Magazine article The Spectator

Why the Eurosceptics Aren't Winning (Yet)

Magazine article The Spectator

Why the Eurosceptics Aren't Winning (Yet)

Article excerpt


Eurosceptics could hardly have asked for more favourable conditions for a referendum. After barely surviving a financial crisis, the European Union has been overwhelmed by an immigration crisis -- one made much worse by its failure to control its own borders. The European Commission seems determined to make itself even more unpopular in Britain, and is considering whether VAT should be levied on food and children's clothes. At a time of righteous anger at sweetheart tax deals for multinational corporations, the man who bears more responsibility for these than anyone else in Europe is its president, the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker.

Then came David Cameron's renegotiation. After months in the kitchen, Cameron has come up with the political equivalent of nouvelle cuisine: a tiny, disappointing dish served up with a big fanfare. He has nothing, for example, on the Common Agricultural Policy, or the fisheries policy that has inflicted such misery on British seaside towns. When he proposed the referendum three years ago, he spoke of a fundamental recasting of Britain's relationship with the EU. This has been abandoned. Donald Tusk, president of the EU Council, confirmed after unveiling the proposed deal that the principles of the EU would not be altered by it.

So this ought to be the moment of Eurosceptic triumph. Instead, the movement is in chaos. No national figure has emerged to make the case for leaving. There was, once, much talk of a Sir James Dyson type industrialist making the case for Britain to boldly break out on its own. But so far this has come to naught -- and time is ticking by. Eurosceptics are, though, confident of securing the support of at least one cabinet minister who is not considered a usual suspect.

There are plenty of political figures involved in the 'out' campaign. But too many seem more interested in squabbling among themselves than in taking the fight to the 'in' campaign. Meanwhile the bookmakers and opinion polls give 'in' a clear lead. It has, on average, a six-point advantage and was ahead by 18 points in one recent telephone poll. These numbers are particularly dire when you consider that for the 'change proposition' in a referendum to win ('out' in this case), it normally needs to be ten points ahead before the campaign starts.

So David Cameron's famous good luck has not yet run out. The absence of an undisputed big beast to front the campaign has made too many Eurosceptics think it ought to be them. Veterans believe that their time in the trenches entitles them to lead the charge. Those who enjoy the sound of their own voice believe that if only the country could hear them debate David Cameron on television then the scales would drop from the public's eyes.

Meanwhile, many in Ukip see the referendum as more about advancing their own party's interest than anything else. Nigel Farage's party has been a distinctly mixed blessing for the Eurosceptic cause. To be sure, it is capable of speaking to voters in places where traditional, sovereignty-focused Euroscepticism has little purchase. It has yoked together immigration and the EU in the public's mind. But the way it has done this has created problems. Many other respected public figures refuse to join in, or donate to, a campaign that is too Farage-dominated. Some in Ukip seem to relish this. They dream of being the Donald Trumps of British politics. Much of the tension between Douglas Carswell, Ukip's only MP, and the party leader-ship is because the clique around Farage are more interested in using the referendum to boost support for Ukip at the next general election than they are in actually winning it. The theory goes that if Ukip is the only party campaigning to leave and its politicians dominate the campaign, then it could scoop up the 'out' vote at the next election -- just as the SNP won the -support of nearly all 'yes' voters after its defeat in the Scottish referendum. …

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