Friday, 10 May 2013

An EU referendum?

One thing that is becoming a stark inevitability is an EU referendum in the near future. It's been teased in front of the electorate like dripping red meat in front of a rottweiler, so we shouldn't be surprised that the media and a section of the voting public are frustrated that it remains very much there, but out of reach.

I strongly believe that the UKIP successes last week were less to do with the EU as they were to do with the failing of the Tories and Lib Dems to turn our economic situation around. But still, common sense rarely dictates the narrative of the nation, and as such we are to be assured that this is all about the EU, and immigration...the greatest scapegoat for our ills this side of Jews in 1920-30s Germany.

As such there are more calls for this referendum, and sooner. Cameron has promised to legislate to have a referendum next parliament if the Tories win in an utterly pathetic display of blackmail, also utterly useless if the other two main parties also promise a referendum. The right wing back benchers of the Tory party don't want to wait...and I would tend to agree with them.

Why should we wait?

The Lib Dems are immensely pro-EU, even if they favour some reform, and it is generally the position of the Labour party to be pro-EU as well. As with Leveson, why aren't these two parties stealing the thunder from the Tories, and from Cameron, right now?

The idea that an EU referendum has to be a negative thing is run entirely under the assumption that it is going to be lost...but why would such a referendum end up with us leaving the EU? The media machine spinning tales? UKIP marching down the country lanes drumming up support? Where is the assumption that the "pro-EU" side wouldn't have a message to give the electorate too?

One of the biggest dangers we face on the question of the EU is that it is handled in the same way that the AV referendum was with the bulk of the "information" coming from the biased voices of the two campaigns fighting it out for the win, rather than from an independent body such as the Electoral Commission. The constant batting away of the idea of a referendum plays not only into the hands of the right wing in terms of determining the time frame, but also in terms of framing the debate.

We have two years until the next election, one until the next EU elections. I would argue that the best time to hold a referendum is in 2014 alongside the MEP elections. There is no better time to combine resources and have all kinds of politicians putting their views across, and it gives this parliament time to organise to set up the referendum AND to ensure that the information campaign for the public is well resourced and given ample time to allow the public to digest what is a complex subject with good time before the referendum campaign starts.

This won't happen if we rely solely on the Tories panicking about UKIP. It's time for Labour and the Lib Dems to step up to the plate and take control...the Tory right will back them, this isn't a move that is likely to fail, and Cameron will be left even more destitute as a political power than he is right now. Why wait? Bring on the EU referendum...