by his adoption of such an equivocal position as the referendum approaches. His position was all the more unexpected because he began his talk by denouncing the fact that membership of the EU meant elected governments – most notably Greece at present – could not do what their electors wanted even if they wished to. An important question arises, if Redwood is undecided about which way he will vote how can he be part of the planning of the OUT campaign? Indeed, if Cameron gets concessions which Redwood deems enough to persuade him to vote to stay in, presumably he will be campaigning with the stay in camp.
While Redwood’s unwillingness to directly dismiss Cameron’s stated aim as a sham is understandable, he is just a backbencher who is unlikely to find a place in a Cameron cabinet in a Parliament where his party only has a small majority. These circumstances mean Redwood has considerable freedom to speak his mind. He could have said something along the lines of “The Prime Minister is sincere in his desire to reform the EU but I am sure we all know in our hearts that this is a lost cause. Therefore, I have no doubt that I shall be voting to come out of the EU” or, even better “, I shall be voting to leave the EU regardless of what is offered by the EU because for me the question is not about renegotiating our term of membership but of Britain being a sovereign nation state”. Either statement would be consistent with what Redwood has said over the past few years.
Redwood also failed to describe in any detail what would constitute sufficient changes to the UK’s relationship with the EU to make him vote to stay in. Neither Aker nor Oborne challenged him on this and no audience member who was called to ask a question raised the subject. However, the subject is academic in the long run because it really does not matter what Cameron obtains by his renegotiation, because whilst we remain within the EU any concessions given now may be reversed at a later date by the EU, most probably in cahoots with a British government consisting of Europhiles. .
Perhaps most disturbing for those who wish the UK to leave the EU as a matter of principle, that is, those who wish our country to be a sovereign nation again, was Redwood’s strategy for the OUT campaign. He adopted the line that Nigel Farage should not lead the OUT campaign because Farage is a marmite politician who will alienate large chunks of the waverers as we approach the referendum. In fact, Redwood gave the impression he would like to see Farage completely excluded from the OUT campaign.
Redwood’s tactics for the OUT side consisted of not frightening the voters with vulgar non-pc talk about immigration or , indeed, being brutally honest about anything relating to the EU. Of course it is true that both the undecided voters and faint-hearted supporters of Britain leaving the EU will have to be appealed to in the right terms. The mistake Redwood is making is to imagine that the right terms do not include putting immigration controls at the heart of the OUT campaign. Polls consistently show that immigration is one of the major concerns of the British public and, when the politically correct inspired terror of speaking honestly about race and immigration is taken into account, it is odds on that immigration is the number one issue by a wide margin. A British Future report in 2014 found that 25% of those included in the research wanted not only an end to immigration but the removal of all immigrants already in the UK and a YouGov poll commissioned by Channel 5 in 2014 found that 70% of those questioned wanted and end to mass immigration. .
Putting immigration at the heart of the OUT campaign would also have the bonus of appealing to the Scots through a subject on which they feel much the same as the rest of the UK, that is they are opposed to mass immigration. That is important because the SNP are trying to establish grounds for Scotland having a veto over the UK leaving the EU if Scotland votes to stay in the EU and either England or England, Wales and Northern Ireland vote to leave. The larger the vote to leave the EU in Scotland is , the less moral leverage they will have for either a veto over Britain leaving the EU or another independence referendum.
Why is Redwood putting forward the idea that Farage should be kept out of the limelight? It cannot be simply to damage Ukip in the interest of the Tory Party because there will be no general election for years (probably five years) . Could it be personal spite against Farage on Redwood’s part because they have quarrelled? I doubt it because I cannot recall Redwood and Farage having had a serious disagreement. How about Redwood being contaminated with the politically correct imprinting on the subjects of race and immigration with the consequence that he thinks Farage’s views on these subjects are simply beyond the Pale? This is much more likely. Interestingly, such a view echoes that of Douglas Carswell who said of Nigel Farage’s comments about foreign HIV patients costing the Earth: “I think some of the tone that we deployed – for example the comments about HIV I think were plain wrong. Wrong at so many levels. Not just wrong because they were electorally unhelpful but just wrong because they were wrong.”
Redwood added fuel to the fire of the audience’s discontent by adopting a patronising tone adorned with a supercilious smirk to anyone who disagreed with him – Redwood kept on repeating that the referendum would be lost if any general plan but the one he described was followed – and refused to answer when he was asked to comment on what he would do and think if Farage did lead the OUT campaign. The smirk became particularly pronounced at this point.
Unlike Redwood and Aker was very forthright and uncompromising, dealing pretty roughly with Redwood whose position on Cameron’s sincerity he treated with undisguised incredulity. He pointed out the impossibility of the EU giving Cameron anything substantial and the folly of trying to sideline Farage. He pointed out that without Farage and Ukip there would be no referendum, a simple truth because before Ukip began to make substantial inroads into the Tory vote Cameron had shown no serious interest in a referendum.
In his speech Aker made all the right sort of political noises likely to appeal to most electors : immigrants reduce the wages of the low paid; the unemployed of other EU states are being dumped on the UK; the need for positive patriotism; a vote to remain in the EU would betray future generations; billions in Aid went to foreigners while some of our own people went to food banks ; England was being Balkanised through the city regions being forced on the country by Cameron; it is time to get rid of the Barnett Formula and so on. All of this produced in Redwood and Oborne the kind of facial expression that people adopt when they have encountered an unpleasant smell. That alone told you that Akers is on the right path.
Oborne gave a very poor speech. It largely consisted of backing up Redwood’s objections to Farage and Redwood’s plans for the OUT campaign. He described Akers as misguided and predicted that Farage would bring to the ballot box only the 14% or so who voted Ukip at the General Election. That claim was simple nonsense because a general election and a referendum are chalk and cheese, and there are many Eurosceptics in other parties, even some in the LibDems. To assume that Farage would cause such people to vote to remain in the EU or to abstain is ridiculous.
However, Oborne was strong on the need to have spending restrictions during the referendum campaign and made the interesting claim that Rupert Murdoch will be coming out for the stay in the EU side because Murdoch has re-established his close association with the Tory Party.
What needs to be done
Nigel Farage must not be shouldered aside but put in the forefront of the OUT campaign. Not only is he an increasingly effective public performer, especially in debates, unless he takes a lead role the OUT campaign is likely to end up in the hands of people such as Redwood and Carswell who have bought into the politically correct view of the world. What this campaign needs is emphatic, unambiguous and above all honest explanation of what the EU represents . It needs Farage at the forefront of the OUT campaign to set that tone.
Immigration must be at the heart of the OUT campaign because it is (1) the issue which concerns more voters than any other issue and (2) it cuts across party and ideological lines in a way no other issue in the referendum will do.
Setting spending limits must be made a priority and should be agreed and put into operation by the end of 2015. The Europhile political elite will doubtless try to restrict spending limits to a short period before the vote is held. This would produce a re-run of the great inequality of resources between the YES and NO sides the 1975 referendum.
The fixing of the EU referendum by the Europhiles has already begun with the choice of a palpably biased question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?” The bias comes from both the trigger word “remain” and the fact that the status quo has captured the YES answer. Ideally a judicial review should be launched as soon as possible. If Ukip could fund it, that would be a most effective way of exercising control over the OUT campaign.
What should the question be? The original question put into European (Referendum) Bill was “Do you think that the United Kingdom should be a member of the European Union?” That is much less biased because it does not overtly ask electors to vote for the status quo.
An alternative would be a double question with a box to mark against each question, for example
I wish Britain to be a member of the EU
I do not wish Britain to be a member of the EU.
Even that is not perfect because there is the problem of the order in which the questions come (being first gives a slight advantage because people tend to have an inclination to read the first question on a ballot and be swayed by that before reading subsequent questions). However, it could be objected that people would be confused by having the question in different orders.
Above all the OUT campaign needs to get its skates on as the referendum could be upon us quicker than we think, perhaps by the end of 2016 if Cameron has his way.