A poll published by Comres today had 58% of respondants answering ‘yes’ to the EU referendum question. This is before Cameron has ‘renegotiated’ anything. The result already looks like a foregone conclusion.
Cameron’s strategy has been clear from the start. Step 1. Pretend you are ‘fed up with the EU’ and want change or you’ll back a ‘no’ vote. Step 2. Come up with some piffling ‘reforms’ that will do nothing to address the concerns people have, but strenuously argue they do. Step 3. Get some politicians from other EU nations to pretend the negotiations have been tough and they are grudgingly accepting Cameron’s changes. Step 4. Pretend you have secured everything you wanted and begin the yes campaign. It’s simple, but it will probably work. (This is a firm prediction from me. My general election predictions were dreadful, so hopefully I’ll be wrong again.)
This is not Cameron’s problem though, and it’s not what the referendum is really about. It’s really about internal politics within Cameron’s own party. His problem at the moment is all his Eurosceptic colleagues are perfectly aware of his fake negotiations and they are probably not going to stand for it. Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan calls out Cameron today in a column in the Telegraph, and up to 50 Tory MPs have already formed a ‘Conservatives for Britain’ campaign group to argue for nothing less than full sovereignty for Britain, something Cameron has no intention of trying to achieve (and almost certainly couldn’t even if he wanted to).
There are alos a number of avowed Eurosceptics in Cameron’s cabinet like Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Gove. Cameron at first tried to enforce discipline on his Cabinet by saying they would need to campaign for a yes vote or resign, but this tactic lasted less than a day, and he now seems to have u-turned. In the 1975 referendum, cabinet members like Tony Benn were allowed to camapign to leave the common market without resigning, but Cameron has made this such a personal mission with his hyping up of his renegotiation strategy, I can’t see how cabinet members could play active roles in any no campaign without resigning.
Cameron decided to push through with this referendum over two years ago to shut up his backbenchers. Now he actually has to deliver it though, but his aims are a million miles away from those of a lot of his Parliamentary colleagues. Cameron seems to me to be as pro-EU are anyone in the last Labour Government. The referendum is supposed to settle the question of Britain in the EU. No chance! If the yes campaign is fought dishonestly (as it will be), I would think a lot of Conservative will not forget it.
I’m a bit young to remember the Tory Party tearing itself apart over Maastrict in the early 90s, but hopefully the second time around will be just as fun to watch!